Grievance mechanisms enable people encountering work-based problems to communicate issues and complaints with managers in order for them to be addressed, considered and resolved. In a recent FNET webinar on gender in international supply chains, FNET members heard about the need to ensure that these channels for communication between workers and management are specifically tailored to pick up issues that relate to gender inequality. These could range from very serious violations such as harassment and gender-based violence, to other issues around breaks, toilet facilities and workplace safety. The Oxfam Business Advisory Service has developed a grievance mechanism with a gender lens (originally for Reckitt) that highlights the importance of including women, men and gender-expansive individuals in the development of the policies and how they are being implemented, and the importance of training for managers specifically on gender-based grievances and how to interpret and support people when problems arise.
It’s a red flag when no grievances are being raised, and for companies who are receiving some information it’s important to dig outside the data to get a full picture of the local context. For example, where employment opportunities are sparce in a locality, individuals can be more vulnerable and exposed to exploitation or harassment and less likely to report any issues due to fear of losing their sought-after jobs. Companies need to understand the pressures faced locally in order to be able to address any violations or inequalities. By increasing diverse representation at all levels, having independent grievance mechanisms, and building a track record in responding to grievances in a timely and confidential manner, trust can be built which will help other people come forward when they face work-based problems either large or small.
Also explored in the recent FNET webinar was how gender transformative approaches such as Gender Action Learning System can be used in a business context. These methods aim to open up communication channels between women and men to understand and challenge gender norms that contribute to social and economic inequality. They can help uncover some of the root causes of behaviour and identify opportunities for change. They have been used in the context of smallholder farmers who grow coffee and groundnuts, but can they be used by companies in different parts of the supply chain? Interested in being part of this discussion? Contact FNET to find out more about our webinar series.