We believe in a society free from bias where everybody has an equal voice and representation. We aim to be inclusive across our whole value chain, to treat people fairly and to give everybody access to the same opportunities. And we want to protect workers from discrimination and harassment.
Gender equality in our supply chain
Why we work with gender equality
We rely on around 1.3 million people, mostly women, to make our products. The factories that employ them are spread across 35 different countries. Each country has a different culture, societal norms, legal contexts and levels of gender equality. We are committed to achieving equal opportunities and well-being for all women working in the apparel sector.
We have signed the Women’s Empowerment Principles and we are working towards Sustainable Development Goal number 5 (SDG5), which aims to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls by 2030.
Progress has been made, but it’s too slow and the pandemic made it even slower. According to the Equal Measures Report, in 2022 no country was doing enough to achieve gender equality by 2030. We, along with other brands, trade unions and governments, need to step up to make gender equality happen sooner.
How we work with gender equality in our supply chain
Across our supply chain we target four areas :
- Health and safety
- Career and development
And we work at three different levels:
- Worker empowerment
- Factory management systems
- Industry and country transformation
In 2020, we consulted with Plan International to update and strengthen our gender equality strategy.
There are specific challenges related to gender that demand extra attention. For example, gender-based violence and harassment (GBVH) is a widespread human rights violation that happens in all industries.
We support any measures that offer greater protection of workers, for example the International Labour Organization’s Convention 190 and Recommendation 206, which recognise everybody’s right to a work environment free from violence and harassment. These are powerful tools governments can use to strengthen local laws to prevent GBVH and can support our efforts to be a fair and equal company.
Our four focus areas
Health & safety
We want all women to be empowered, healthy and safe in their everyday working life.
Health & safety is the foundation of our gender equality work and we expect our supplier factories to set up and run health and safety committees. We support them to strengthen grievance systems, so more women feel comfortable reporting workplace issues such as sexual harassment. In addition, many factories we work with are enrolled in training courses and external collaborations that raise awareness of, and prevent, sexual harassment and other gender-related issues.
Example: Gender-based violence and harassment guideline and training
During 2022 we improved our approach to preventing, detecting and handling cases of GBVH. We worked with Jane Pillinger (Ph.D), a global expert on gender equality and gender-based violence at work, on a series of training courses and workshops for employees working with social sustainability in our production supply chain and National Monitoring Committees. The sessions raised awareness and provided supporting tools for suppliers to prevent GBVH and handle grievances.
Working in collaboration with IndustriAll and its affiliates, we also created a GBVH guideline for suppliers based on ILO convention 190. The guideline gathers best practice on detecting, preventing, and handling GBVH cases. We rolled out the guideline to our tier 1 suppliers during summer 2023.
This joint work was recognised in the Global Deal (OECD/ILO) Flagship Report 2022.
We want women to have equal participation, voice and leadership in social dialogue, including all worker representation forums.
When women participate in workplace dialogue structures, everybody benefits. Issues important to women are more likely to be put forward, which builds a foundation for good working conditions. We work with suppliers, peers and trade unions to support worker representation and provide training about democratically electing representatives. Industrial relations and workplace dialogue programmes like these reach over 1.1 million workers in our supply chain and today, 63% of workplace representatives are women. We also partner with IndustriALL Global Union to support trade unions in our supply chain.
Example: Better Work project in Cambodia
As of 2023 over 80% of our manufacturing suppliers in Cambodia work with Better Factories Cambodia (BFC) and establish a bipartite committee to foster a culture of improvement and support dispute resolution and prevention. The committees are made up of factory workers and management and facilitated by experienced BFC advisors.
Women make up over 50% of workers representatives in these bipartite committees , however they voice their concerns and ideas less frequently, and tend to follow discussions rather than initiate them. In 2019-2020, seven suppliers took part in tailor made training designed to strengthen the women’s leadership skills, covering topics like communication, solution finding, negotiating and participation in decisions.
In addition, women representatives at five suppliers took part in training on preventing GBVH in the workplace as part of a project organised by BFC, IndustriAll Global Union and ourselves. This was part of a series of efforts to strengthen GBVH prevention and handling in conjunction with the roll out of our supplier guidelines on the subject.
Career and development
We want the number of women in leadership positions to reflect the proportion of women on staff.
Becoming a supervisor is often the first rung on the career ladder in factories. While research shows that women are treated with more respect in workplaces with more female leaders. Our goal is that the ratio of women supervisors matches the ratio of women workers. However, in 2022 only 27% of supervisors in our supplier factories were women, while 62% of the workforce were. Since 2020, our suppliers’ progress on this goal has been taking into consideration as part of their overall performance rating.
To give women the same career possibilities as men, we need to identify and tackle the barriers that hold them back. We are training women to provide them with the skills and confidence to get ahead and address limiting factors like societal norms.
Example: Gender Equality programmes in Bangladesh
In 2019, we launched a career development program for women in Bangladesh called Gender Equality and Returns (GEAR). Working with International Finance Corporation and Better Work, the idea is to create more career progression opportunities for female workers in our supply chain. Since the start of the program 47 supplier factories have enrolled in the GEAR program.
Women at these factories follow a tailored training programme to empower them, develop their leadership skills and give them the technical skills they need to become a supervisor. Participants say the program helped them both at work and home. The soft skills they gained were also recognised by factory management as crucial for creating positive change. So far 179 women workers have been trained, of which 99 have been promoted. Currently, a further 165 women workers from 23 factories are enrolled in the training.
In 2022, we initiated our own Women’s Empowerment (WE) programme to promote female supervisors in our supply chain. In the first year, we trained 43 women workers across nine factories in soft skills and leadership. The women also received technical training from the industrial engineering teams in their factories. At the end of the programme, 24 trainees were promoted. In 2023, 13 factories took part and 64 out of the 78 trainees became supervisors. A further 17 factories are enrolled in the next round of training.
We want men and women to receive equal remuneration for work of equal value.
However, according to UN Women the gender pay gap stands at 16%, which means women earn 84% of what men earn, no matter what industry they work in. Differences in pay add up and have daily negative consequences for women and their families. We are working to improve wages in our supply chain by helping factories to bring in effective wage management systems. These systems empower workers by raising awareness about wages and developing skills to improve them. They also help factories set a fair wage structure that isn’t influenced by a worker’s gender. According to research by independent experts, pay increased by 5% for all workers in factories with wage management systems compared to those without. You can find out more about our wages work here.
Example: Gender pay-gap study
Since 2021 we have worked with wages expert Professor Raymond Robertson to map and understand the gender pay-gap in our supply chain. Together we created a wage survey that collected data over two years on the wage and skill levels of workers at all our tier 1 suppliers, over 1,300 production units.
Initial findings show a statistically significant pay gap between men and women in most production countries. The pay gap varies across factories and countries and seems to grow as workers move up the pay scale. It appears to be driven by the skill gap between genders, as men tend to have acquired more technical skills and therefore benefit from higher wages. Men also are generally promoted at higher rates and get higher raises when promoted. Wage management system programmes help reduce wage gaps at the top of the wage scale. The findings from this research will help us build a targeted approach to address the issue in our supply chain factories.