The pandemic, supply chains and gendered impacts

The Covid pandemic has had a profound impact on women across all dimensions of economic and social activity, finds briefing paper. From shifting gender roles in the household to the consequences on women’s roles within the economy to the health and well-being effects of the pandemic, the impact on women has been overwhelming.

ISEAL, with support from IDH, the Sustainable Trade Initiative, has published a  briefing paper that pulls together insights on gender and gender risks across the supply chain to support current thinking and innovation across sustainability systems.

New briefing paper on lessons for sustainability systems

From the standpoint of sustainability standards and similar systems, the pandemic has given the opportunity to review many streams of work, including how they conduct their assurance activities.

The aim of the briefing paper is to raise the profile of gender as an issue of interest and lens through which systems can think through adaptation and innovation in their assurance and monitoring and evaluation (M&E) systems.

This work draws on desk research into the gendered impacts of the pandemic on key sectors of interest, and the solutions and tools that can support system-thinking and responses. It also builds on ISEAL’s member dialogues on gender and external expert interviews.

The gendered impacts of the pandemic

It is too early to know the full impact of the pandemic but research showing the gendered impact of COVID-19 is abundant. And, a growing body of evidence indicates the disproportionate impact on women, relative to men.

Impacts include economic effects, such as increased unemployment and decreased incomes. Women are particularly vulnerable, not only due to their presence in sectors that have been hit hardest but also because of their position in the supply chain itself.

Many of the gender issues exacerbated by the pandemic are pre-existing gender inequalities present at a social, economic, and political level.

A key finding from the desk research is the fallout of gender segregation or occupational segregation along gendered lines. This increases the vulnerability of one gender unfairly when a crisis hits the sector as a whole — as the pandemic has done.

As sustainability systems look at their supply chains, they have an opportunity to give greater consideration to risks related to gender issues.

Lessons for response and adaptation by sustainability systems

At a generic level, the current pandemic has severely impacted the ability of sustainability systems to perform on-site audits, necessitating innovations in assurance activities. Although the pandemic raises significant challenges, it also offers the opportunity for systems to do better on the integration of the gender lens into assurance activities.

Considering this gender lens, important questions should be asked about some of the innovations underway. For example, as systems explore a shift to hybrid and remote auditing models, do these changes increase or decrease audit effectiveness to pick up on gender risks? Do remote audits have better or worse results in capturing feedback from women workers? Can new initiatives around the effective use of technology to support audits also be used to pick up site-specific gender risks or challenges? 

One of the advantages of sustainability systems is the structures they have in place, such as assurance and M&E, which can be used to gain insight on gender risks and issues within certified entities and supply chains. This makes them well-placed to start investigating these types of questions.

Download and read the briefing paper