Our key takeaway: In many sectors, such as textiles and agriculture, women make up the majority of the workforce. Women are also more vulnerable to human rights impacts. So, does it make sense for the upcoming EU Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive (CSDDD) to be ‘gender-blind’? The answer is no, according to a coalition of 146 non-governmental organisations from around the world. Specific asks of the upcoming law that companies should look out for include: broadening the scope to cover all sizes of companies and those across the full value chain; fully aligning with all internationally recognised human rights including the particular rights of women and other vulnerable groups; and embedding a gender lens throughout every part of human rights due diligence, from assessing risks that may disproportionately impact women, to identifying ‘hidden’ impacts on women, ensuring effectiveness of human rights due diligence, strengthening access to remedy for women, and examining purchasing practices and business models with a view to how these may disproportionately impact women in the value chain.
146 non-governmental organisations from around the world issued an open letter (March 2023) to the EU Commission, EU Parliament and Council of the EU calling for better integration of gender considerations into the forthcoming EU Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive (CSDDD):
- Enhance scope to better secure women’s rights in value chains: The letter calls for the EU CSDDD to require companies to conduct human rights due diligence throughout their full value chain—downstream as well as upstream—and to cover companies of all sizes within the scope of the legislation. The letter points out that women may face particular impacts in certain types of work. For example, “[a]dverse impacts are more likely to occur at the beginning of the value chain where women are often overrepresented. Women are also more likely to depend on semi-formal or informal relationship schemes, unofficial subcontracting and home-based work.” In addition, the letter notes that “[w]omen are overrepresented in sectors which consist mainly of small to medium enterprises, such as the textile industry. Therefore, they will be at even greater risk if the legislation is not broadened out to include all business sizes.”
- Align with international human rights standards that protect women: The letter also calls on the EU bodies to ensure that women’s rights are explicitly mentioned and protected within the text of the EU CSDDD. The NGOs point to the fact that the CSDDD was originally drafted as “gender-blind,” and that the EU Council in fact eliminates the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women from the directive’s scope. The letter emphasizes that, under the UN Guiding Principles, due diligence should cover all internally recognised human rights without exclusion. What’s more, the NGOs ask that the CSDDD strengthens pathways and access to remedy for women and other people in vulnerable situations, who are likely to face higher barriers to access justice in either the courts or non-judicial grievance mechanisms. Specifically, this could include: “reversal of the burden of proof; extending limitation periods; collective redress and representative actions; taking into account specific obstacles which may be faced by women such as language and literacy barriers, lack of access to financial resources, limits on freedom of movement, time poverty due to unpaid care work and other factors.”
- Require companies to embed a gender lens into their human rights due diligence: The letter calls for companies to ensure that gender is considered throughout their HRDD processes. For example, the EU CSDDD could require companies to take special steps to ensure gender-responsive stakeholder engagement, noting that women and other vulnerable groups are likely to face marginalisation throughout HRDD processes: “Women, particularly those belonging to groups in marginalised situations (such as Indigenous women, rural women, etc.), are often excluded from consultation, their voices are not heard without specific gender-responsive measures.” The protection of whistleblowers in Article 23 should be expanded to protect all human rights and environmental defenders (HREDs), recognising that women HREDs may face heightened or different risks compared to men. The NGOs also recommend that the EU bodies require “gender-specific trends and patterns” in their risk assessment processes; often, gendered impacts—especially sensitive issues like sexual violence and harassment—may be hidden in some traditional risk assessments like audits. Likewise, companies should collect and publish disaggregated data (e.g., by sex, gender, age, ethnicity, class, migration status, disability and other grounds of discrimination) to identify whether their HRDD performance is effectively addressing impacts on women and other vulnerable groups. Where an impact has occurred, the “CSDDD should include the explicit obligation for companies to remediate harm, as well as provisions for victims to access effective remedy, both non-judicial and judicial” and going beyond financial compensation. Finally, the letter calls on the EU bodies to consider particular risks to women of purchasing practices and business models. Specifically, “[u]nfair purchasing practices on cost and schedules have a direct and disproportionate impact on women (low wages and incomes, unsafe conditions, abusive subcontracting). Companies must ensure a living wage for workers through their purchasing practices.”