Pollution, land grabbing, exploitation of workers, violence against human rights defenders and other misconduct – multinational companies often manage to avoid any consequences for such human rights violations and environmental impacts linked to their activities. For women this can be an even larger problem, especially for those living in poverty and marginalised communities in the Global South.
This can be seen in many ways. When water sources are polluted women have to travel farther to collect water, and when children fall ill due to polluted water, women’s care and domestic work increases. Entrenched gender inequalities and patriarchal norms mean that women are over-represented in export- orientated manufacturing and the agri-food sector, both characterised by very poor working conditions in many countries around the world. Women are also more vulnerable to land grabbing, as they are often not allowed to legally own land, though they produce much of the food consumed in developing countries.1 Women battle against inequity and abuse every day, but do not have the means to access justice.
The adverse human rights impacts of corporate activities are by no means gender neutral. Business activities can lead to gender-specific harms and discrimination, exacerbate existing inequitable gender roles and structures within a community, and create further discrimination based on intersecting identities such as race, class, age, caste, migrant status, sexual orientation, gender identity or geographical location. When seeking redress and remedy, women face additional barriers to justice due to patriarchal norms.
In recent years states have increasingly started to consider binding measures to prevent and mitigate human rights abuses in supply chains, and to guarantee access to justice for victims of such abuses. This can be seen, for example, in mandatory human rights due diligence legislation emerging in countries such as France, which builds on the recommendations of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. Mandatory human rights due diligence is seen as a critical way for companies to identify, prevent and mitigate adverse impacts. Legislation also needs to provide meaningful liability, with access to remedy for rights violations throughout companies’ supply chains and operations, particularly in contexts where legal frameworks and enforcement of regulations governing business activity may be weak – as is the case in many developing countries.
Identifying, addressing and holding companies to account for the adverse gendered impacts of their activities on women needs to be embedded in this emerging due diligence legislation and wider business and human rights policies and strategies, or we risk adopting measures that will leave women behind.
This paper explains why such an approach is needed, and how states and companies can integrate gender- responsive human rights due diligence into existing and emerging efforts in the area of business and human rights.