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IndustriAll, IUF and Unilever create gender equality working group

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9 October, 2013IndustriAll, IUF and Unilever have set up a gender equality working group which spans two continents, working on the basis of video conferencing to start with.

The issues that the working group will take up in the beginning are twofold: the areas of focus can be broadly considered to protect and promote. That means that on the one hand the issues will be based on minimum labor standards and will look at how to prevent violence and provide maternity protection. On the other hand the point will be women’s promotion, that is, how to provide economic opportunities to women and how to attract more women into non-managerial roles.

Unilever prefers to use the term diversity in a wider context than gender equality. Diversity has been on Unilever’s agenda for some time with varying levels of attention and success, but now it has risen to a higher level, and more attention is paid to it. Since 2012 the program Winning Balance has been in place which aims to raise awareness of gender equality. One of the crucial points is to retain and develop female talents. The other is to ensure diversity in the supply chain. The goal is for every factory to have gender balance in every job. Apparently Australia has already reached this goal with 50/50 gender balance, according to Unilever.

Externally Unilever has certain policies as a business on the role of gender equality. Unilever endorses the UN guiding principles in which women’s rights are relevant. It subscribes to the UN women empowerment principles. It is important to give thought to how to breathe life into the documents that come from the UN Global Compact, which Unilever has signed up to.

Unilever considers that some work has been done on diversity in white-collar jobs, for example in India. There the issue is blue collar, because the society does not accept women well in blue-collar jobs. A lot needs to be done on awareness raising. Nevertheless there are 15 factories where women are working on the shop floor.

Jobs and equipment need to be designed so that men and women can do all jobs. Studies show that safety is better when women work on the shop floor together with men.

On the union side the position is that women workers still suffer from many kinds of discrimination – the gender pay gap is great, women do not have the same access to jobs as men, and many women have no maternity rights. Health and safety provisions are still deficient – most jobs are designed for white European men, without any consideration for women or other races. Precarious employment is rampant. And sexual harassment continues to plague women. Women are still afraid of losing their jobs if they refuse to provide sexual services. Violence in a broader sense is also an issue.

Unilever also realizes the need of addressing violence. Women’s and girls’ safety needs to be guaranteed, otherwise it is hard to work on self-esteem. Domestic violence is also a workplace issue. Bullying is another aspect of violence that must not be left out.

IUF has an agreement with Danone which started off as an agreement on gender equality. In the meantime it is now a diversity agreement. IUF is also working with Nestle on a gender equality program.

In the meantime the group will develop some benchmarking criteria to determine where success is being achieved.