by Robin Rowe, Commercial Marketing Manager for the Fairtrade Foundation
As we approach International Women’s Day, some might question whether we still need an official day to champion women's rights and celebrate their achievements. But while businesses are likely to have addressed the issue of equal rights for their employees, most organisations still have some work to do to ensure that gender equality extends right along their supply chains.
This week, the Fairtrade Foundation has published a new study, Equal Harvest, which explores the barriers that women farmers face, recommends how businesses and other actors in the supply chain can help to address them, and highlights the benefits to be gained. Women make up almost half the agricultural labour force in developing countries but they are often significantly under-represented in the organisations that grow produce such as bananas, cotton and tea. Just 22 per cent of the farmers registered to Fairtrade-certified producer organisations around the world are women.
Addressing the barriers that women farmers face could increase women's income, influence and independence, but it could also boost productivity - enabling businesses to build more sustainable supply chains, create long-term positive impacts in the communities they source from and, potentially, open up new market opportunities.
Businesses that have seen the potential to bring new products to market include Equal Exchange, which has a range of Grown By Women products, and Sainsbury’s, which introduced a Rwandan ‘women’s coffee’ to its Taste the Difference range in 2014.It’s an issue that producer groups are working to address too. One woman farmer in the Dominican Republic interviewed for Fairtrade's study explained that women's participation was important because it ‘gives women the right to vote, to participate in decision-making, the right to receive benefits and to live with dignity.’ She added: ‘It gives women the right to say 'It's MY organisation', not an organisation belonging to a small group, but everyone's with the right to say what is good and what is bad.’
There’s also a growing understanding of the business benefits. Explaining why women should be enabled to take up leadership positions in producer organisations, a male cotton producer in India said: ‘Women are more disciplined and organised and will run these institutions better, as per plans, whereas men fight amongst themselves and let egos come in the way.’
With legal, cultural and social norms acting as barriers to women's participation, there are no quick fixes. Factors ranging from membership rules for co-operatives that are linked to land ownership - traditionally the preserve of men in some countries - to social attitudes about the role of women in the community can make this a difficult area for businesses to tackle. What is clear is that collaboration between companies, NGOs, governments and producer groups is vital.
This International Women’s Day, Fairtrade is urging more businesses to support and incentivise the producer organisations that they work with to increase the participation of women, so that they can get their fair share of the benefits of international trade.
Fairtrade's key recommendations for businesses
- Invest in gender analysis of your supply chain Understanding the barriers to women's participation is the first step – this can be done in partnership with other businesses, pre-competitively, or with other organisations such as Fairtrade, to reduce costs.
- Develop a gender equality policy and action plan. Use the insight gathered from your supply chain analysis to develop and implement appropriate plans. When securing resources, donor funding may be available.
- Develop internal capacity and responsibility on gender. Ensure there is senior level accountability for gender equality and share knowledge across the organisation, particularly with those involved in buying.
- Support small producer organisations in your supply chain to develop and implement their own gender equality action plans. Consider offering financial or technical support, facilitating third party support, or assisting visits between producer organisations so that they can learn from each other.
- Develop appropriate indicators and processes for monitoring progress internally. Third parties such as the UN and NGOs can assist with deciding on the right indicators to use.
- Collaborate with other businesses, women’s organisations and development agencies. This can be especially important where barriers to participation exist at a national level or where businesses don’t yet have a deep engagement with producer organisations.
- Seek opportunities to raise awareness of women’s contribution to production. Through communications and marketing, businesses can create a more open atmosphere for future change.
For more on Fairtrade's recommendations for businesses, producer groups, governments, NGOs and the Fairtrade system itself, read Fairtrade's new study, Equal Harvest.