The International Labour Organization defines social dialogue as any and all types of negotiation, consultation or information exchange between social partners about economic or social issues. These social partners can include the government, business representatives, employees, trade unions, or other civil society members. Social dialogue is a way to formally, and informally, institute conversation between interested parties in regards to labour or social progress. Often giving a voice to those otherwise unheard, which is one of the fundamental objectives of social dialogue. Providing a tool for people to express their concerns, with the aim of improving living and working conditions. When social dialogue occurs between employer and trade union, this is known as a bipartite dialogue. If the government were to become involved, this is tripartite dialogue. Tripartite dialogue can be used to improve, negotiate on, or change policy at a national or international level. However, bipartite dialogue is a useful tool for making positive and sustainable changes within businesses. Social dialogue is a great tool for buyers who want to implement gender responsive procurement into their supply chain practices. By becoming actively engaged with unions and civil society organization who can provide valuable insight into gender responsive procurement.


Who can start a social dialogue?

Any business, NGO, or organization that hires people can start a social dialogue. This can be with employee representatives internally, trade union representatives, or with people in your supply chain that you procure from. Through stakeholder engagement with relevant partners, you can discuss gender equality and procurement practices, and organizations can gather valuable insights and perspectives on how to make their procurement processes more gender-responsive.

What is required?

There needs to be some infrastructure to support the social dialogue. A consistent meeting space and time. Ongoing communication is a key factor here, so having adequate time for negotiations, in a space that is practical and accessible. Be willing to meet union representations where they are, have people who are willing to be open to negotiation. These meetings can be facilitated by a civil society organization or government organizations, especially in Europe. This infrastructure has to be able to facilitate meaningful change, in the form of policies and measuring outcomes. For example, policies that address issues of gender equality in your supply chain, and consistently monitoring, measuring and reporting the outcomes of these policies. 

Relationships with relevant parties, such as civil society organizations and trade unions, are important. If you procure from a wide range of countries, across different businesses and industries, creating and maintaining relationships is vital. If this is the case, you need to be open to negotiation and consultation across a range of concerned parties. Improving the social and economic welfare of everyone involved in your business practices, means understanding their needs. The better the relationships, the more understanding you will have. 

It is also imperative that all relevant labour laws and policies, in all countries of operation, are upheld. Giving people the freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. Social dialogue that is mutually respectful of all rights, will lead to a better outcome.


Social dialogue can be a very useful tool when implemented correctly. The goal is to get everyone on the same page and meet the needs of employers and employees alike. Once negotiations have taken place, and everyone is in agreement, real change can be affected. When these changes are written down and formally instituted, the living and working conditions improve, creating a more sustainable and fair working environment for everyone. Social dialogue can have a huge impact on gender equality in your supply chain practices. By consulting with relevant women, organization’s can apply a gendered lens to their procurement.