What challenges are women in supply chains facing?

John Lewis Partnership (JLP) has published its first ever ‘Women in Supply Chain’ report in a bid to “unpick the specific challenges” faced by women.

The report, which was published for International Women’s Day, explored how JLP could work to improve the welfare of women in its supply chains. 

Analysis of supply chains for John Lewis and Waitrose found that women are often over-represented in the garment and textile industries and tea and flower plantations, representing 58% and 53% of the workforces respectively. 

However, the report said these jobs are “often more precarious and at the lowest end of the pay scale”.

The report identified a range of issues within key supply chains including harassment, family and child care responsibilities and land rights that were directly impacting women. 

Particular areas of risk were fresh produce, cocoa and tea supply chains, as well as discrimination faced by women in countries such as Egypt, Kenya, South Africa and Ghana.

The retailer highlighted an example of migrant workers in Spain who were at particular risk of violence and harassment. 

“Every year, around 3,000 Moroccan women travel to Huelva, southern Spain, to pick berries. There is evidence to suggest that women with children are preferred for these roles, as they will have a vested interest in returning home to their children at the end of the picking season,” the report said.

“Once in Spain, the women are often housed on the farms, in remote areas and therefore are completely dependent on the growers.”

In this instance, it had been crucial to work collaboratively to raise standards and address issues, the retailer said.

“Through the in-person forums, growers are able to share best practice examples of how to ensure fair treatment of workers, one such example being a workshop on the development and implementation of a sexual harassment protocol and training programme for growers in the region.”

However, the retailer said it was “starting to see some changes to the more traditional roles taken by women”.

“There has been greater recognition that women are both able and willing to undertake some of the ‘hardier’ roles traditionally undertaken only by men,” the report said.

Waitrose said it was working with NGOs and the Fairtrade Foundation to create more sustainable supply chains but it was “aware that there is still much to be done to secure equity for men and women”.

It added it would be collating gender data for key fresh produce and livestock farming supply chains, and reviewing its targets based on the data.

Marija Rompani, JLP’s director of ethics and sustainability, told i news: “Women face so many difficulties around the world.

“There is systematic inequality. We’ve never been able to tie problems back to our suppliers but we do know these issues go on, and it’s important we tackle them and protect workers. 

“We’re committed to improving the lives of women, and all people who work on our food chain”.

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