In the apparel manufacturing and retail industry across the world, from design conceptualisation to the shop floor, from showroom to the final consumption, women play a more important role than men. Despite this, they don’t get what they deserve, be it respect, sufficient wages or adequate representation at the board room. World Benchmarking Alliance (WBA) assessed the gender impacts of the world’s 36 most influential apparel companies, explaining how these companies are integrating a gender strategy across their entire value chains and addressing women’s needs.
Methodology and companies covered
The report mainly used seven measurement areas – Governance and strategy, representation, compensation and benefits, health and well-being, violence and harassment, marketplace and community. These measurement areas further cover a total of 34 indicators. They represent the most salient gender issues in the apparel industry. Companies covered in this report include A&F, adidas, Amazon, ABFRL, American Eagle, Ascena Retail, Anta Sports, Primark, Decathlon, Fast Retailing, Fung Group, GAP, H&M, Inditex, Levi Strauss, M&S, Walmart, VF Corp., Urban Outfitters, Target, The Foschini Group, Tailored Brands, Ralph Lauren, Nike, LVMH, Lojas Renner, L Brands, Hanes Brands, Costco Wholesale, Carter’s and Kering.
Major findings –
Invisible gender data
At every level, the apparel manufacturing and retail industry needs more transparency and disclosures. This report also highlights that these companies assessed are currently not disclosing enough regarding their gender efforts, be it gender composition of companies’ leadership, gender pay gaps or the gender breakdown of key grievance data. Where gender data exists, companies primarily focus on avoiding gender-related risks and disclosing what is legally required rather than proactively driving transformative change in the industry. Furthermore, they do not take a strategic approach to gender across their value chain, often missing key gender impacts in the workplace, supply chain, marketplace and community.
All 36 companies assessed disclose less than 40 per cent of the information that stakeholders expect to see, both in terms of quality and quantity of information shared. Moreover, nearly 90 per cent of the companies assessed disclose less than 30 per cent of that information. No company publishes the gender breakdown of its employees’ annual absenteeism levels. None of the company publishes the gender composition of workers’ injuries, fatalities and absenteeism. Nor does any company publish the total procurement spend that is directed to women-owned businesses.
Time to drive transformative change
The data collected for this report highlights that the companies assessed focus on avoiding gender-related risks rather than driving positive impact and going beyond what is legally required to offer women what they need and deserve to be truly empowered.
Strategic approach to gender is the way forward
An approach which is integrated across the entire value chain and is holistic is must for gender equality and women empowerment. Stand-alone targets such as gender diversity in leadership are a good start for establishing a strategy to drive gender equality and women empowerment. However, these often miss key gender impacts in the workplace, supply chain, marketplace and community. The companies need to set targets that take into account their entire value chain and track progress against them, otherwise, gender inequalities will remain.
Regarding supply chain
Out of these 36 companies, only Ascena Retail Group, Nike and VF Corporation require their suppliers to have an on-site health clinic with a credentialed health provider. The report highlights Levi’s focuses on promoting gender equality in the supply chain, stating that women workers’ basic human needs are often unmet. Levi’s Worker Well-being initiative that supports supply chain workers’ financial empowerment, health and family well-being, equality and acceptance is good in this regard.
Furthermore, it requires suppliers to undertake a worker needs assessment that covers topics such as hygiene and sanitation, sexual and reproductive health and economic empowerment.
Only one Indian company in the list
Aditya Birla Fashion and Retail Ltd. (ABFRL) is the only Indian company in the list. Good thing is that it publishes information that indicates monitoring the number of grievances reported and handled, though the company doesn’t disclose how many of these concerns were raised by women. Out of 34 indicators, the company is good at employee engagement, flexible work, violence and harassment remediation and community support.
No doubt, gender equality is an area where a lot more is yet to be done at every level and everywhere. Time and again, it has been said that many Indian apparel manufacturers don’t follow the compliance completely. This particular report insists that legal compliance is not enough, and it’s high time companies should focus more on the gander-based issues.
It is difficult to say that in India, Union or State Governments will raise the bar on corporate gender efforts by requiring companies to report more on their gender impacts. But companies shouldn’t wait for – and should not rely on – regulation to determine the apparel industry’s transformation. Those who are following all compliance must go beyond that.
Also Read: It’s time to improve on manufacturing!