Gender responsible procurement

By Sanjala Hari

Recently, global movements on non-discrimination, human rights and equality have brought a strong focus on how companies are looking at inclusivity and equality in their workplace. Apart from racial and ethnical diversity, removing any biasness against gender in the workplace has also contributed to having in inclusive team. A few companies are now looking beyond empowering women in their own workforce to also include such considerations during their procurement processes. Gender responsive procurement is now gaining traction, and many see the benefit in enabling purchase of gender-sensitive goods and services and supporting women-owned businesses.


A few companies are now looking beyond empowering women in their own workforce to also include such considerations during their procurement processes.

The UN Women define gender responsive procurement as ‘the sustainable selection of goods, civil works or services that takes into account their impact on gender equality and women’s empowerment’. By enabling gender responsive procurement, companies support the elimination of discrimination against women by treating male and female suppliers on equal terms. Gender responsible procurement aligns with Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 5, although there are specific targets related to women and girls in SDG 12 of the SDG 17 goals. Gender-responsive procurement also aligns with one of the seven drivers identified by the UN High-Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment.


Gender responsive procurement practices have had a positive impact on profitability and return on investment.

Women owned businesses today contribute significantly to the global economy. According to Global Entrepreneurship Research Association report in 2014, there were approximately 224 million women entrepreneurs worldwide. Women were also involved in over 80 percent of purchasing decisions worldwide (Dalberg, 2014). According to World Bank, in 2012, 35% of all small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are owned by women. Supporting women entrepreneurs has its own benefits. A study by McKinsey in 2015 confirms that gender-responsive procurement practices have had a positive impact on profitability and return on investment. The report also indicated that if women played an identical role in labour markets to that of men, as much as USD 28 trillion, or 26 percent, could be added to the global annual Gross Domestic Product by 2025.


Despite the various benefits of supporting women entrepreneurs, women owned businesses lag behind businesses owned by men due to various socio-cultural challenges, and/or economic and legal inequalities. Social and cultural expectations and unequal distribution of responsibilities persists for women even after they enter the workforce or start a business. Women also face challenges in access to financial capital, social and human capital. Women face challenges in acquiring collateral to start a business as they might have less access to financing than men in certain geographies. Similarly, some research shows that women find difficulty in establishing business networks and connections. Due to unequal preference to education among genders in certain geographies, women often lack the managerial experience to start a business.


The foundation of public procurement is on the principles of equality, non-discrimination and transparency. Public procurement has a large potential to promote gender responsible procurement. Companies can allow inclusion of gender criteria during assessment of proposals submitted. Companies can evaluate the proposals submitted based on criteria such as whether the project team is gender-balanced, and balanced presence of women and men in decision-making positions.

Companies can expand their network and business relationships to target businesses that are primarily women-owned

Companies can expand their network and business relationships to target businesses that are primarily women-owned – which could include small and medium size businesses run by women entrepreneurs. This would also include companies to fit technical, financial and other prequalification and qualification requirements based on the size and complexity of the opportunities, such that women-owned SMEs are not blindly eliminated during the procurement process. For unsuccessful bidders, providing a useful feedback on their strengths and weaknesses can help provide opportunities for improvement, especially for women owned businesses.

For businesses looking to diversify their overall supply chain and possibly reduce their spending on suppliers, procuring from women owned business could be the answer. Similarly, incorporating gender sensitive requirements during procurement process and engagements can not only support your company’s commitment towards gender equality, but also help companies mitigate any risks on gender discrimination or abuses in supplier operations.

Reach out to us to find out more about how you can include gender considerations in your procurement processes. More on our supply chain services .


The Link between Corruption and Human Rights

By Sanjala Hari

Human rights, particularly in the recent times, has been a key topic within the ESG space. With this, there is also growing traction of the role that corruption plays in impeding human rights. Corruption hinders effective discharge of human rights obligations diverting resources needed for safe and humane working conditions and preventing the right to fair trial. According to a study, countries with high rates of corruption are the ones with a poor human rights record (Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, 2017).

If we look at the conventional sustainability venn-diagram, it consists of Environmental, Social and Governance components. The three components overlap and influence the way businesses perform. Such is the overlap between corruption – a governance topic, and human rights – a social topic. Corruption is prevalent in businesses where there is unjust balance of powers, or where there is lack of transparency of information flow and decisions. Corruption through bribery or extortion often leads to oppressing the rights of the lesser-privileged workforce.

Due to complex global supply chains, businesses often operate in regions of the world where corruption is prevalent. Transparency has been one of the biggest challenges in global supply chains in eradicating corruption and in-turn human rights abuses. Transparency issues occur due to poor information sharing. In most cases, governance management of businesses work in silo of the social and environmental management. To facilitate good governance and prevent social abuses among supply chain players, buying companies must aim for procurement reforms that include strict provisions on all three – environmental, social and governance topics, in their contract decisions and supplier assessments. This would mean including all departments involved with environmental, social and governance management within a business and procurement practice to bring out effective reforms.

Human rights violations caused by corruption activities does not affect all workforce equally. Marginalised and discriminated groups are often the ones most affected. These include the poorer sections of the society, indigenous people, and women. Community consultation is key to prevent human rights violations. Contracts behind closed doors that do not take community consultations into considerations are often considered human rights violations. Businesses need to strengthen their due diligence work and whistle-blowing mechanisms to not only prevent corruption, such as bribery and extortion, but also prevent the human rights abuses that follow.

human rights workplace

Human Rights in the Workplace

What constitutes Human Rights in the Workplace

Human rights are often seen as perplexing, complex issues that most organisations find hard to grapple with or think these are simply not applicable to their business. Human rights are in fact, very much a part of the daily workings of an organisation. Common human resource issues, contractual agreements, health and safety of employees, discrimination, fair wages – all form part of human rights.

The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (or the ‘Guiding Principles’) which is the global standard in this field and endorsed by the UN Human Rights Council[1] defines human rights as being inherent to all individuals – some outlined in the Principles include rights to life and security, rights to freedom of thought, expression and religion, freedom of association and of movement, rights to education and work, to family life and privacy, to food and water, freedoms from torture, slavery or forced labour, rights to freedom of movement, rights to fair and decent work conditions and non-discrimination and rights to a fair trial[2]. The Principles are applicable to all states and businesses and set expectations about how to prevent, address and mitigate negative impacts on human rights by business.

In addition to the Guiding Principles, there are other internationally recognized human rights which Singapore specifically adheres to such as the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, which was adopted by the United Nations, the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Convention to Eliminate all forms of Discrimination against Women, Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).

Why are Human Rights becoming more relevant in the workplace and what are the expectations from companies?

It is evident that companies can preserve or adversely affect human rights of their employees and contract workers, their customers, workers in their supply chains, the local communities in which they operate and the final users of their products and services.

The Guiding Principles make clear that all companies have a responsibility to respect human rights, and the responsibility applies not only to company’s own operations but also to all their business relationships, including those throughout their value chain. The UN Guiding Principle 11 expects companies to ‘avoid infringing on the human rights of others and should address adverse human rights impacts with which they are involved’.

The first Corporate Human Rights Benchmark (CHRB) launched earlier this month benchmarking the human rights performance of 98 of the world’s biggest businesses from the apparel, agriculture and ICT sectors[3]. This study determines global leaders and laggards and is the result of detailed and wide-ranging multi-stakeholder consultations, across a wide range of stakeholders (companies, governments, civil society organisations, academics, legal experts etc.). The tool benchmarks business performance on how well they are doing at embedding the UN guiding principles on business and human rights across 6 main categories: their Governance and policies, evidence of embedding Respect and Human Rights Due Diligence, provision of Remedies and Grievance mechanisms, performance of companies Human Right practices as well as their response to allegations and the transparency of their disclosure. Some of the leading companies that emerged were global brands like Marks and Spencer, H&M, Nestle, Unilever, Total and Adidas to name a few. Surprising for some were BHP Billilton, Rio Tinto and TOTAL raking high points.

The benchmarking exercise, like the Modern Slavery Act (in the UK) is instigating business to reconsider their existing governance practices within their operations as well as their supply chains, and to think hard about what the rights of their stakeholders are. The published report does acknowledge that developing strong and enhanced human rights practices is not something that can happen overnight for companies. It takes time to change practices and mindsets, develop frameworks and policies and embed them into the organisation.

Melanie Yap, Founding Partner of A Very Good Company (AVGC) Singapore, a boutique agency which brings together teams of experts to create and implement programmes that bring financial and social value contends ‘businesses, especially those with a global outlook are aware that they run a very real risk of reputational damage with investors, customers and future talent if they fail to take action to prevent and remedy human rights violations. We have seen in particular, investors and consumers pay increasing attention to supply chains where labour rights and industrial relations pose a risk not just to the reputation of a business but to the business itself.’

In Singapore, companies are beginning to talk about human rights, very much in line with international expectations. We still have a long way to go but it is apparent that are benefits to businesses of respecting human rights such as improved risk management, greater access to business opportunities, positive recognition including being seen as a socially responsible organisation, leading to better reputation and ultimately improved relationships with stakeholders – all leading to the greater trust and transparency. Increasingly, as investors look to non-financial, social and governance performance aspects of companies, companies cannot shy away from addressing these slightly complex issues.


[1] In 2011