On behalf of Prof. Stephanie Barrientos, The University of Manchester - Global Development Institute
The High-Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment could be an important catalyst, since it brings together actors from key institutions, including representatives from governments, World Bank, the UN, NGOs, as well as business. The role of business it is a dimension not sufficiently explored regarding its impacts on WEE.
People often talk of increasing WEE through ‘increasing access to markets’. However, the world increasingly works through Global Value Chains, which link firms across all stages of production, distribution and retail. OECD, WTO and UNCTAD estimated that approximately 70% of the world trade now passes through Global Value Chains, in which women play key roles in many segments.
For example, globally it is estimated that 350 million people work in cotton-apparel value chains, including farming, textiles, manufacture and distribution. In this scenario, women play key roles as:
- seasonal workers and farmers in cotton farming – often without land ownership, insufficient credit and difficulties accessing markets;
- homeworkers in lower tiers of value chain, with insufficient rights and protection;
- they constitute approximately 70-80% of garment workers in factories (e.g. in Bangladesh).
Lead companies are becoming increasingly concerned about the social and economic resilience of their supply chains, particularly given a rising demand in emerging economies and environmental pressures. But an effective change on the ground seems too slow. My research indicates that Global Value Chains can actually be a lever for change. In fact, if companies in value chains are mobilized, there will be implications for millions of women across Africa, Asia and Latin America.
More than 1,000 companies have signed up to the un women empowerment principles, and committed more than us$300 million to promoting women’s economic empowerment.
Both governments and multinational companies are also engaging in UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (that has identified supply chains as a focus) and are actively considering their role in promoting the Sustainable Development Goals.
Donors, Governments, Civil Society Organisations long promoted gender equality and have a key role to play in WEE – but they also need to bring in business, not through ‘markets’ alone but more strategically through value chains than can be lever for a real change.