‘Invisible Women’ – Due Diligence Risks and the Gender Data Gap


‘Invisible Women’ – Due Diligence Risks and the Gender Data Gap

Written by Stephanie Barrientos

Women play a key role in the global textile value chain. They account for an estimated 70% of the 60 million garment and textile workers worldwide, with many more at lower tiers of production. Yet women workers are often ‘invisible’, with little accurate data or information available on their participation, roles and conditions of work.

Invisible women are mainly concentrated in non-standard jobs or lower tiers of the value chain. They include casual workers employed by large factories to deal with peaks in orders, home-based workers involved in embellishment, and contributing family labour in cotton production. Invisible women workers often face the poorest conditions, and significant risks of discrimination and gender-based violence.

Businesses are blind to these risks and unable to comply with human rights due diligence without gender visibility in their global value chains. This is critical to addressing the rights and well-being of women workers, as well as to achieving better commercial outcomes and more sustainable value chains.

Gaps in collection, recording and reporting

The Work Opportunities for Women (WOW) programme has undertaken research on gender data gaps in the garment value chain through partnerships with leading UK retailers. WOW has evidenced gaps in collecting, recording and reporting consistent gender disaggregated data. Although companies do hold some gender-disaggregated data, it is partial, often contains discrepancies, or relates to fragmented initiatives or production segments rather than across their value chain. The main gaps WOW found include:

  • Collection gaps:At upper tiers of the value chain, a large amount of data on workers is gathered by suppliers, social auditors and initiatives. But how numbers are collected varies. Data is often aggregated without a break down by gender across different worker categories (e.g. workers, supervisors and managers). At lower tiers, very little gender data is collected on workers in subcontracted production (e.g. supplied by labour contractors, home-based workers or casual workers in agriculture). 
  • Recording gaps:Even where data is collected, it is not recorded systematically, or in a way that is easily accessible. For example, social auditors may gather data in their notes, but only some is entered into social audit pdf. files, which are difficult to access. Even less data is uploaded onto social compliance data bases, and is often overwritten when new data is entered, making it difficult to track.
  • Reporting gaps:Some leading brands and retailers are now publicly reporting on their global suppliers and worker numbers (including % female) - an important advance in transparency. But without adequate collection and recording, the gender data reported is usually highly aggregated, likely to contain inaccuracies, and overlooks women workers in more precarious work with greatest human rights risks.
Women are exposed to higher risks than men

The OECD Guidelines highlight that the risks faced by women workers differ from men, and women are disproportionately vulnerable to adverse impacts. But effective human rights due diligence is impossible where women workers remain invisible or under reported.

Many businesses rely on social audits, which have helped to identify measurable issues (e.g. health and safety). But they have been highly ineffective at identifying gender issues, particularly discrimination, sexual harassment and gender-based violence. Women are more likely to be exposed to these risks in circumstances where their work is insecure, and their supervisors and managers are mainly male. Yet, it is difficult to identify or address potential risks without an accurate gender profile of all categories of worker (permanent and casual) and their supervisors/managers. 

The Covid-19 crisis has further deepened the gender risks. Women workers in textiles and garments are over-represented in insecure jobs or home-based work most vulnerable to retrenchment or loss of income. They lack social protection or means of support for their households, with many facing destitution. There is evidence women face increased gender based violence both at home and work.

Companies need to contribute

The WOW alliance has identified clear opportunities for businesses to improve transparency on women’s work in global value chains and inform strategies to leverage gender equality and women’s economic empowerment. Given the high level of resources that companies devote to social compliance, it could become an important source of evidence on the work and conditions of female workers across global value chains - if improved to capture key gender data. While it is far from a silver bullet, it provides a platform to build upon, and companies must play an important influential role in championing the consideration of women in data and reporting.

  • Data collection: Despite their limitations social audits provide an existing mechanism that could be used more effectively. Businesses must systematically and consistently collect data that allows the identification of (and subsequence action to address) risks to women. Suppliers need to request gender data from sub-contractors and lower tier suppliers.
  • Data recording: Gender-disaggregated data and information that is gathered, should be captured in a way that is useful for detailed analysis or tracking over time. Businesses must use social audits to track data that will allow them to identify and address their risks effectively over time, archiving past data in an accessible format. 
  • Data reporting: Businesses can push for reporting frameworks that take women into account and drive greater accountability. These need to be compatible across companies and organisations, in order to compare change over time and assess progress.

There are signs of positive change. Some leading retailers and brands are examining their procedures and practices to enhance the visibility of women workers in their textile and garment value chains. The Gender Data and Impact (GDI) toolhas been developed through collaboration between a number of leading organisations to conduct gender responsive due diligence in global supply chains. Sedex, a leading international ethical trade and social compliance platform, has highlighted the collection and reporting of better gender data and information as a key goal in its work.

Reliable data on women and men workers will, however, only form one dimension of attaining more effective due diligence in textile and garment value chains. Long-lasting change will require companies to analyse the gathered data, translate it into effective responses for workers and engage in large-scale collaboration with peers, civil society and policymakers. By working together, businesses can begin paving the way towards more resilient and sustainable value chains.

Further Information 

Barrientos, S. (2019) Gender and Work in Global Value Chains: Capturing the Gains? Cambridge University Press.

‘Building Back Equitably: Spotlight on Covid-19 and women workers in global value chains’ WOW Briefing Paper, October 2020.

Brief Bio

Professor Stephanie Barrientos, Global Development Institute, University of Manchester. Research lead on the Work Opportunities for Women (WOW) programme funded by UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO)

E-Mail: s.barrientos@manchester.ac.uk

Guidance Document „Due Diligence, Social Audits and Gender-Based Violence and Harassment“

A new guidance document addresses the gender-sensitive design of social audits. Find more details in this news article..

Annual Topic 2020: Gender-based violence

In 2020, gender-based violence was our annual topic in the Partnership for Sustainable Textiles. More information here.

ZDHC CMS Technical Industry Guide


ZDHC Technical Industry Guide

Recently, the ZDHC Foundation released the CMS Technical Industry Guide completes the ZDHC Chemical Management System (CMS). It is the basis for implementing sustainable chemical management for brands and suppliers. With this document, suppliers can continuously work on improvements according to the ZDHC guidelines and thus also the expectations of different brands. The Technical Industry Guide can be used by any type of producer, for example tanneries, dye houses, finishing plants or footwear factories.

On the ZDHC-Website you can find more detailed information about the new CMS Technical Industry Guide.

Since 2017, the ZDHC Foundation and the Partnership for Sustainable Textiles work togehter in a strategic cooperation.

New guidance document "Due Diligence, Social Audits and Gender-Based Violence and Harassment"


New guidance document "Due Diligence, Social Audits and Gender-Based Violence and Harassment"

Gender-based violence is a widespread problem in the textile sector. However, gender-based violence is often not identified in social audits and is therefore difficult to measure. Making audits gender-sensitive can help uncover cases of gender-based violence in the supply chain – an important prerequisite for developing appropriate prevention and remediation measures in dialogue with stakeholders.

A new guidance document addresses the gender-sensitive design of social audits. It was created in a project by members of the Textiles Partnership and the International Association of Natural Textiles (IVN) as well as GOTS. Over the past months, the project partners have been working intensively on the challenges of identifying gender-based violence in social audits and how to better integrate gender-sensitive audits into due diligence processes.

The new guidance document is aimed at companies, auditors and certifiers alike. It first introduces the topic of gender-based violence in the textile sector. Based on this, it offers guidance on how companies can best integrate gender-sensitive social audits into their due diligence processes. In addition, the guidance document contains numerous practical hints, best practices and checklists for the gender-sensitive design and implementation of audits.

In 2020, gender-based violence was our annual topic in the Partnership for Sustainable Textiles. More information here.

Online Trainings: Sheep Welfare in Wool Production


Online Trainings: Sheep Welfare in Wool Production

In December, the animal welfare organisation FOUR PAWS and the Dutch Agreement on Sustainable Garment and Textiles (AGT) organised a training on Sheep Welfare in Wool Production. The workshop resulted in three online trainings on responsible wool production. The three videos are helpful for textile and clothing companies.

Part 1: Animal welfare in sheep farming

Rebecca Picallo Gil, campaign manager and project manager of Wool With a Butt at FOUR PAWS, kicks things off. She introduces the topic of animal welfare and animal protection in sheep farming. Best practices in wool production are also addressed. Fashion brands should only source wool from sheep that are kept without mulesing (see info box).
Video link (41 minutes)

Part 2: Sourcing wool at Patagonia

In the second video, Nicolas Allen, Senior Traceability and Animal Welfare Manager at Patagonia, presents the requirements the outdoor brand places on its wool. For example, all suppliers of virgin wool must be RWS (Responsible Wool Standard) certified and comply with the Patagonia Wool Standard (PWS).
Video link (31 minutes)

Part 3: Best Practices of the Schneider Group

In the third part of the online training, Willi Gallia presents the work of the Schneider Group. He is Chief Sustainability Officer at the Italian family-owned company. The Schneider Group procures, processes, trades and produces animal fibres, especially wool and cashmere. In the process, the company uses only mulesing-free wool and relies on labels such as RWS and GOTS.
Video link (27 minutes)

Animal welfare and protection

Das Textilbündnis erkennt Schurwolle als nachhaltig an, wenn sich die Halter an die „Fünf Freiheiten“ halten und auf Mulesing ihrer Tiere verzichten. Alle Mitgliedsunternehmen, die Schurwolle verwenden, sind dazu verpflichtet, eine Policy zu veröffentlichen, in der sie Mulesing ablehnen: Sektorrisiko Tierwohl

Five Freedoms

The Five Freedoms were defined on the basis of the 1965 Brambell Report. They are used to determine whether and which animal welfare requirements are met. In order to establish an internationally accepted basis for animal welfare in agriculture, the Farm Animal Welfare Council (FAWC) published five basic requirements in 1993/94, which have become known as the "Five Freedoms". These requirements form an important basis for animal welfare today, regardless of the animal welfare regulations of the respective country. They represent the ideals of animal welfare and are to be understood as keeping animals "as free as possible from" the negatives mentioned in these principles.

  1. Freedom from hunger, thirst and malnutrition. The animals have free access to water and receive species-appropriate food to ensure health and vitality.
  2. Freedom from discomfort: The animals are kept in an animal-friendly environment.
  3. Freedom from pain, injury and disease through prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment.
  4. Freedom to act out normal behaviour: Keepers provide sufficient space and species-appropriate facilities and keep the animals together with conspecifics.
  5. Freedom from fear and suffering: The animals are kept and treated in such a way that psychological suffering is avoided.

Often sheep are affected by a heavy fly infestation. To deal with this problem, a surgical procedure called "mulesing" emerged about ninety years ago. In this operation, parts of the skin around the tail of sheep are removed - in many cases without painkillers or anaesthesia. Smooth scar tissue forms at the wound where blowflies can no longer lay eggs. Mulesing is strongly criticised by animal welfare organisations. In New Zealand, the practice has been banned since 2018. Australian sheep farmers actually wanted to phase out mulesing by 2010, but the practice is still common. The alternative to mulesing means that the animals must be examined frequently to determine whether fly infestation is present. If so, the affected animal must be treated. This procedure is much more labour-intensive than mulesing.

UNFCCC Playbook now available in German


UNFCCC Playbook now available in German

The UNFCCC Climate Action Playbook is a living document for all stakeholders in the textile and garment industry. It supports them on their way to reducing reduce CO2 emissions to net zero by 2050. Now the playbook is also available in German. The Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action published the English version in September 2020.

The playbook is designed to help companies identify what actions to take and what initiatives and programs they could support.

It is especially a support for smaller and medium sized brands and suppliers - that may have less experience with carbon accounting and planning carbon reduction strategies. For them, it offers an introduction to the topic and supports them in taking their first steps. However, more experienced, larger companies will also find valuable information, tips and examples, for example on climate management in the supply chain.

"I am very happy that we now also have the German translation of the playbook, because climate action is becoming increasingly important in the Textiles Partnership. An expert group has been working on this since last year. In January, the Steering Committee decided that the UN Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action should serve as a reference framework for greenhouse gas emissions for the Partnership for Sustainable Textiles. On this basis, we can initiate joint activities," says Rahel Lemke, who is in charge of climate relevant topics in the Partnership Secretariat.

You are invited to download the Playbook:


The Fashion Industry Climate Charter is part of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The charter pursues the goal of achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions across the industry by 2050 at the latest in order to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees. The Partnership for Sustainable Textiles is a Supporting Organisation. Partnership members and partners Puma, Adidas, Textile Exchange and ZDHC were among those involved in developing the Playbook.

Annual Topic 2021: Responsible Purchasing Practices


Annual Topic 2021: Responsible Purchasing Practices

In 2021, the Partnership for Sustainable Textiles makes responsible purchasing practices its annual topic. This was decided by the Steering Committee at its meeting at the end of January.

Effective cooperation between purchasing companies (brands and retailers) and suppliers is crucial to protect the rights of workers in the supply chain. The COVID-19 crisis has once again made this particularly evident. With the annual topic, the Textiles Partnership wants to contribute to an sector-wide improvement of purchasing practices and to create space for progress towards good working conditions and living wages; according to the OECD guidance for the garment sector.

Purchasing practices describe all the principles and processes by which brands and retailers interact and do business with the manufacturers who supply their products. Responsible purchasing practices enable suppliers to plan their production and working hours effectively and to pay workers fairly. At the same time, they enable suppliers to invest in the overall improvement of working conditions. In this way, they strengthen resilience in the supply chain.

Short video on purchasing practices by the initiative ACT (stragic cooperation partner of the PST).

Various activities and support services are planned throughout the course of the year:
  • During the OECD Forum on Due Diligence in the Garment and Footwear Sector, the Textiles Partnership organized a session with a panel discussion on responsible purchasing practices on February 3rd.
  • With a self-assessment and supplier survey, member companies can evaluate their purchasing practices in order to develop and implement improvement measures. Experts support the members with online training and a training video.
  • In addition, the topic will be addressed at the annual Members' Meeting in April and the Working Meeting in the fall.
  • Furthermore, the Textiles Partnership is working together with other multi-stakeholder initiatives on a common framework on purchasing practices. These include the Ethical Trading Initiative, ACT and the Fair Wear Foundation.
Background: The topic of purchasing practices in the Textiles Partnership

Part of the Partnership Initiative on Living Wages is the basic module Purchasing Practices . Twelve Partnership companies joined together in a Peer Learning Group (PLG) in 2019 to analyze their purchasing practices using the Purchasing Practices Self-Assessment Tool (PPSA). Based on this analysis, the PLG companies develop action plans to improve their purchasing practices. Many Partnership companies have already analyzed their purchasing practices using the tool. A first evaluation of the self-assessment of companies of the Textiles Partnership and the Dutch Agreement on Sustainable Garment and Textiles can be found here. In the Report to the 6th Members' Meeting you will find more information on the activities of the Partnership Initiative.

To mitigate negative impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic in the short term, the Textiles Partnership published guidelinesin April 2020, which contain recommendations for dealing with orders as well as health risks and the risk of infection in production facilities. Some members used the document to make a public commitment to act responsibly.

Textiles Partnership at the OECD Garment Forum


Textiles Partnership at the OECD Garment Forum

This year's virtual OECD Forum on Due Diligence in the Garment and Footwear Sector will take place from February 01 to 05. Once again, the Partnership for Sustainable Textiles participates in the international sector event.

The sessionScaling Responsible Purchasing Practices through Effective Supply Chain Partnerships(February 3, 1pm) looks at roadblocks that prevent strong buyer-supplier partnerships. The panelists discuss lessons learnt about supplier-buyer relationships during COVID-19 pandemic, with regard to Responsible Purchasing Practices, and how we can use this learning to create a better future beyond the COVID-19 crisis. They will promote a shared understanding between different types of buyers, suppliers and other stakeholders engaged. The Textiles Partnership organizes this partner session together with amfori, Better Buying, Fair Wear Foundation and Ethical Trading Initiative. Details can be found in the session description.

The Textiles Partnership will also contribute to the side session „Together for Decent Leather – from precarious jobs to decent work“ on the second day of the event (February 2, 9:30 a.m.). Jürgen Janssen, head of the Partnership Secretariat, will describe lessons learnt of the Partnership for Sustainable Textiles and possibilities of transfer to the leather sector. The session is organized by a consortium of European and Asian NGOs , including Partnership members Inkota and Südwind.

Furthermore, Jürgen Janssen presents experiences with the OECD Alignment Assessment. He also discusses how the Textiles Partnership has subsequently revised its Review Process based on the OECD recommendations. This input is part of the session "Alignment of due diligence initiatives - taking stock of pilot findings and reflecting on implications for government policy" on 04 February at 2:30pm. The German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) will also participate in the session with an input.

To attend these or other sessions, please register on the OECD Forum website: OECD Forum on Due Diligence in the Garment and Footwear Sector (oecd-events.org)

OECD Forum on Due Diligence in the Garment and Footwear Sector 

The OECD Forum is the international annual event on corporate due diligence in the textile sector. Numerous events (including side events) will take place from February 01 to 05, with the core event on February 3 and 4. The forum brings together over 600 representatives from government, business, trade unions and civil society to address emerging risks and to share learnings on implementing labour, human rights, environmental and integrity due diligence in the sector across geographies.

The topic of building a more resilient and sustainable sector post- and during the current COVID context will be key thread running through the first main day of the Forum, including as the theme of the high-level opening panel. The second day will open with a discussion on recent mandatory due diligence policy developments with consideration of their role in enhancing and enabling company due diligence practice in the Garment and Footwear sector, as well as potential pitfalls to avoid. More information: OECD Forum on Due Diligence in the Garment and Footwear Sector (oecd-events.org)

Solidaridad Guidebook Wet Processing


Solidaridad Guidebook Wet Processing

Recently, the international civil society organisation Solidaridad published aguidebook that looks at the challenges and consequences of water pollution and use of chemicals, water and energy. The Guidebook provides an introduction to wet processing, an overview of chemical management, and a listing of relevant guidelines, tools, and initiatives.

It considers the various areas where environmental impacts can be addressed throughout a garment’s value chain; from growing or producing fibres, spinning and weaving processes, wet processes such as dyeing and washing, cut and trim, all the way to how the consumer takes care of the garment

Den Leitfaden können Sie auf der Website von Solidaridad .

Members' Meeting 2020


The Partnership's topics are future topics

6th Members' Meeting of the Partnership for Sustainable Textiles

"On track" was the topic of the 6th Members' Meeting of the Textiles Partnership on November, 24 and 25. In his welcoming address, Jürgen Janssen, head of the Partnership secretariat, emphasised that the course towards due diligence and sustainability is accurate, important and forward-looking. Despite and in view of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Textiles Partnership is and will remain on track, said Janssen:

"We are able to make this statement today because you have signalled to us in many conversations and through your continuing commitment that the old and new issues we are working on in the Partnership will not be a downturn, but will have tailwind in the crisis: Partnership's topics are future topics."

14 sessions and 26 speakers

During the two days of the event, a total of 14 sessions with a wide variety of Partnership topics were on the agenda: from due diligence and gender-based violence, to responsible exit and living wages, to supply chain transparency and climate protection. We would like to thank the 26 speakers who shared their expertise with the participants in the individual sessions.

Recordings of the public sessions
2A: How to address the sector risk of gender-based violence at factory level: Perspectives from Bangladesh
4A: Identifying and addressing risks of informal employment
5B: Best Practices in Child Labour Identification beyond the Factory Walls
Panel Discussion "Future supply chain relations"

What will the supply chain relationships of the future look like? And what perspectives and expectations do the players in the production countries have?

These were the questions that our panel discussion dealt with. The panelists also addressed which weaknesses in supply chains have become particularly apparent through COVID-19 and what a "new normal" can and should look like. Prior to the panel discussion, Saskia Hedrich (McKinsey Apparel and Luxury Division) presented the results of the study "Time for change" in a keynote speech.

Please find the summary or view the recording of the keynote speech and the panel discussion here.

Report to the 6th Members' Meeting

In the report to the Members' Meeting we give an overview of what has been happening in the Textiles Partnership in the last few months: among other things, reactions to COVID-19, cooperation with other industry initiatives, interesting facts about the new review process and risk analysis. In addition, you will learn about the progress made by our Partnership Initiatives Grievance Mechanisms, Living Wages, Waste Water and Tamil Nadu. And last but not least, we have summarised the most important information on the new expert groups, new support offerings, publications and communication.


As was the case at the Spring 2020 Work Meeting, there was once again a marketplace at the Membership Meeting. These eight booths were there: