Women’s empowerment

Investing in women. Advancing opportunities.

When addressing the issue of gender equality, it’s appropriate to do so in the context of amfori members’ three biggest sourcing countries. Women make up between 70-90% of garment workers in China, India and Bangladesh. Despite such a dominant presence, they are disproportionately represented at the lowest tiers of the supply chain and subject to the worst kinds of discrimination and abuses.

Research consistently finds that large percentages of women have been intimidated or threatened with violence, and in the worst cases raped or forced to commit a sexual act. Inadequate or non-existent grievance procedures heighten the fear many have of speaking out.

Such findings are a stark reminder of the challenge businesses face in rooting out human rights risks in global supply chains. Regulations to combat gender-based discrimination are in place in some countries, but a lack of enforcement and awareness can limit effectiveness.

A matter of human rights

Each country represents a unique myriad of social and historical reasons for gender inequalities, but the negative effects on women and broader society are largely the same. Business has a responsibility to respect human rights. The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights outline the measures businesses should incorporate into their due diligence practices, including how to address gender-related issues.

Respecting human rights is not just about doing no harm, it’s about giving people access to the fruits of development. Any form of discrimination is a serious barrier against such access. And that’s why gender inequality fundamentally comes back to respecting human rights. In doing so, businesses are promoting the rights of women and supporting the sustainable development of communities.

The business case: what’s possible?

Positive change is possible, and the effects are felt far beyond the factory floor. DBL Group, a Bangladeshi producer to amfori members, recently piloted an initiative to create greater opportunities for female workers to reach managerial and supervisory roles. The direct impact on working conditions and business operations were as follows:

  • Increased worker satisfaction
  • Reduced absenteeism
  • Reduced staff turnover
  • Increased ownership, confidence and skills of female workers
  • Enhanced productivity levels
  • Increased financial turnover

The positive impact also goes far beyond the workplace. Women have been shown to invest 90% of their income into their families and communities, making the potential developmental effects of their empowerment exponential.

What is amfori doing?

In bridging the link between gender equality and sustainable supply chains, amfori launched a Women’s Empowerment Programme in September 2018. The goal of the programme is to:
  • raise awareness and understanding in companies on the persisting challenges that women face at work as well as on the business benefits of gender equality and women’s empowerment
  • build management capacity to create a more enabling work environment for women through training
  • increase career prospects for women by training them for positions beyond the factory level
 
To this end, amfori launched projects addressing these issues in the three most significant sourcing countries for amfori members: China, India and Bangladesh.
 
Activities under the programme include awareness raising events with multiple stakeholders, training and workshops for managers and workers, research and advocacy on legislation, and the development of guidance and tools to embed a gender lens in due diligence processes.
 
While several project activities are still being rolled out, a second phase of the programme is being developed as of January 2020 in the abovementioned countries. In addition, consideration is being given to the launch of new projects in other amfori member sourcing countries to scale up the positive lessons learnt from the initial three project countries.

 

India

Phase 1 (January – December 2019 – Completed)
 
Together with the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), amfori initiated a one-year project to reduce workplace violence. The project focused on improving workers’ and supervisors’ awareness of labour rights and grievance mechanisms, with a focus on sexual harassment. 
 
Project deliverables:
  • member and Producer Guidance on The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redress) (POSH) Act 
  • management training on POSH Act (available on amfori Academy)
 
Phase 2 (Ongoing)
 
Building on the materials developed in the first project phase, amfori has made the management trainings on the POSH Act part of the permanent training offering on the amfori Academy. 
 
A deeper approach is yet to be explored.

Bangladesh

In Bangladesh, amfori is partnering with CSR Centre and DBL Group to roll-out a two-and-a-half-year project to empower women in six amfori BSCI factories across Dhaka and Chittagong. The project, titled the Shobola Project, aims to empower women to advance their careers beyond the factory floor. Producers are trained and guided in identifying and remediating gender related challenges at their factories. All six producers have undergone a baseline assessment, received training for both management and female workers to raise awareness on gender-related issues, sexual harassment and discrimination and been guided in developing a gender action plan (GAP). Social dialogues will be carried out to facilitate dialogue between management and workers on the actions identified and a final impact assessment will be conducted.

Project deliverables:

  • Shobola Project brochure
  • gender assessment tool and action plan template (pending)
  • enhanced training offering for management and female workers (pending)
  • handbook on Social Dialogue on Gender Equality (pending)
  • case study booklet (pending)

China

Phase 1 (May 2018 – May 2019 – Completed)

In China, we partnered with International Organization for Migration (IOM) to conduct a research project to understand the situation and needs of female migrant workers. Internal female migrant workers in China face a range of vulnerabilities and challenges, from human trafficking to labour exploitation. The challenges also encompass limited or lack of access to parental leave and childcare, medical and health services and occupational health and safety, legal assistance and work-life balance.

Phase 2 (Ongoing)

Drawing on some of the findings of this study, amfori is in the process of developing trainings on gender equality and women’s empowerment in the workplace in collaboration with our local partner TIMELINE.

Project deliverables:

  • training on gender equality and women’s empowerment in the workplace in collaboration with TIMELINE (available on amfori Academy soon)

 

The Women’s Empowerment Programme aligns with SDG 5 to ‘achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls’ and SGG 8 to ‘promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all.’