Promoting Gender Equality in Supply Chains through Supplier Codes of Conduct


The importance of promoting gender equality in supply chains cannot be overstated, primarily because women are disproportionately represented in the labour-intensive stages of most global supply chains. While men tend to occupy a greater proportion of high-level positions, such as managerial and supervisory roles, women dominate in lower-skilled production jobs. These jobs are frequently located in the lowest-paid and most unstable segments of global supply chains and often entail temporary or seasonal employment.


To address this issue, there has been a growing emphasis on creating gender-responsive supply chains, with many companies leveraging their power to drive gender equality and build sustainable supply chains. One effective way of achieving this objective is through the implementation of supplier codes of conduct. These mechanisms enable companies to establish and enforce standards and principles that promote gender equality among their suppliers. By implementing guidelines, companies can ensure that their suppliers are not perpetuating gender inequalities in their operations. 


This article explores the significance of supplier condtions and code of conduct in creating gender-responsive supply chains while providing practical guidance for companies to implement them successfully.


What are Supplier Codes of Conduct? 


Supplier codes of conduct are essential tools companies use to ensure that their suppliers adhere to specific standards and principles. To put it simply, supplier codes of conduct are guidelines that outline the expectations companies have for their suppliers. These guidelines can be incorporated into the contracts between the company and its suppliers or utilised as a part of a broader supplier engagement strategy that includes monitoring and assessing supplier performance. These guidelines aim to ensure that suppliers operate in a manner that aligns with the company’s values and sustainability goals. Supplier codes of conduct can cover a wide range of issues, including but not limited to ethical business practices, human rights, labour standards, health and safety, and environmental sustainability. These guidelines typically outline the company’s expectations on issues such as child labour, forced labour, fair wages, non-discrimination, harassment and abuse, working hours and conditions, and the use of environmentally harmful materials. 


The Role of Supplier Codes of Conduct in Creating Gender-Responsive Supply Chains 


In the context of gender-responsive supply chains, supplier codes of conduct are critical for promoting gender equality and achieving women’s empowerment. By implementing these guidelines, companies can ensure that their suppliers are not perpetuating gender inequalities in their operations. There are numerous benefits of supplier codes of conduct in creating gender-responsive supply chains. 


First of all, supplier codes of conduct can promote gender equality and women’s empowerment in the workplace. In sectors such as garment manufacturing or agriculture, where women make up a significant portion of the workforce, requiring suppliers to provide equal pay for equal work, prohibiting gender-based discrimination, and ensuring women are represented in management positions can create a culture of respect and inclusivity. For example, a company could require suppliers to have a certain percentage of women in supervisory or management roles or provide training on unconscious bias to prevent gender discrimination.  This can create opportunities for women to advance in their careers and participate fully in the supply chain. 


In addition, supplier codes of conduct can prevent gender-based violence and harassment in high-risk sectors. Companies can create a safe and respectful working environment by requiring suppliers to have policies in place to address these issues and provide training to employees on preventing and responding to such incidents. This can reduce the risks of gender-based violence and harassment and ensure that all employees can perform their jobs without fear of harm. In sectors such as mining or construction, where physical and emotional abuse of workers is prevalent, a company could require its suppliers to have a confidential reporting system for incidents of sexual harassment or provide training on bystander intervention.


Lastly, supplier codes of conduct can improve working conditions for women in high-risk sectors. By requiring suppliers to provide adequate maternity leave and breastfeeding facilities and ensure that women have access to personal protective equipment and are not exposed to hazardous working conditions, women’s health and safety can be prioritised, and they can be protected from unfair working conditions. In sectors such as agriculture or fishing, where women often work long hours in dangerous conditions, a company could require suppliers to provide paid maternity leave or ergonomic workstations for pregnant workers.


How to effectively implement Supplier Codes of Conduct 


While supplier codes of conduct can be powerful tools for creating gender-responsive supply chains, their effectiveness depends on how they are implemented. Here are some tips for effective implementation: 


  1. Engage with Suppliers: Engaging with suppliers from the outset is crucial for ensuring that they know the company’s expectations regarding gender equality and women’s empowerment. This can involve training, capacity-building, regular communication, and feedback. A good way in which companies can engage with their suppliers is by providing training on gender equality and sexual harassment prevention and creating channels for workers to report grievances and feedback. 
  2. Incentivise Compliance: Incentivising compliance with supplier codes of conduct can effectively encourage suppliers to meet the required standards. This can involve providing rewards or recognition for suppliers demonstrating strong performance on gender equality and women’s empowerment. For example, companies can incentivise compliance by offering bonuses or preferential treatment to suppliers that demonstrate a commitment to gender equality and women’s empowerment. This can include supporting women-owned businesses, providing training and capacity-building on gender equality, and ensuring that women are represented in management positions. 
  3. Monitor Supplier Performance: Regular monitoring and assessment of supplier performance are crucial for ensuring that supplier codes of conduct are met. This can involve on-site inspections, performance reviews and audits. Such audits might include checking for fair labour practices, working conditions, and safety measures and assessing whether suppliers have adequate policies to address gender-based violence and harassment.  


Overall, implementing supplier codes of conduct can be a powerful means of promoting gender equality and empowering women in supply chains. By setting clear expectations for suppliers and incentivising compliance, companies can create a culture of respect and inclusivity that benefits all workers, particularly those who are most vulnerable to gender-based discrimination and violence. However, the effectiveness of these mechanisms depends on how they are implemented, and companies must engage with their suppliers and monitor their performance regularly to ensure that they meet the required standards. Ultimately, gender-responsive supply chains are not only essential for achieving gender equality but also for creating sustainable and ethical supply chains that benefit workers, communities, and the environment. 


Written by: Ivy Onyechere