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ActionAid urges EU ministers to deliver on women’s rights and hold businesses accountable

Rahima, a garment factory worker in Bangladesh, next to a sewing machine and with her back to camera

Today’s meeting of EU ministers in the Competitiveness Council is a crucial moment to ensure businesses accountability for human rights abuses and environmental damage. Following almost three years after the announcement of a new EU legal framework to hold business to account- the Corporate Sustainability and Due Diligence Directive (CSDDD)- EU ministers will define their initial position on this proposed EU corporate accountability law.  

The draft text of the legislation has worryingly been watered down over the last months, as a result of intense corporate lobbying and governments acting to protect business rather than human rights. Instead of strengthening the rights of workers and affected communities in the value chain, it falls short on decisive action. 

ActionAid, an international human rights' organisation, is concerned that the draft text that is up for debate in the Council will leave women behind and has developed a policy brief laying out 10 essential steps to ensure a gender-lens is adopted by companies throughout their due diligence process. 

Maelys Orellana, Decent work Campaigner at ActionAid France, said: “The Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive has the potential to end human rights and environmental harms, only if the legislation is robust and designed to ensure real positive impact for workers, women and communities affected by corporate abuse. Women make up the majority of the workforce in many international value chains, such as garment manufacturing and agriculture. Shockingly the proposed legislation does not recognise this reality.

“Sexual and gender-based violence, land grabbing, environmental pollution and exploitation, all have different and disproportionate effects on women. In ActionAid's extensive work in communities around the world, we have repeatedly seen the devastating impacts business activities can have on women, further exacerbated due to existing gender roles and norms.”

“Such gendered impacts of business activities take place across all sectors and throughout the whole value chain. While negotiations on the CSDDD are advancing, the risk is very much real that the EU will not live up to its commitment to gender equality, this legislation fails to take into account women’s rights.” 

Rather than covering the full value chain of businesses, the text on the table limits the scope to the ‘chain of activities’. Of grave concern is the fact that some member states are attempting to include further exceptions for the financial sector. These limitations would push back human rights' protection, especially women's rights, further. This could mean that financiers of sectors such as agriculture -where women are overrepresented -would be left without the responsibility to identify and address adverse impacts in the activities of their clients. Women face additional barriers to access justice, such as funding for law suits or access to information, issues that remain unaddressed in the draft text.

Orellana added: “We must all recognise that the adverse impacts of corporate activities are not gender neutral. And that is something that can only be addressed by comprehensive and effective corporate accountability legislation.”  

Anna Hengeveld, Policy advisor on gender and corporate accountability at ActionAid Netherlands, said: "We are very concerned to see how core elements of due diligence are missing from the current text, and how those who advocate for an ambitious position are met with persistent pushback. The discrimination, reprisals and gender-based violence faced by women defending their rights should be a compass for all those negotiating the text at the moment : gender must be embedded in every step of the due diligence process, from risk identification to remediation.” 

“We urge council members to ensure its initial position on the CSDDD is gender responsive by addressing, specifically, the adverse human rights impacts on women and ensuring access to justice.”     

Zehra Khan, General Secretary, Home-based Women Workers Federation (Pakistan) said: "Many workers in garment supply chains in Pakistan work in large factories as subcontractor workers, small factory units, workshops and from their homes. These millions of invisible, mainly female supply chain workers, are excluded from labour law protections and their human rights are routinely violated. The EU legislation on corporate due diligence can bring transformative change across the garment industry but it still needs to be improved to fulfill its ambition of tackling human rights across global value chains"

On Wednesday 7th of December, ActionAid, Clean Clothes Campaign, the European Coalition for Corporate Justice and Irish Coalition on Business and Human Rights organise the event Toward a gender-responsive due diligence directive: Learning from women’s experiences in Pakistan’s garment sector, hosted by MEP Katalin Cseh.   


Notes to editor: 

ActionAid has developed a policy brief calling on policymakers to ensure the Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive proposal is gender responsive, by following 10 steps:  

  • Step 1: Ensure the scope covers the entire value chain.   
  • Step 2: Ensure the scope covers companies of all sizes.   
  • Step 3: Include all relevant human rights instruments and ensure it is updated regularly.   
  • Step 4: Explicitly recognise that the adverse impacts of corporate activities are not gender neutral.   
  • Step 5: Ensure gender is embedded in every step of the due diligence process.   
  • Step 6: Ensure companies implement gender-responsive stakeholder engagement.   
  • Step 7: Ensure companies’ risk identification processes are gender sensitive.  
  • Step 8: Ensure companies’ remediation processes are gender responsive.   
  • Step 9: Guarantee access to justice for those experiencing additional barriers.   
  • Step 10: Ensure the protection of human rights defenders and safeguard complaint and whistleblowing mechanisms.  

Briefing is available here.

Previous ActionAid’s research shows how the human rights violations and environmental harm caused by corporate activities is far from gender neutral, with women facing lower salaries, increased gender-based violence, abuse and harassment at work.  

Report available here:


On Wednesday 7th of December, ActionAid, the Clean Clothes Campaign, the European Coalition for Corporate Justice and Irish Coalition on Business and Human Rights organize the event Toward a gender-responsive due diligence directive: Learning from women’s experiences in Pakistan’s garment sector, hosted by MEP Katalin Cseh , to discuss the need for gender-responsive human rights due diligence  legislation. ActionAid will present its policy brief that includes ten recommendations for policymakers. During the event Seemi Mustafa and Zehra Khan, trade unionists from Pakistan - garment worker and a home-based workers organizer - will speak about women’s experience of working within international supply chains. 

Further information on the Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive is available here: 

About ActionAid

ActionAid is a global federation working with more than 15 million people living in more than 40 of the world’s poorest countries. We want to see a just, fair, and sustainable world in which everybody enjoys the right to a life of dignity and freedom from poverty and oppression. We work to achieve social justice and gender equality and to eradicate poverty.