Article: Empowering women in the supply chain for inclusive growth


Empowering women in the supply chain for inclusive growth

Empowering women is not just a moral imperative; it is also a strategically sound business approach, fostering inclusive growth and paving the way for sustained success in the long run.
Empowering women in the supply chain for inclusive growth

Across the dynamic landscape of global supply chains, empowering women emerges as a crucial and transformative strategy for fostering inclusive growth. Women, constituting a substantial part of the workforce, contribute significantly to industries like agriculture and manufacturing. By addressing gender disparities, businesses not only enhance productivity and efficiency but also foster economic development at the community and national levels. Furthermore, empowering women is not just a moral obligation; it aligns with international standards for human rights and equality, positioning companies for financial success through diverse and innovative approaches. 

Beyond ethical considerations, businesses that prioritise gender equality in their supply chains tap into broader consumer markets and create a more inclusive, resilient, and socially responsible business environment. In essence, investing in women's empowerment is a transformative strategy that goes beyond profitability, encompassing social and ethical dimensions. It is a pathway to unlocking untapped potential, building resilience, and contributing to the broader goals of sustainable and inclusive growth.

Here we will explore the multifaceted approaches and illuminating case studies shedding light on the opportunities and risks associated with promoting women's rights in supply chains.

Why should businesses Act?

Throughout global supply chains, women face disproportionate challenges, including poverty, discrimination, and unsafe working conditions. By investing in the safety, well-being, and economic power of women, businesses not only contribute to poverty reduction and economic growth but also mitigate their risks. Recognising the importance of women's empowerment is underscored by international standards and initiatives, such as the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the Women's Empowerment Principles.

The business case

Empowering women in the supply chain is not just a moral imperative but a strategic business move. Businesses that champion female workers, managers, and entrepreneurs stand to benefit in several ways. They can align with international political and legal requirements, enhance efficiency, make products and services more appealing to women consumers, and contribute to stable and educated societies. The business case for empowering women is reinforced by statistics showing potential increases in global GDP and individual country development.

Dimensions of inequality and potential outcomes

By examining the various dimensions of inequality, we can delve into the potential outcomes of women's empowerment. From economic and educational disparities to health and safety risks, these factors present a comprehensive overview of the challenges women face globally. The data highlights the substantial benefits associated with empowering women, from increased agricultural output to improved global economic indicators.

Women's empowerment principles

The Women's Empowerment Principles, comprising seven key principles, serve as a guide for businesses aiming to integrate gender equality into their operations. These principles, ranging from establishing high-level corporate leadership for gender equality to measuring and publicly reporting progress, provide a framework for businesses committed to empowering women.

Opportunities and risks

To empower women effectively, businesses can embark on various initiatives. From improving working conditions with suppliers and forming partnerships with women-led businesses to enhancing governance structures in the deeper supply chain, businesses can make a positive impact. Here are elaborations on some specific case studies that highlight our cause:

  • In addressing sustainability risks within its cocoa supply chain, Mondel–ez recognised the need for empowerment, particularly among women who faced the undesirable perception of cocoa farming as a career. To counter this, the company launched the Cocoa Life program in 2012, committing a $400 million investment to empower 200,000 cocoa farmers and impact one million people by 2022. The initiative included training programs, cooperative membership initiatives, and access to financing, with success gauged through annual assessments of key indicators such as income and productivity.
  • Unilever faced criticism in 2013 due to widespread sexual harassment of female workers on its Kericho tea plantations in Kenya. Responding comprehensively, Unilever collaborated with local experts to design a program ensuring the safety of women and girls. Measures included increased representation of women in management, the establishment of a confidential hotline, and training programs to prevent sexual harassment. Progress was consistently monitored, and valuable insights were shared with industry partners.
  • In West Africa, where women primarily picked valuable shea nuts, AAK implemented the Kolo Nafoso program to address economic challenges. Following Fair Trade principles, the program provided pre-financing, logistical support, and training, empowering women and ensuring a sustainable supply of high-quality shea nuts. By 2016, the program reached over 115,000 women, reflecting a significant 27% increase from the previous year.
  • Setting an ambitious goal to financially empower five million women in its supply chain by 2020, The Coca-Cola Company initiated the 5by20 program. This multifaceted initiative provided access to markets, financial services, and entrepreneurial training for women across various supply chains. Collaborating with governments, NGOs, and organisations, the program reached 1.7 million women in 64 countries by 2010, demonstrating the success of its expansive approach.


Empowering women in supply chain management is not just a moral imperative; it is a strategic imperative for businesses seeking inclusive growth. By understanding the opportunities, risks, and practical measures outlined in the Women's Empowerment Principles, businesses can contribute to positive change, foster inclusive growth, and play a pivotal role in shaping a more equitable and sustainable future. The success stories presented demonstrate that investing in women is not only the right thing to do but also a smart business strategy with far-reaching benefits.

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Topics: Business, #IndustryInsights, #InternationalWomensDay

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