The World Benchmarking Alliance’s Gender Benchmark seeks to measure, compare and incentivise corporate impact on gender equality and women’s empowerment across the entire value chain. In its first iteration, the Gender Benchmark will focus on the apparel industry, assessing and ranking 36 of the most influential global apparel companies.

Background

On 16 December 2019 we published the draft methodology for our Gender Benchmark.[1] The draft methodology explains the benchmarking process and includes the indicators that WBA intends to use to benchmark the apparel industry. The draft methodology was the result of our continuous stakeholder engagement process, building on roundtables in Mumbai, Vancouver and Bangalore, as well as on conversations with companies, investors, civil society, academics and governments.

At the same time as the publication of the draft methodology we launched the public consultation phase, inviting all interested stakeholders to provide feedback on the draft methodology over a 7-week period (16 December 2019 to 31 January 2020).

There was very positive and thoughtful engagement from a broad set of stakeholders, ranging from companies that are in the scope of the Gender Benchmark and civil society organisations, to multi- and bi-lateral organisations, financial institutions and academics. We would like to thank all stakeholders for their feedback to help shape the first Gender Benchmark methodology.

The full list of the people and organisations that provided input

(with the exception of four companies, one civil society organisation and one government agency that elected to remain anonymous).

  • Abi Griffiths Price
  • Anna Gollub, UN Women
  • Annabel Meurs and Mousumi Sarangi, Fair Wear Foundation
  • Annelise Thim, BSR
  • Angela Chaudhuri, Swasti
  • Ashok Pamidi, NASSCOM Foundation
  • Professor Carol Adams, Swinburne Business School and Durham University Business School
  • Dasra (Impact Foundation [India])
  • David Wofford, Meridian Group International, Inc.
  • Eleanor Carey, Data2X
  • Gap, Inc.
  • Henk Peters, Oxfam
  • Ise Bosch, Dreilinden
  • Julie Gorte, Impax Assessment Management
  • PricewaterhouseCoopers
  • Robyn Russell, UN Foundation
  • Ruth Shaber, Tara Health Foundation
  • Sandra Espinosa
  • Sarah Zoen, Oxfam
  • Shannon Sutton, Impacti
  • Shaonli Chakraborty, Swasti
  • Shelley Alpern, Rhia Ventures
  • Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency
  • Tiffany Sprague, Catalystas Consulting
  • Tulsi Byrne, Nuveen
  • UNICEF
  • Varina Winder

Feedback received from those listed above ranged from general comments on the Gender Benchmark methodology and measurement areas to specific feedback at the indicator level. Below are the key takeaways drawn from the feedback received.

The eight key takeaways

Clarify key concepts

A number of terms referred to in the Gender Benchmark methodology could be more clearly defined to provide clarity to companies as to what is being assessed and what information they should provide as part of the assessment. For example, the term ‘supply chain’ could be clarified so it is clear which aspect of a company’s supply chain the Gender Benchmark is assessing – e.g., direct, strategic Tier 1 suppliers vs. all tiers, apparel-specific vs. other suppliers in companies with a broader portfolio. Further, the methodology could also specify what “gender-responsive” entails – e.g., elements needed to be present for a company to have a “gender-responsive” grievance mechanism and human rights due diligence process.

Provide clarity at the indicator level

While there was limited debate regarding the types of gender themes and issues addressed in the Gender Benchmark, there were some suggestions regarding how specific indicators could be further clarified. The Gender Benchmark methodology could make clearer which element of a company’s full value chain each indicator relates to, particularly in the Governance and Strategy measurement area. It could also further specify whether an indicator is focused on high-level commitments and/or policies, business practices to implement such policies, performance/outcome measures, or their related transparency/disclosure. Finally, it could more explicitly recognise the linkages between each indicator and existing frameworks and resources such as the Women’s Empowerment Principles Gap Analysis Tool.

Evolve the supply chain indicators

While there was general support for the Gender Benchmark’s more in-depth look into the supply chain, there was also recognition that this is challenging to do in practice. The Gender Benchmark methodology could include more concrete examples to demonstrate the expectations placed on companies to ensure gender equality and women’s empowerment in their supply chains. This is as opposed to asking companies broad conceptual questions. The methodology could also elevate the role of third-party verification and audits in the supply chain to ensure that the information provided by companies with respect to their supply chains is accurate.

Consider broadening the scope of the supply chain indicators

Some stakeholders suggested that the Gender Benchmark methodology could not only look at whether and how a company imposes gender-related obligations on its Tier 1 suppliers. It could also assess how companies encourage responsibility further down the supply chain (i.e., to its Tier 2 suppliers and beyond). Further, some argued for the importance of scrutinising companies’ purchasing practices, specifically including whether company gender efforts are reflected in purchasing practices between buyers and suppliers.

Evolve the weighting approach

The Gender Benchmark methodology could give more weight to indicators that require public disclosure by a company to highlight the importance of companies providing information in a transparent way.

Prioritise meaningful company action

The Gender Benchmark methodology could award scores to companies where they have taken meaningful action to address gender equality and women’s empowerment in the workplace and the supply chain. Companies should not receive a score where the steps they have taken merely serve as “window-dressing” (e.g., they have a gender equality policy with no action taken to put that policy into practice).

Consider assessing absenteeism

The Gender Benchmark methodology could not only focus on employee turnover; it could also assess companies on absenteeism. Sex-disaggregated data for both turnover and absenteeism can be used by companies to identify gender-related issues.

Leverage and refine the SDGs in scope

A number of stakeholders appreciated how the Gender Benchmark explicitly links to and aligns with the SDGs, suggesting that this also be used as an opportunity to educate more companies on the role they play in helping drive toward the SDGs. Most stakeholders agreed on the SDGs identified as being in scope for the Gender Benchmark, although there were suggestions to add additional SDG target links to specific indicators, including SDG 2 (zero hunger) and SDG 12.6 (adopt sustainable practices and to integrate sustainability information into their reporting cycle).

Next Steps

The feedback received has been reviewed by WBA’s Gender Benchmark team and the Gender Benchmark Expert Review Committee. It has been processed into a final methodology, to the extent possible. The final methodology will be published online on 31 March 2020 following approval by the Executive Board of WBA.

For any further questions or clarifications about the Gender Benchmark or if you would like a copy of the detailed feedback received from stakeholders, please contact us at info.gender@worldbenchmarkingalliance.org.

[1] Previously referred to as the Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Benchmark.