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Does your company’s value chain protect women from exploitation?

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On Wednesday, the world marked the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. In 2020, one in three women experiences physical or sexual violence and this has only increased as COVID-19 lockdowns have been implemented around the world. We take a look at the ways that businesses can join in the fight against gender-based violence and how simple policy changes can have a significant impact on stamping out exploitation of women and girls.

How are women being exploited in company value chains?

According to a 2020 report by ActionAid, women are disproportionately affected by human rights violations in supply chains. In a 2019 survey of garment factory workers in Bangladesh, ActionAid found that 80 per cent of women had experienced harassment or abuse at work.

Collective Shout, a movement which campaigns against the objectification of women and sexualisation of girls, also reveals the exploitation of women locally through advertising.

“One of the common ways businesses exploit women … is through sexualising and objectifying women to sell products and services,” said Caitlin Roper from Collective Shout.

“There are decades of research indicating the real-world harms to women and girls from sexualising and objectifying representations in advertising.

“This objectifying treatment of women and girls is linked to poor body image, greater self-objectification, greater acceptance of sexist beliefs, a “diminished view of women’s competence, morality and humanity” and is linked to men’s violence against women.”

How can companies prevent gender-based exploitation?

Combating the exploitation of women starts with a willingness to change your company’s internal operations.

For instance, Western Union has undertaken reviews of their payment records to ensure that no payments are made to exploitative platforms.

Kmart has withdrawn video games for their depiction of extreme violence against women, which prompted their then CEO Guy Russo to further remove R18+ games from sale.

Your company’s workplace policies are also crucial to fighting gender-based violence.

Our Watch Australia, a non-profit aiming to end violence against women and children, notes that “every workplace conversation, policy and action has the potential to either reinforce or challenge gender inequality and the kinds of attitudes and norms that drive violence.”

This means ensuring your company has internal training programs to ensure a supportive and safe environment for employees experiencing domestic violence and senior leadership commitments to diverse workplaces.

Strong sexual harassment reporting and accountability mechanisms will also improve your company’s productivity and reputation.

Research from the US found that women who suffered intimate partner violence work 10 per cent fewer days per year than women not subject to violence.

Moreover, after hearing allegations of sexual harassment by senior staff at Uber, 56 per cent of survey respondents refused to use the service from thereon.

Being aware of these issues and having diverse staff can help your business recognise gendered discrimination, for instance in marketing and advertising.

“We believe a key way in which corporates can ensure they are not exploiting women in their business activities is through an upheld commitment to responsible and respectful advertising and marketing,” said Lyn Kennedy from Collective Shout.

“This should be paired with an acknowledgement of the harms of objectification of women and the centering of women’s rights, needs and dignity in all corporate communications.”

Businesses can take the Collective Shout corporate social responsibility pledge to not objectify women and girls here: https://www.collectiveshout.org/corporate_social_responsibility_pledge 


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Ann Wen
Ann is a journalist at Dynamic Business with a background in commercial law and research. She is interested in SME tax law, public policy and Australian innovation.