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Addressing SDG 5: 5 Steps to Promote Gender Equality in the Supply Chain

Image credit: United Nations

In 2015, the world got one step closer to a better future when 193 countries committed to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a framework for addressing the global community’s most critical economic, social and environmental challenges. These goals aim to eliminate poverty and hunger, promote global access to healthcare and education, protect earth’s natural resources, achieve gender equality, and more.

Specifically, SDG 5 calls for gender equality and empowerment of all women and girls, and should be a critical consideration for global supply chains, as there’s tremendous opportunity to make an impact. Women hold 60 to 90 percent of global supply chain jobs, particularly in the apparel and agricultural sectors, and represent the majority of workers in low-wage jobs in the lower tiers of the value chain. Despite their prevalent role, women lack access to social protection measures, especially maternity protection, and face limited career opportunities.

Companies emphasizing supply chain sustainability should dedicate a special focus to the fifth SDG because these organizations play a big role in achieving this goal. Success means providing equal remuneration and opportunities, addressing workplace violence and harassment, promoting women into leadership roles and granting access to gender-specific healthcare and childcare services and benefits.

There are five steps companies in all industries and sizes can take to reap the benefits of gender equality in the supply chain.

1. Increase transparency with better metrics and reporting.

Setting up meaningful and accurate metrics and goals, appropriate to the size and sector of the organization, is key for quality reporting, which in the end means more transparency into sustainable progress. When teams have the right metrics for evaluating where the company and its suppliers stand on gender equality, it’s easier to set targets, measure success and benchmark performance against competition.

Start with the most basic key performance indicators (KPIs), such as gender ratio across various roles and the corresponding level of remuneration. GRI G4 standards provide robust reporting frameworks for gender equality and diversity.

2. Prioritize robust policies and programs.

If policies and programs to tackle gender inequality don’t exist in your supply chain, it is high time to design and implement them. When gender equality is weaved into the management system and this foundation for progress is in place, the next step is to prioritize gender-related programs. For example, L’Oréal — the leader of Equileap’s cross-sector ranking of gender equality performance — is convinced that gender parity is a strategic lever for performance and growth. The cosmetics giant has put forward a sustainable sourcing program that specifically addresses the vulnerability of women when it comes to climate change. The cumulative effects of poverty, cultural and social barriers, exacerbated by climate change, put the health, wellbeing and livelihood of women at great risk. L’Oréal is addressing this critical issue through research and regional programs that empower women and help them diversify their income, and by supporting external initiatives such as Women4Climate, designed to create sustainable and inclusive communities.

The recent UN Global Compact Progress Report 2018 highlighted this case study of  L’Oréal: “ L’Oréal has been at the forefront of promoting gender equality in the workplace. Women comprise 70 percent of L’Oréal’s workforce, 62 percent of executives, 33 percent of executive committee members and 46 percent of board members. Women managed 58 percent of the company’s brands (as of December 2016). L’Oréal was ranked first among over 3,000 global companies by Equileap, a non-profit organization that aims to accelerate progress towards gender equality at work.”

3. Find your allies.

A network of supporters and allies is crucial for business success, and this wisdom also applies to achieving the SDG on gender equality. One key step is to support female entrepreneurs or companies with a mission to fight gender inequality. Global Entrepreneurship Monitor reports that in 2018 there are 30 percent more male entrepreneurs in the world and that women make up only 40 percent of the new entrepreneurs in the U.S. This makes it even more imperative to support the existing 200 million female business owners worldwide and encourage growth of female entrepreneurship across the globe. A company can send a strong message by selecting suppliers with effective gender-specific policies and programs in place. This is especially relevant for the retail and agricultural sectors, where low-tier workers are predominantly women.

4. Benefit from global expertise.

Demonstrate commitment to global goals and gender parity by partnering with leading organizations and joining key initiatives. As robust as gender equality and women’s empowerment policies and programs may be, there’s a lot to be gained by formally endorsing worldwide initiatives such as Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs) and HeForShe’s IMPACT 10x10x10 framework, or joining other national or local initiatives. Participating in well-established initiatives offers the chance to dip into a network of global experts on critical subjects and access best practices and tools that that can break through barriers to gender equality in your own operations and throughout your global supply chain.

5. Educate and train suppliers.

Forced and child labor is firmly on the agenda of most large corporations. However, few acknowledge the vulnerability of girls and women to modern slavery: Females constitute 99 percent of victims in the commercial industry and 58 percent in other sectors. By eliminating forced and child labor in your supply chain, you strongly contribute to achieving SDG 5. Engaging suppliers is key here — selecting only pre-qualified suppliers, continuous monitoring and training of existing suppliers, and engaging them in the conversation about gender parity and your vision of a fair and equal workplace are the most fundamental steps to have in place.

The importance and the impact of gender equality is easy to underestimate when facing seemingly more critical issues. However, gender is an inalienable component of every other global goal. Educating girls and preventing child marriage helps eliminate global poverty, and full and equal participation of girls and women in global politics will definitely bring us closer to achieving the 2030 Agenda for sustainable development, which the SDGs support.


Victoria Shapovalova is a Sustainable Development Analyst at EcoVadis, based in Hong Kong.

[Read more about Victoria Shapovalova]


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