Inclusiveness beyond traditional Diversity Dimensions: Levi’s engagement for people with HIV

The famous U.S. apparel company Levi Strauss & Co. is very committed to a topic, which is usually not associated with D&I programmes – at least not in public. HIV or AIDS. The firm goes beyond the traditional D&I portfolio and shows that Inclusiveness is also about being open and inclusive for people in specific situations. A few measures show how Levi’s has become a positive example in this respect.

Levi’s engagement in the area of HIV/AIDS began in 1982 and hence already looks back on 30 years of history. Not only because of the quantity of years but also because of the quality of programmes and measures, an article in the magazine “The Advocate” recently portrayed Levi’s as “probably the best employer” for people with HIV in the United States of America. Moreover, even on a global scope the company is a very positive example for an inclusive employer beyond classical Diversity Dimensions (Gender, Age, Cultural background, LGBT etc.) as their engagement is not limited to the U.S. but extended to all 110 countries with Levi’s local branches.

As a foundational element, Levi’s adopted a Worldwide HIV/AIDS Workplace Policy aiming at the promotion of ‘healthy, productive work environments where employees can thrive free of stigma and discrimination’. Among others the policy has two main objectives: First, it aims at better HIV/AIDS prevention by heightening the awareness of employees (and their dependents) towards HIV/AIDS issues, including prevention, treatment and care services, where possible. The second objective is the creation of inclusive workplaces by ensuring a supportive work environment for all employees regardless of their HIV/AIDS status. To reach this goal, Levi’s wants to eliminate stigma and discrimination in the workplace on the basis of actual or perceived HIV status, or vulnerability to HIV infection.

Based on this policy, Levi’s does not tolerate discrimination in any of the 110 countries where they run local branches. The company already won several awards, not only for its engagement in HIV/AIDS issues but also in other Diversity related areas, most of them about gender equality or LGBT issues. It was, for example, honoured as one of the Human Rights Campaign Best Places to Work in 2014 and 2015.

Levi’s perception of HIV/AIDS is not limited to medical topics but includes social questions as well. Hence, they state on their Employee HIV/AIDS Program website: ‘We believe that the HIV/AIDS epidemic is more than a medical condition. It’s also a matter of eliminating the stigmatization and discrimination of people living and affected by HIV/AIDS.’ Such strong statements are rare, even in the world of so much public commitment for Diversity, mostly confined to gender, generations and ethnicity or origin.

The company has taken a number of measures to reach their aims of prevention and inclusiveness. The Employee HIV/AIDS Program website mentioned above is also part of the firm’s strategy as “employees can access HIV/AIDS information, resources and benefits, learn what [Levi’s] workplace HIV/AIDS policy is, how to manage HIV/AIDS at work and in their lives, while witnessing [Levi’s] story unfold through company HIV/AIDS campaigns and initiatives, and interviews with other passionate leaders and employees around the world”. Furthermore, the firm has established a 24/7 telephone hotline where Levi’s employees can pose their questions about HIV/AIDS related issues at any time. Levi’s pays (voluntary) HIV tests for their employees on a regular basis while not forcing anyone to take a test and without the need to inform Levi’s about the results. For its HIV positive employees, the company pays 100% of HIV medication costs in cases where it is not covered by health insurance. For their managers they implement AIDS awareness training on a regular basis to inform and guide them on the topic with all its facets.