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27 Apr 2022

Franziska Korn, Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung & Karolin Seitz, Global Policy Forum

Commentary: Protecting Women in Global Supply Chains? Gender-just Legislation is the Only Way!

8. April 2022

Structural discrimination against women cuts across all levels of the global workforce. Women are much more likely than men to work in insecure or lower-paid jobs and to encounter unfair and unhealthy working conditions, as well as being underrepresented in managerial positions and more likely to encounter discrimination and sexual assault. In addition to paid work, women around the world also bear the brunt of unpaid work...

The coronavirus pandemic has heightened gender inequalities. Poverty, exploitation, and discrimination against women have increased worldwide due to the breakdown of global supply relations...

Multinational companies have so far failed to adequately protect women’s rights and promote gender justice. Attempts to prevent human rights violations through audits or other voluntary initiatives have often proven unsuccessful. Laws and regulations are essential to ensure companies fulfil their duty to protect people and the environment...

In the light of the UN Guiding Principles, several countries have passed what are known as due diligence laws. While these are a crucial step towards more just, inclusive and sustainable globalisation, they do not focus sufficiently on gender justice...

While German legislation in this field fails to address gender justice, the EU’s draft Directive on  corporate sustainability due diligence  is not completely gender-blind. For example, the draft lists the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women among the human rights provisions to be respected. However, it does not prohibit any form of discrimination against all women, including non-employees. It likewise does not call for gender-sensitive risk analysis or address access to legal remedies that genuinely enable women to claim redress. ILO Convention No. 190 on violence and harassment in the workplace is not yet included either. Gender justice must come to the fore in future discussions on EU legislation.

“Progress towards an equitable world” is the motto of this year’s German G7 Presidency. Making globalisation fairer and more sustainable is a pre-requisite for long-term progress and justice. In 2015, G7 heads of state and government were already calling on companies worldwide to integrate the Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs) into their business operations. Implementing the global WEPs, an initiative from UN Women and the UN Global Compact, enables companies to make a specific contribution to promoting and empowering women. Evaluation followed in 2020 and sparked enormous disillusionment. Despite publicly acknowledging the principles, many companies entirely ignored them in their business practices. One thing is certain: companies only fulfil their duty to protect workers worldwide if regulations and laws to this effect are in place. That means the G7 Presidency must set an example: national and European legislation on gender-just supply chains is crucial. An internationally binding agreement is also needed to regulate company behaviour worldwide and ensure access to justice and redress for human rights violations or environmental pollution by businesses. Negotiations are currently underway in the UN Human Rights Council on the UN Treaty on Transnational Corporations and Other Business Enterprises. The G7 should engage constructively in these negotiations and advocate a strong, gender-just international treaty.