CARE Australia CEO Sally Moyle reveals what brands can do to better improve their supply chain practices.
As an international aid organisation dedicated to ending poverty, CARE has worked in the global garment industry for more than 15 years and has partnered with brands including Cotton On, Gap and Target US.
Crucially, we are an organisation that puts equality for women and girls front and centre of everything we do.
Scrolling through the #IMadeYourClothes posts put out by brands on Instagram and Twitter, it’s clear women make up the vast majority of the world’s garment workers – 80 per cent, according to the International Labour Organization.
But the faces we see in our social media feeds are just the tip of the iceberg. Women are disproportionately relegated to the most marginalised, lowest-paid rungs of the industry, often in informal jobs where they are invisible to retailers and consumers alike.
So how can brands ensure they’re doing their bit – or even better, becoming sector leaders – when it comes to empowering the women in their supply chains?
Here are three proven ways.
1. Fight workplace sexual violence and harassment
The #MeToo movement has shone a light on the prevalence of sexual harassment in a whole range of workplaces, including the garment sector. One in three female garment workers in Asia report experiencing sexual harassment on the job.
Sorya, from Cambodia, said male workers would often tease her, call her “honey” and come up and hug her from behind. For years she didn’t dare say anything in case she lost her job for making a fuss.
Sorya is one of thousands of garment workers who have participated in a CARE Australia project that raises awareness of sexual harassment, and supports management to put clear policies and reporting processes in place.
As a result, workers report feeling safer and more confident to report issues to management, and factories report less staff turnover.
Our experience demonstrates that if fashion brands are serious about empowering the women that make their clothes, they need to support their suppliers to tackle workplace sexual harassment.
2. Encourage female leadership
The garment industry is a huge employer in Asia, providing work for 40 million people, the vast majority of whom are women.
But as with many industries, the higher-paid, more influential jobs are mostly occupied by men.
This power imbalance isn’t just an issue of pay equality. It also means the concerns of women workers – such as sexual harassment – too often go unheard and ignored.
CARE Australia is working with partners like Cotton On to get more women in their supply chains into leadership roles and give them a voice in workplace committees.
The best examples of gender justice this Fashion Revolution Week will come from brands that can show women not only make their clothes, but are empowered to have a say in their workplaces.
3. Empower women beyond the workplace
No workplace exists in a bubble, and the injustices female garment workers experience are closely linked to wider assumptions about women’s roles within their families and communities.
In many countries with large garment sectors, it’s common for women and girls to miss out on an education.
Many women working in the sector support their families financially but have little control over the money they earn.
CARE has partnered with fashion brands and factories to give women workers training in how to manage their finances and in health issues including reproductive health.
We work with women and men in the garment sector to unpack common assumptions about gender that affect their lives both at home and at work.
Our work has shown us that fashion brands really do have the power to make a positive difference in the lives of the women who make their clothes.