Chinese companies could unleash huge potentials to promote gender equality through responsible business practices

Author: Huang Zhong, Business and Human Rights Resource Centre, Published on: 18 December 2019

In April 2019, a colleague and I conducted a two-week field study in Nepal to examine the social dimension of risks and opportunities linked to sustainable Chinese overseas investment… the research reveals that in spite of progress made in the legal and policy framework, the Nepalese government is limited in its ability to protect women and girls from multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination stemming from patriarchal norms and social structures. There is also a lack of recognition of the rights of disadvantaged groups of women, such as indigenous women.

Against this backdrop, the research team found that the needs, experiences, and perspectives of women were largely neglected due to the lack of gender analysis and gender impact assessment by the businesses and relevant policy-makers at different levels…

Despite the remained gaps that need urgent actions from both government and company, however, researchers also found emerging good practice of Chinese businesses in promoting gender equality in the workplace and community.

  • Promoting gender equality in the workplace

One Chinese company explicitly expressed that it prioritizes women and low caste applicants when hiring local employees, which aligns with the principles of nondiscrimination based on gender and castes system enshrined in the new constitution of Nepal…

  • Empowering community women through local procurement

A company used to purchase vegetables for Chinese workers at the market far away from the community during the construction period.  A women's committee in the community negotiated with the company about improving the local procurement. Women inquired about the list of vegetables from the company and traveled to the capital city for buying the seeds and learning to grow them. They reached an agreement with the company on purchasing the specific Chinese vegetables that local women grown in the community. The local women showed confidence in providing agri-products that could meet the company's requirement, and they gained more earning through exploring business opportunities with the company.

The anecdotal evidences above show foreign investors and companies including those from China could play an active role in promoting inclusion and equality when they are aware of the risks of discriminatory culture and customs that not only negatively affect the employees and communities, but also might jeopardize the productivity and reputation of companies per se, and take proactive measures to address it. However, companies could only make a systematic change by understanding and adopting a holistic approach, among others, to incorporate a gender-responsive approach into their operation and due diligence process. The gender guidance newly developed by the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights is a timely and necessary tool for businesses and investors to follow…

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