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.

Building supply chain resilience through sustainability

Five action plans for businesses to adopt after covid 19

Planning ahead
The global events in the last few months have demonstrated the high importance of supply chain management for many businesses. COVID-19 has caused an unexpected, global supply chain disruption, leading several businesses to re-examine their supply chain risks and strategies.

Moving forward, building supply chain resilience should not limit businesses to assess only their financial and credit risks. It is expected for them to move past these risks to also assess risks arising out of their supplier sustainability operations. Sustainability has played a vital role in recent years in shaping business strategies by influencing purchasing decisions. Supplier environmental compliance, workers’ rights and safety, and good governance are some of the aspects that have driven pressures from industry and buyers alike.

Past events have demonstrated loss of reputation, and consequently revenue, when sustainability risks are overlooked in supply chain operations.

However, due to the current economic slowdown and need to defend critical business assets, sustainability considerations might be pushed to the back seat. This might seem like a short-term success strategy, but in the long-term, it would be detrimental to the overall business growth. We are proposing five-step action plan for businesses to adopt, and to overcome short and long-term supply disruptions.

Action Plan 1: Protecting Human Capital should be a Key Priority
As one of the most vulnerable section of the supply chain, labourers and migrant workers face several challenges, especially concerning their livelihoods, health and safety. COVID-19 has put a spotlight on the living conditions of several such low wage earning workers, making them most susceptible to the virus.

Living in confined spaces with poor ventilation and minimum space to move, there has been mass spread of the virus among these communities. While businesses and economic activities have been halted in many of these countries, there has also been widespread unemployment and job insecurity bringing a lot of these workers to the brink of poverty.

This raises questions on measures to safeguard workers’ health and livelihood, key to wider business ethics. Priority given to protecting human capital must take precedence for any business and this should be followed through in the supply chain.

The ‘new normal’ must embrace the concept of social sustainability assessment for suppliers as part of the procurement procedure to gauge how suppliers are providing for their workers and their sustainability. Worker health, safety and security must be built into our suppliers and our business continuity plan to ensure a supply chain operation.

Action Plan 2: Supplier Environmental Risk Assessment while Sourcing
Several businesses facing supply chain disruptions currently would possibly look at switching suppliers to ensure future business continuity. Diversifying supplier base has been known to prevent major disruption of product supply. Businesses often deprioritise sustainability while sourcing for new suppliers.

Operational necessities such as price, quantity and quality often take precedence over sustainability concerns. However, for business continuity, it is critical for business to also look at supplier sustainability risks prior to sourcing.

According to a report by the World Economic Forum, environmental risks, in particular, have high impact and likelihood of occurrence in the coming years (The World Economic Forum, 2020).

These include climate action failure, extreme weather and natural disasters, which have in the past been known to severely disrupt the supply chains (an example, 2011 Thailand’s severe flooding disrupted several supply chains). Environmental sustainability risk assessment of suppliers could supplement the operational considerations during sourcing to avoid future supply disruptions.

Action Plan 3: Strengthening Supplier Partnerships and Customer Relationships
COVID-19 has played a spoilsport in managing relationships with suppliers, highlighting the dark side of procurement practices for many businesses. According to a recent report by Sustainable Apparel Coalition, many fashion brands have cancelled completed orders from their supplier manufacturing units (Sustainable Apparel Coalition, 2020).

Cancellation of completed orders brings about a ripple effect – from mistrust across industry players, economic instability to suppliers, and wide-spread unemployment of workers. This might lead to negative consequences for the business when the economy recovers. Businesses need to make meaningful partnerships with suppliers that extend beyond financial and material transactions, to sail through unprecedented events such as COVID-19.

Strengthening customer relationships is as important as strengthening supplier partnerships. In this tough time, customers are also facing economic instability and constraints that is changing their purchasing behaviours. Moving forward, businesses need to extend beyond the traditional role of providing goods and services to customers, to that of engagement and purpose. Maintaining transparency and following through on their commitments are key ways for gaining customer trust and maintaining a healthy supply chain.

Action Plan 4: Executing Scenario Planning and Waste Mitigation Strategies
Supply chain disruptions brought about by COVID-19 has resulted in higher inventory, therefore leading to longer lead times for many businesses. For sectors handling perishable items, this would translate to a lot of wastage. For the food industry alone, processing and transport breakdown, as well as panic buying has resulted in soaring prices and rotting crops posing a global food crisis.

Post COVID-19 would have to look at supply chain operations to devise plans to ensure crisis management and business continuity strategies. Businesses need to explore using several scenarios that could disrupt various stages of their supply operations, and devise waste management plans accordingly.

This might even mean relooking at diversifying customer base in addition to supplier base, also targeting waste mitigation strategies during times of crisis. Building collaboration with various stakeholders in the supply chain would help in overcoming some of the pain points. Avoiding waste could avert disposal costs for larger volumes of items and could also generate alternate revenue streams during crisis.

Action Plan 5: Digitalisation of Supply Chains>
Efforts to digitalise supply chains have been ongoing for many years. Many of our current products go through complex, global network of processes before reaching the end consumers.

Businesses are now starting to look at investing in technology and digitalising the supply chain to help better forecast the demand and manage diversification. Some data analytics tools provide opportunities to identify vulnerabilities in supply chain operations and predict risks.

Digitalisation could also help in real time inventory visibility, provide optimal transportation routes, and reduce lead time. All this would improve performance and reduce waste. Digitalisation is the future of enhanced supply chain management.

Sanjala Hari
Senior Consultant
Paia Consulting Pte Ltd