Promoting the rights of women garment workers: achievements, challenges and adapting for the future

by 26th Mar 2021
Momena is leading change in her factory in Bangladesh Momena is leading change in her factory in Bangladesh

2020 saw the greatest challenges the garment industry – and its workers – have faced. At the end of five years of intense focus on the rights of women working in garment supply chains, CARE’s Made by Women strategy reflects on what has – and has not – changed for workers.

The latest Impact Report highlights what we’ve achieved so far, what challenges we still face and where we need to focus for the future. It shows the benefits of scaling out best practice from strong programs at country level and leading a coordinated push towards common goals. The result? A slow but tangible shift, particularly within industry, with a positive impact on workers.

What changes have we seen?

  • Women garment workers have accessed rights which they were previously being denied: More than 167,000 women experienced positive changes including accessing entitlements like the minimum wage and bonuses or benefiting from new policies and management systems in factories which protect them. When COVID-19 hit, women leaders and community action groups took action against unjust industry responses themselves, holding managers accountable for reducing the risks of COVID-19 transmission in factories and ensuring wages were paid to laid-off workers.
  • Better legal protections exist for women: 4.1 million women garment workers across three countries stand to benefit from more progressive and inclusive public policies and national action plans as a result of CARE’s advocacy. In Vietnam, a stronger Labor Code means 28 million people are protected by stronger laws against sexual harassment.
  • More factories are taking action to promote gender equality: 77 factories have worked with CARE to change their policies, systems and workplace cultures in order to be more responsive to the rights of women workers, resulting in more than 154,000 workers gaining more dignified working conditions.
  • Global brands are strengthening how they address sexual harassment: Five leading garment brands have been influenced to strengthen their supply chain policies, procedures and investments to prevent gender-based violence and harassment. There’s now also standardized guidance for how the industry can address violence and harassment across the whole supply chain.

How did it happen?

  • Long-term, coordinated engagement with a diversity of partners: Coordinated engagement with partners sharing similar goals helped build and amplify support around key priorities in the sector. Central coordination within CARE made it easier to maintain a sustained focus across country programs and global relationships. This supported development of meaningful partnerships, such as coordinating an advocacy campaign in collaboration with CSOs, UN agencies, donors and stakeholders in Vietnam to influence the revised Labor Code, and collaborating with Better Factories Cambodia to engage industry across the region through the joint Business of Women at Work event.
  • Elevating the voices of women: At all levels Made by Women aimed to raise awareness of the issues facing women workers by supporting their collective voices—whether by bringing individual issues to the attention of factory management through EKATA groups; raising awareness of the challenges faced by homeworkers through a national partnership with a membership-based organization; or supporting trade union leaders to attend the International Labour Conference. Community action groups and local partners were vital to women-led improvements at factory, local and national level.
  • Increased coordination and collaboration to influence policy decisions: A coordinated focus on ILO Convention 190 within countries through CARE’s global #ThisIsNotWorking campaign, aligned with the work of a number of our partners and allies, facilitated deeper and longer-term engagement in the campaign.

Where do we go next?

The changes we have seen are encouraging, but many challenges remain. COVID-19 has had a massive impact on the garment industry and disproportionately impacted women workers. Moving forward Made by Women will continue to build upon our achievements and adapt to address the new realities they face. We will strongly advocate on the importance of industry-wide action for a just recovery from the COVID-19 crisis. Learn more in the full Impact Report.

Want to learn more?

Read the full Impact Report and the Impact Overview summary.

Made by Women is CARE’s Impact Growth Strategy aiming to economically empower women garment workers through dignified work. Primarily focused on Asia, it links work in 11 priority countries with opportunities for regional and global influence. Learn more about Made by Women at care.org/madebywomen.

Jenny Conrad

I coordinate communications for CARE's Made by Women strategy, which promotes dignified work for women in the garment industry. I joined CARE in 2013 as Communications Advisor for the Cambodia office. During my time with CARE I have supported CARE Cambodia’s private sector engagement with a focus on the garment industry and led strategic communications for CARE Australia's International Programmes team.

Having started my career in marketing, prior to joining CARE I was leading communications for a global philanthropy publication. I hold a BA in English from the University of Bristol.

Email: jenny.conrad@careint.org

Twitter: @jennyeconrad