2021 Key finding

Companies must do more to support women workers in their supply chain

Most companies have mechanisms in place to identify and assess actual or potential adverse gender-related impacts in their supply chain. However incidents that companies should be preventing, mitigating and/or remediating are being missed, detrimentally affecting women workers.

Nearly all companies (83%) screen for gender-related issues among suppliers as part of their audit process. These include sexual harassment, discrimination based on marital or pregnancy status, and intimidation, harassment, retaliation or violence against trade union members and representatives.
However, only five companies (14%) disclose that corrective action plans linked to gender-related issues were established with suppliers over the last two years. One company – VF Corporation – ultimately terminated its relationships with some of its suppliers after identifying gender-related issues. According to the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre, in the past two years an additional three companies assessed in our 2021 Gender Benchmark faced allegations regarding gender-based violence in their supply chain. Two companies faced sexual harassment allegations, and two companies faced allegations of discrimination against pregnant workers.

Improve existing systems

Companies should improve their existing systems to better detect gender-related issues in their supply chain. Many of the companies assessed require their suppliers to have non-discrimination policies to protect pregnant or married women (80%), and also prohibit intimidation, harassment, retaliation and violence against trade union members and representatives (66%).

Even fewer companies include issues in their supplier codes of conduct that are easier to monitor and detect during audits, such as requiring suppliers to employ workers through formal written contracts (29%), have an on-site clinic with credentialed health providers (11%) or pay workers a living wage (3%).

In addition to conducting audits on issues outlined in supplier codes of conduct, other mechanisms could help identify gender-related issues in the supply chain, namely human rights due diligence processes and grievance mechanisms. However, these mechanisms also need to be improved.

Currently, 13 companies (37%) screen for at least two gender-related human rights impacts as part of their human rights due diligence process. Nine companies (26%) prioritise at least one gender-related issue as salient. However, only seven companies (20%) consult with relevant parties, such as women’s organisations, gender experts or potentially affected women, as part of their risk identification and assessment process.

When it comes to grievance mechanisms, many of the companies (63%) require suppliers to have a grievance mechanism in place for workers to raise complaints. However, only nine companies (26%) require suppliers to ensure that workers are aware of this grievance mechanism, limiting its effectiveness.

Provide appropriate training and support

Once companies better understand what issues exist in their supply chain and the severity of the issues, they can focus on more targeted actions, such as training and support initiatives. These are currently scarce.

Companies need to improve their efforts to prevent gender discrimination in the supply chain. While 28 companies (80%) require suppliers to have a non-discrimination policy that explicitly protects married or pregnant women workers, only Nike and Target require their suppliers to provide training to hiring managers to eliminate bias in the recruitment and promotion of women workers.

More support should also be provided when it comes to the health and well-being of women workers in the supply chain. While 21 companies (60%) require suppliers to address at least one specific health, safety and hygiene need of their women workers, such as access to drinking water, and 15 companies (43%) require health and safety training, only ten companies (29%) provide additional support to ensure a gender-responsive, safe and healthy work environment for their workers, such as adequate and safe toilet facilities that accommodate for women’s hygiene needs.

Violence and harassment is another area where nearly all companies (83%) require their suppliers to have a policy or statement in place. However, less than half of these companies require it to be made available in local languages. Just six companies (17%) require suppliers to provide training on violence and harassment.

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Companies are ignoring their employees’ needs

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