Water Stewardship Treating water as a human right
Few resources are as essential to people’s health and well-being as water. Our water stewardship strategy is built on the principle that clean, safe water is both an environmental goal and a basic human right. We have a responsibility and an opportunity to address water issues because it is a critical natural resource for our business—used to cultivate raw materials like cotton, consumed in the mills and laundries that manufacture our products, and used by consumers when they wash their clothes.
To help build the resilience of our company, our supply chain and the people who make our clothes, we strategically address water use and contamination in product design and manufacturing. Alongside our strategic implementation partners, we also lead a suite of programs to provide education, access to services and financing to women and communities to address water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) needs. Through water-risk assessments, we have identified India as a critical location for WASH services, which is why we focus many of our programs in cotton-growing and textile-manufacturing communities in India’s Godavari, Narmada and Ganges-Brahmaputra River Basins. Within Gap Inc. partner facilities, our Code of Vendor Conduct requires that key WASH needs of garment workers are met. In addition, our P.A.C.E. program aimed at workers within our supply chain as well as global communities, provides additional capability to bring WASH education to women globally.
We strive to ensure that the process of making our clothes is safe for people and communities, and we’re working directly with women to help them gain access to clean, safe water.
In recent years, decreasing availability of safe, clean water has become a significant global challenge. The World Economic Forum has ranked the water crisis as one of the top five global risks for several consecutive years.
It affects many people: One-third of the world’s population lives in countries with poor water quality or where there is not enough water. That ratio is expected to reach two-thirds by 2025. By 2030, it is estimated that demand for clean water will exceed supply by 40%. Climate change is exacerbating the water crisis, contributing to more frequent and severe droughts, storms and floods, which affect livelihoods and increase the risk of waterborne diseases.
Our Women + Water strategy is focused on the intersection between our industry's significant use of water and the human right to clean safe water and is targeted in three key areas:
- Partnering with fabric mills and laundries to reduce manufacturing impacts (read more in our section on reducing impacts within our supply chain);
- Building awareness and educating the women who make our clothes about safe water-handling practices, and by increasing their access to safe water (more below);
- Adopting more water-efficient product design and sourcing practices (read more in our section on product sustainability).
In early 2020, we achieved the ambitious goal we set in 2018 to conserve 10 billion liters of water by the end of 2020 (from a 2014 baseline) through sustainable manufacturing practices.
This volume is equivalent to providing daily drinking water for 5 billion people. Our primary strategy to achieve this goal was—and still is—to engage with the mills and laundries in our supply chain and use water-saving methods in the production of our clothing. We also engage in large-scale partnerships such as the CEO Water Mandate that drive industry-level progress on water issues, and we support improved access to water infrastructure and financing and access to information about water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) practices through our collaboration with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). Further, we engage in campaigns that raise awareness about the water crisis.
CEO Water Mandate
We are a signatory to the CEO Water Mandate, a UN Global Compact initiative, joining with other companies, governments, civil society and others to address challenges related to water scarcity, quality and governance, and access to water and sanitation.
In 2019, we collaborated with the CEO Water Mandate and seven other signatory companies—AB InBev, Diageo, Dow Inc., Ecolab, Microsoft, PVH Corp. and Cargill—to form the Water Resilience Coalition, pledging our commitment to collective action and net-positive water impact by 2050. The coalition, launched in March 2020, pledges to preserve the freshwater resources in water-stressed regions through ambitious, quantifiable commitments that deliver on three goals:
- Net-positive water impact: In the areas where we operate, we will contribute more to water-basin health than we take away.
- Water-resilient value chains: We will develop, implement and support water-resilience practices across the global value chain.
- Global leadership: We will help raise the profile of water resilience through public outreach and industry engagement aimed at encouraging other corporate leaders to sign onto this pledge.
One of the places we are putting these commitments into practice is in India’s Cauvery River Basin, a critical watershed in one of our key sourcing regions. In 2018, we launched the “Businesses for Water Security in the Noyyal Bhavani River Basin” to help address the root causes of water risks that threaten businesses, communities and ecosystems in this basin. Through these projects, we are working with regional and local stakeholders to address water risks and ensure water security by prioritizing solutions that consider both the river basin and apparel facility conditions.
We are a signatory to the CEO Water Mandate.
Women and girls globally spend more than 200 million hours collecting water each day—time that could be spent earning additional income, caring for their families or getting an education.
Our Focus on Women: Awareness, Education and Access
Of crucial importance is how water affects the people who make our clothes—roughly 80% of whom are women. These women need water to care for themselves, their families and their communities. Unfortunately, access to clean, safe water is a major challenge in many of our key sourcing countries, according to basin-level water risk mapping through WRI’s Aqueduct tool, and issues such as population growth and climate change exacerbate the crisis. In water-stressed areas, poor and marginalized communities are affected the most. In India, groundwater pollution from agricultural and industrial activities and poor sanitation represent a root cause of water-quality issues that increase health and mortality risks.
In many parts of the world, women are largely responsible for household duties such as cooking and cleaning; they shoulder a disproportionate burden when it comes to water stress. According to UNICEF, women and girls globally spend more than 200 million hours collecting water each day—time that could be spent earning additional income, caring for their families or getting an education. Women and children also face serious health risks due to inadequate access to safe water and sanitation, which is sometimes worsened by a limited understanding of healthy hygiene practices.
P.A.C.E. and the USAID Women + Water Global Development Alliance
Since 2014, we have integrated water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) curriculum into our P.A.C.E. program, which supports the women who make our clothes in gaining the skills and confidence to advance in work and life. With our expansion of P.A.C.E., and the goal to reach 1 million women and girls by the end of 2022, we are eager to reach even more women with effective strategies for managing water issues
In 2017, we launched a five-year collaboration with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to improve access to clean water and sanitation services for the women touched by the apparel industry. We have expanded our P.A.C.E. program in India to teach safe water-handling practices, and we are supporting access to clean water and sanitation and working to manage local water resources sustainably alongside our implementing partners, CARE, Water.org, Institute for Sustainable Communities (ISC) and WaterAid.
Our partnership with USAID is designed to support women and communities as they learn about WASH practices, while also developing leadership skills. This supports women as they take initiative to incorporate improved water infrastructure in their communities. Our partnerships take this program beyond education to provide the essential hard goods, such as toilets and filters, needed in the home and to provide neighborhoods with clean water access.
This pioneering public-private partnership aligns closely to our business and sustainability goals related to sustainable water stewardship and empowering women through our P.A.C.E. program. Through rigorous monitoring and evaluation, we are deepening our understanding of the WASH needs of women and girls in the communities where we operate and improve our ability to deliver programs that support their wellbeing. We are also learning and sharing best practices for WASH and water stewardship to catalyze progress across the apparel industry and beyond.
The views expressed on this website reflect the opinions of Gap Inc., and are entirely our own. They do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) or the United States Government. USAID is not responsible for the accuracy of any information supplied herein.