Many companies seem willing to tackle gender-based violence but are unsure where to begin. With this in mind, Business Fights Poverty, a social impact platform, partnered with businesses and NGOs (including Anglo American, International Finance Corporation, Primark, and CARE International) to develop a series of case studies others can learn from, as well as a five-step framework for action:
1. Prevent Violence and Harassment by Identifying Potential Risks
To one degree or another, gender-based violence affects all businesses. It’s important to understand where problems are occurring and what the causes are. Tools like the Business for Social Responsibility Diagnostic designed to help large companies with complex value chains identify where the problems are and how to tackle them. The tool enables a company to self-assess how effectively their existing policies, programs, culture, leadership, and strategy are tackling violence and harassment. Under each focus area, there are a set of guiding questions for companies to develop a score. The scores help a company identify where it’s doing well (high scores suggest it is ‘leading’) and where it needs to do better (low scores suggest it is a ‘beginner’).
Two organizations making progress on prevention are the mining giant Anglo American and the luxury fashion brand Kering Group. In South Africa, Anglo American became concerned about growing levels of violence against women and vulnerable groups and wanted to better understand how this was affecting its operations and communities. By way of response, it recently partnered with the NGO International Alert to carry out a series of baseline studies around the experiences of women and vulnerable groups at work. There are early indications that a lack of awareness about what constituted sexual harassment has contributed to the normalization of certain unacceptable behaviors. Anglo American has commissioned further studies and is feeding the results of these into its inclusion and diversity strategy.
Meanwhile, Kering Group has developed an innovative internal training program with its foundation to provide a supportive and safe work environment for employees experiencing domestic violence. The company has rolled out the program’s three-hour, the introductory curriculum in Italy, the United Kingdom, the United States, and China, in partnership with local NGOs that adapt the content to local contexts. Staff interest in the issue also prompted the company to create a level-two, full-day course to become “internal advocates,” which goes further to address how to concretely support survivors internally.
2. Commit to Gender Equality and Diversity Across the Workplace
CEO and senior leadership commitments to diverse, equal, and respectful workplaces— backed by adequate resources and action—form a necessary foundation for addressing gender-based violence. It tackles the root of the problem (gender inequality) and creates trust amongst staff. Without this foundation, efforts to ‘raise awareness’ about gender-based violence can appear tokenistic and lack legitimacy.
As an example, recent research by the communications company Vodafone Group, in partnership with the polling service Opinium, revealed that one in three working adults (37 percent) had experienced some form of domestic abuse and that it had significantly impacted their career. In response, Vodafone now provides 10 days of paid “safe leave” across its 26 markets for any staff member experiencing domestic violence and abuse. The policy also makes provision for human-resources and line-manager training to identify and assist people experiencing abuse. Vodafone’s longstanding organizational commitment to gender equality helped enable the change in policy. The new policy builds on a vision to make Vodafone the “the world’s best employer for women by 2025,” and follows the establishment of a global maternity policy with a minimum of 16 weeks leave, regardless of the market (2015), and a ReConnect program that aims to re-recruit 1,000 people following career breaks (2017).
3. Protect Employees With Supportive Policies and Procedures
Clear policies and procedures—including reporting and grievance mechanisms—not only empower staff to take appropriate action when needed but also reassure survivors, bystanders, accused perpetrators, and whistle-blowers that the company will handle cases effectively.
In 2013, Unilever Tea Kenya undertook an independent review on how to prevent sexual and gender-based violence that was distressingly prevalent across the tea plantation sector. The review resulted in a series of recommendations, including a multi-sectoral approach to reporting and supporting victims. After training, awareness building and employee engagement, the number of reported cases began to increase as employees’ trust in the system grew.
Drawing on its experiences in Kenya, Unilever then partnered with UN Women in 2016 to develop a human rights-based intervention program across the tea supply chain. This resulted in the 2018 publication of “A Global Women’s Safety Framework in Rural Spaces,” which includes case studies, practical tools, and a comprehensive theory of change that businesses can apply to a range of agricultural commodity supply chains.
4. Collaborate and Campaign Beyond the Immediate Workplace
Sector-wide approaches to reducing gender-based violence, such as efforts across the alcohol or garment sector in a particular country, can help raise standards with suppliers and build a stronger overall ecosystem to tackle deeply ingrained issues. Companies also have the ability to influence societal norms and behaviors on gender-based violence through advertising and campaigning, particularly when the issues align with core business aims, and include culturally relevant reference points or actors.
As one example, alcohol producer Diageo recognized that Cambodia was a high-risk market, where women beer promoters were particularly at risk of violence and harassment by customers. It took a holistic approach to tackling the issue in partnership with the NGO CARE International, using CARE’s gender-equality framework, which analyzes individual skills, community relationships, and policy environments that prevent gender equality. Together, the organizations helped create a solidarity network among the women promoters and established Beer Selling Industries Cambodia, an industry association for major breweries operating in Cambodia. All the members of the association agreed to a code of conduct to improve the health, safety, and working conditions of beer promoters by setting industry standards. They also influenced the Ministry of Women’s Affairs to strengthen the prevention of harassment-at-work laws by including entertainment workers. This bottom-up and top-down approach created the opportunity for greater systemic change.
5. Be Accountable and Monitor Action
Companies taking action to tackle gender-based violence want to know whether those actions are benefitting employees. They also want to know how to most effectively comply with legal changes. Currently, the best approach is to adopt the standards set out in the new ILO treaty or use the Business for Social Responsibility Diagnostic tool. Then, set up feedback mechanisms to assess employees’ uptake of new policies and programs—conduct regular employee surveys and invite staff to share views on prioritizing resources to tackle the issue.
For example, in 2018 Diageo and CARE International undertook an extensive benchmarking exercise across Diageo’s value chain using the draft ILO treaty. This included ensuring that relevant policies addressed violence and harassment; adopting a comprehensive strategy to implement measures to prevent and combat violence and harassment; establishing and strengthening enforcement and monitoring mechanisms; ensuring access to remedies and support for victims; and developing tools, guidance, and training. The process highlighted bright spots (such as community programming initiatives focused on the sales environment), as well as opportunities to strengthen Diageo’s protection and response policies (such as replicating and scaling up these initiatives).