Gender equality

Promoting female empowerment
Major apparel manufacturer
MAS Holdings
Apparel Manufacture
Sri Lanka with manufacturing plants in India, and joint ventures in China, Mexico, Indonesia with design studios in the US, UK and Hong Kong.
Private company
No. of employees:


MAS Holdings is a manufacturer of intimate apparel and sportswear with a strong presence in South Asia. It has 30 manufacturing facilities worldwide and its annual turnover is over US$700 million. Clients include Victoria's Secret, Nike, Speedo, Gap, Marks & Spencer and Triumph International, Dim Branded Apparel and Hanes.

Further information:

Dilemma: Promoting female empowerment in the apparel industry

MAS Holdings' headquarters is based in Sri Lanka, where 75% of its total workforce and more than 80% of employees at its apparel manufacturing plants are female. A total of 83% of their overseas workforce - for example in India - is also female. MAS recognises the need to empower women by building their capacities and encouraging them to excel in a challenging environment. The company has also sought to counter typical industry stereotypes such as 'garment girls' or 'juki girls'.

Good practice: The 'Women Go Beyond' programme

In 2003 MAS launched the 'Women Go Beyond' programme to encourage female employees in Sri Lanka and India to work towards securing higher positions within the company by equipping them with the right skills. Initiatives include Career Advancement, Work-Life Balance Skill Enhancement and Rewarding Excellence. The programme, which is currently in operation in 24 plants in Sri Lanka and India, including at their recent launched eco-manufacturing facility. Formal programmes include English and IT classes, legal training, financial management and 'managing multiple roles' training. Additional classes have included reproductive health workshops and sexual harassment awareness sessions.

Workers elect representatives to Joint Consultative Committees, which hold monthly meetings with management to discuss workplace, customer and community issues. There are also on-site infirmaries for medical appointments and maternity clinics in all MAS factories. Child care is provided in some plants. Other initiatives aimed at promoting empowerment of female employees include the basing of factories in rural villages in order to minimise relocation of female workers away from their families. Elsewhere, company buses pick up workers from nearby villages and drop them at the factory gate to minimise safety concerns.

Results: Increased competitive advantage and strategic partnerships

It is believed that Women Go Beyond has resulted in higher productivity as a result of higher motivation and retention levels - as well as more confident and forthright employees. Hard data is currently being gathered in this respect. Likewise, there has been an increase in the number of females in executive and management positions at MAS factories. Each year MAS awards “Empowered Women' for their personal and professional achievements at a high profile public ceremony. This year the awards have been extended to include female executives and managers.

The programme has gained international recognition and resulted in a number of new CSR partnerships. These include projects focusing on female entrepreneurship with companies such as Gap Inc. and Victoria's Secret. MAS has also partnered with HSBC to develop skills in life planning and personal finance, and with Unilever Sri Lanka on a programme termed 'Getting More Out of Life' focusing on women's health issues. In addition, MAS has entered into related partnerships with locally based organisations such as Sarvodaya Economic Enterprise Development.

MAS has won a number of awards for its responsible employment practices, including the American Apparel and Footwear Association's 'Excellence in Social Responsibility' award in 2005, and the Nike Award for Outstanding Performance in Innovation, Regional Product Development, Quality and Corporate Social Responsibility in 2006. This year MAS also won the Femmy Vendor of the Year award in the intimate apparel industry.