Why we must empower women in global supply chains

Ieva Vilimaviciute
posted by Ieva Vilimaviciute
6 March 2015

We’ve heard a lot recently about 2015 promising to be the year of sustainability – with global conferences on sustainable development and climate change, new UK legislation fighting modern day slavery, and the forthcoming UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), set to shape the global remit for social, economic and environmental development.

One of the key goals of the SDGs is to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls around the world. With this in mind, the post-2015 development agenda offers a great opportunity to drive lasting change for women’s rights and equality.

As we prepare to celebrate International Women’s Day on Sunday, it’s worth acknowledging there has been a lot of progress towards women’s rights over the decades. But many gaps still remain: gender equality is still a big issue across the world, from unequal pay, to discrimination and violence against women and girls in public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation. Women play a crucial role in food production, yet their right to access, use, control and own land and other essential resources are limited in certain parts of the world. Rural women in these areas are rarely heard in decision-making processes.

The vast majority of workers in global supply chains are women, meaning their contribution is vital. They represent 60 to 80 per cent of global manufacturing labour and although supply chains give them access to the formal economy, social security and income, they still often remain vulnerable to human rights violations, violence and abuse. Female workers are less likely to be aware of their rights than men. They often work in small, unprotected workplaces, such as subcontracting facilities or at home, which means they often are overlooked by social auditors and trade unions. When this is the case, they are invisible in global supply chains.

Undoubtedly, there is a strong business and community development case for supporting women’s rights. Some large corporations are already providing great examples. Mars, one of the world’s leading food manufacturers, is focusing on empowering women cocoa farmers to build stronger communities, improving the quality of life for farmers, and building more sustainable and resilient supply chains.

What is needed to ensure women’s rights is collaboration between different sectors and actors, collaboration between businesses and NGOs, training and providing business cases for investment in women’s health and empowerment programmes. International Women’s Day is a prompt to reflect what more can be done to improve women’s rights and to make female workers more visible within supply chains.

Promoting gender equality is not only a matter of human rights but also a fundamental condition for sustainable social and economic development. Ensuring that women and girls have full and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life should be a priority for the post-2015 agenda.

Ieva Vilimaviciute is marketing executive at not for profit membership organisation Sedex. The implications the SDGs will have on global supply chains, including how to empower the women working within them, will be discussed at the Sedex Global Responsible Sourcing Conference 2015 in London on 25th March. Register for a live-stream here.

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