Working Towards Gender Equality in Global Supply Chains

QIMA Sustainability Conference 2018 - Session 1: Critical human rights issues in global supply chains: modern slavery, human trafficking, gender inequality

Presented by Marat Yu, Business for Social Responsibility (BSR) Manager

Marat Yu shared some key insights on gender equality and women’s rights from his work with HERProject, a collaborative initiative that strives to empower low-income women working in global supply chains.


  • Current state of gender parity in the world society and global economy
  • Systemic barriers to women’s rights, empowerment and opportunities
  • Insights on gender-related issues in global supply chains
  • The importance of improving gender equality in supply chains
  • Practical strategies for more gender-sensitive CSR efforts

Working Towards Gender Equality in Global Supply Chains

In 2017, the World Economic Forum’s 2017 Global Gender Gap Report found that the overall gender gap increased for the first time since the Forum had started tracking it in 2006. This is further proof that despite the progress already made in women’s empowerment, gaps still remain and increased momentum is required.

Some key statistics highlighting the degree of gender inequality:

  • Women make up 50% of the world population, but represent 70% of the world’s poor
  • More than 100 countries have laws that restrict women’s participation in the economy
  • Women work 2/3 of the world’s hours, yet yearn 1/10 of the world’s income

Systemic barriers faced by women

Four overarching systemic barriers hinder women’s access to empowerment and development opportunities:

  • Adverse social norms, including gender stereotypes and occupational segregation, whereby women are concentrated in lower-skilled and lower-paid jobs, and/or sector’s associated with “women’s work”
  • Discriminatory laws in over 100 countries, including 22 countries where women need a man’s permission to get a job, and 41 countries where women are banned from certain types of factory work. These countries include such manufacturing powerhouses as China and India.
  • Failure to recognize, reduce and redistribute unpaid household work, despite its important contribution to the economy. Women in MENA and South Asia countries perform 80-90% of unpaid care work.
  • Limited access to assets and resources, including property and land, healthcare, and digital resources, significantly hinders women from getting education, rising out of poverty and pursuing opportunities.

Pressing gender inequality issues in global supply chains

In global supply chains, women suffer from a large wage gap, poor working conditions, including lack of formal contracts and access to social insurance, and frequent verbal abuse and sexual harassment. Notably, one in five countries still lacks laws against sexual harassment in employment.

A recent analysis of factory audit data from the Sedex global platform showed that in such areas as discrimination, harassment, equal opportunities and health & safety, 80% of non-compliances were gender-related. While lack of clear policies on discrimination and sexual harassment were frequent, almost half of gender-related non-compliances were related to such basic measures as providing female employees with adequate washroom and toiler facilities.

The business case and practical approaches for gender equality in supply chains

In addition to being an important human rights issue, gender equality results in tangible positive outcomes for businesses, including a stronger workforce, increased productivity, better ability to meet production targets, improved overall compliance and enhanced employee engagement.

Mainstreaming gender equality in supply chains requires integrating gender considerations within internal and external policies, processes, and practices:

  • Internally:
    • Improve due diligence processes with the help of the UN’s Guiding Principles
    • Better identify gender hotspots within the supply chain during risk assessment and monitoring
    • Incorporate more gender sensitivity in compliance tools, including codes of conduct
    • Collect more qualitative and quantitative data on gender equality issues in your supply chain
  • Externally:
    • Engage suppliers in capacity-building and education, including management systems support
    • Establish workplace programs for female and male workers
    • Collaborate with women’s organizations locally and globally to advocate for positive change
    • Report on transparency progress related to women in supply chains