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  • Francesca Rhodes

Climate crisis and the rights of women workers in global supply chains: we need to do more!


For the past decade, almost every single report begins with the sentence – the greatest challenge of our time is climate change. The most recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change acknowledges that some progress is being made to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and avoid a climate disaster but this is still not enough. 


The climate crisis continues to cause widespread disruption and devastation across the world, but particularly in the global south, where its effects are felt the strongest and marginalised communities are struggling to adapt and cope. Around the world, we are witnessing more natural disasters from floods to heatwaves and other extreme weather events. According to the UN, the climate crisis is posing a significant threat to the life, livelihoods, health, safety and security of women and girls across the world.


It is also significantly exacerbating gender inequalities in global supply chains. Women, who face additional barriers in accessing decent jobs, are often the first to see their roles cut back and wages impacted in times of a climate crisis. Women migrating as an adaptation strategy to climate events, risks exposing them to forced labour and other forms of exploitation. This translates into other human rights risks such as long working hours, lack of social security and the likelihood of informal work. Climate change is also increasing the time women spend on unpaid care work, as resources such as water, food and fuel become more scarce. Gender-based violence (GBV) tends increases during times of crisis - in fact research shows that a 1 degree centigrade average annual temperature increase is connected to a more than 6% rise in GBV incidences. 


For companies who employ women in their supply chains such as in garments production and commercial agriculture, it is important to understand how the climate crisis is affecting human rights women workers. Likewise, stakeholders including trade unions and civil society orgranisations working towards advancing gender equality and the rights of women workers in global supply chains need to understand how the climate crisis is shaping the realities of women and widening the inequalities that they face. This becomes even more imperative when an intersectional lens is applied. 


Supply chains adapting to the climate crisis need to do so with a gender equality lens that respects human rights at work for both women and men. Climate mitigation and adaptation measures must include the voices of women workers and shaped in a way that women can access new opportunities that emerge, for example, being able to use modern energy efficient technologies. With the ongoing focus on legislation that mandates companies to conduct better human rights and environmental due diligence of their supply chains, there is a risk that women workers will get left behind in the transition to greener and more energy efficient production practices if they are not engaged in a meaningful manner throughout the due diligence cycle. 


Based on this, a just transition with a gender lens essentially means taking into account the gender dimensions of environmental or climate related policies and programmes with the aim of promoting equitable outcomes.  This ensures that the negative effects are minimized, whilst the positive effects of advancing gender equality and decent work are amplified. It also presents an opportunity to ensure that sectoral and occupational segregation based on gender is not perpetuated, wage and skills gaps, as well as health and safety risks are reduced, inclusive social dialogue is established, working conditions are improved, and social protection is enhanced for women and men workers. Furthermore, the creation of new labour market opportunities can facilitate the formalization of informal economy jobs held by women, for example women waste pickers being integrated into a formal plastic recycling supply chain. 


But this won’t happen automatically – it requires investments in building understanding and capacity within companies where social and environmental teams work collaboratively to deliver on their climate commitments. 


At Women Working Worldwide, we will continue to advocate for this just transition with a gender lens and support companies who are committed to doing this. If you would like to learn more, please contact us at caroline@women-ww.org.





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