For almost four decades, Harpic has been a ubiquitous sanitation brand in India, a household name that has scrubbed clean millions of toilets. Besides that, it has contributed substantially to cleansing the stigmas and taboos surrounding sanitation workers nationwide. Harpic, which is owned by Reckitt, is duly credited with creating the toilet-cleaning category in the country and now holds a 76.8% market share. However, Reckitt and Harpic have not only focused on capturing market shares but have also worked passionately towards changing the perception of sanitation workers and educating people about safe and hygienic toilet cleaning practices with the purpose of ensuring improved well-being and progress for all.
Our brand’s purpose is to improve toilet and bathroom hygiene for better health. This is our guiding principle. Globally, we are committed to achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6 targets on water and sanitation.
Since 2014, we have been at the forefront of promoting better sanitation practices in India by bringing about real behaviour change. Our partnership with NDTV, along with the support of the Central government, which launched the Swachh Bharat Mission, has played a significant role in raising awareness and encouraging the use of toilets.
The Swachh Bharat Mission has resulted in the construction of over 10 crore toilets in households across India. However, the effectiveness of this transformational initiative lies in ensuring that these new facilities are maintained hygienically encouraging masses to shift from open defecation to using toilets.
The persistent problem of unavailable, inaccessible and often dirty toilets has plagued our country for far too long. This situation has discouraged people from using even the toilets that are accessible, exacerbating the issue. To tackle this, we have joined forces with the government to raise awareness about the importance of proper toilet hygiene through our flagship programme, Mission Swacchata Aur Paani, in partnership with Network 18. Our message, Saaf toilet kaam ka, warna sirf naam ka, underscores the importance of clean toilets and highlights the significant health risks associated with their unhygienic use.
The realm of sanitation is vast and riddled with numerous challenges. To address this, over time, we have distilled a comprehensive five-point agenda for our purpose-driven programme. These include: inclusive access (to clean toilets), education on proper etiquette, health awareness, dignity for sanitation workers and water for sanitation (recognising it as a fundamental enabler for hygiene and sanitation).
1. Inclusive Access: Ensuring that clean toilet facilities are accessible to everyone, with focus on women, children, transgender individuals and marginalised groups.
2. Education on Proper Etiquette: Spreading awareness about the importance of using toilets correctly and emphasising that maintaining clean toilets is a shared responsibility.
3. Health Awareness: Creating awareness about the profound connection between sanitation and overall well-being.
4. Dignity for Sanitation Workers: Upholding the dignity and recognising the invaluable contribution of sanitation workers.
5. Water for Sanitation: Recognising water as a fundamental enabler for maintaining hygiene and sanitation.
These guiding principles help us determine the initiatives to pursue and the partners to choose. Also, combined with a commitment to effecting genuine and meaningful change, it propels us to address societal challenges within the sanitation domain. Sanitation workers represent an essential pillar of our brand and constitute a critical component of our purpose-driven programme.
On the Radar
Sanitation workers form an indispensable segment of India’s labour force, numbering over five million across nine categories. Despite their vital role, many of these workers endure perilous working conditions on a daily basis. Compounded by systemic injustices rooted in caste-based discrimination, sanitation workers and manual scavengers find themselves ensnared in a cycle of poverty, devoid of educational opportunities or avenues for upward mobility.
This tragic circumstance translates into compromised health, a considerably lower life expectancy (40 to 45 years, compared to the national average of 70), and a disheartening belief that their offspring too would be bound to the same profession and be branded as “untouchable”, perpetuating a bleak cycle of hopelessness. The stigma attached to this labour results in their exclusion from mainstream society, leading to social and economic marginalisation.
Deep-seated prejudices and discrimination hound sanitation workers. They are denied access to education and shared resources and relegated to margins, exacerbating their already challenging predicament. This hampers their livelihood and strips them of their intrinsic dignity, leaving them trapped in despair. Under such stress, many of them resort to alcohol and drug abuse, inflicting more trauma on their mental and physical health.
HWTC: A beacon of hope
The Harpic World Toilet College (HWTC) has been established in 15 states across India in partnership with state governments and municipal bodies. The centre provides operational training to sanitation workers, including regular counselling and job placements. Almost all of the trained sanitation workers have secured sustainable jobs, some placed in the corporate sector, including hospitality, entertainment, automobiles, and healthcare. The top recruiters include Aurangabad Municipal Corporation, Taj Hotels, Marriott, TATA Motors, Hero, PVR and ITC.
The programme utilises technology for monitoring and evaluation and has partnerships with key stakeholders, ensuring its sustainability and effectiveness in improving the lives of sanitation workers. It also promotes awareness and advocacy for eliminating manual scavenging and providing dignified livelihoods for sanitation workers.
Over 30,000 sanitation workers have been rehabilitated across 15 states, resulting in a 55% increase in household income. An independent report has stated that 98% of sanitation workers experienced an enhanced sense of dignity, 75% experienced less stigma and reduced substance abuse, 91.6% appreciated their work more, 47% secured formal employment, 36.8% grew their savings, and 51.2% reduced their spending on health. Furthermore, the programme is working towards policy change and institutional alignment to implement 100% mechanised sewage cleaning in India.
The HWTC programme ensures that sanitation workers know their rights and take pride in their work. The brand is committed to furthering its mission and bringing to life multiple initiatives with its many wonderful partners.
Amrita Ramanathan is Marketing Manager, Harpic, Reckitt. The column has been co-authored with Sahil Talwar, Director, Jagran Pehel.