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From Home Furnishing Business

Williams-Sonoma, VisionSpring delivers Vision Services to Factory Workers

Retailer Williams-Sonoma (NYSE: WSM) has partnered with VisionSpring, a non-profit that provides vision services and affordable eyewear, to help fund full vision services for at least 20,000 workers in developing areas of India and the Philippines. 9,765 workers have already been assisted for the initiative which runs through 2018.

The investment follows three successful pilot programs led by Williams-Sonoma and West Elm in India and Nepal. In 2015, West Elm was alerted to the challenges faced by artisan partners participating in a West Elm-funded literacy program located in Haiti, who could no longer participate because they were struggling with their vision. The following year, West Elm and VisionSpring piloted a program offering factory workers vision screenings and providing corrective eyewear, benefitting 632 workers in the first year. These pilots indicated that 56 percent of program participants had a need for vision services and more than 90 percent were given eyeglasses for the first time.

“Prioritizing worker well-being is a guiding principle of all Williams-Sonoma, Inc. brands, working together to make significant gains towards our commitment of impacting the lives of 100,000 workers and their families by 2020,” said Beth Thompson, EVP of Global Sourcing at Williams-Sonoma. “Our partnership with VisionSpring supports the economic empowerment and self-reliance of factory workers, and is one more example of how Williams-Sonoma brands continue to lead the way for other retailers to make business decisions with the power of doing good. It’s rewarding to know that today’s announcement is just the first phase of a much larger movement.”

“For those living in poverty, clear vision can mean the difference between learning to read or remaining illiterate, working and not working, and ultimately being able to provide for oneself and family,” said Ella Gudwin, president of VisionSpring.

“As a social enterprise, we are focused on getting low income workers into the eyeglasses they need to boost their income earning potential, and before age-related blurry vision forces them out of the workforce. We needed a passionate partner who shared our values and would help attract like-minded brands. We tested hypotheses in a few settings and developed a replicable approach that we can implement in a range of production sites, from large-scale factories to smaller artisan groups. And we built in a training component that will enable workplaces to sustain the provision of basic reading glasses on their own," added Gudwin.

Access to corrective vision services can make a profound impact on the lives of factory workers. Workers with eyewear have greater financial security and improved health. Additionally, studies have shown a 34 percent increase in productivity when workers have access to corrective vision services. Eye health programs and screenings become more efficient when delivered at scale and typically take just 15-minutes per worker. Recognizing the importance of delivering these critical exams, other retailers have joined VisionSpring as program partners, including Target.

Williams-Sonoma’s corporate sustainability efforts span its operations, seeking to improve the resiliency of its supply chain across the communities where business is conducted around the world. From the company's pledge to achieve 100 percent responsibly sourced cotton by 2021, to leadership in Fair Trade as the first international home furnishings retailer to partner with Fair Trade USA in 2014 and invest $3M in community development premiums by 2020, the company is constantly seeking ways to support innovative programs that deliver social and business impact to reinforce their commitment to creating quality products.

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