HRDs being interviewed by journalists


Urgent request to ensure a gender-responsive and effective legislation on human rights and environmental due diligence and corporate accountability

1 December 2021

[Brussels] November 29, 2021

Urgent request to ensure gender-responsive and effective legislation on human rights and environmental due diligence (HREDD) and corporate accountability

Dear President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen,

Dear Vice-President Vera Jourová,

Dear Commissioner Thierry Breton,

Dear Commissioner Helena Dalli,

Dear Commissioner Didier Reynders,

Dear Members of Parliament,

Dear Council of the European Union Representatives,

November 29, International Women Human Rights Defenders (WHRDs) Day, is a day to pay tribute to the women who defend human rights and the environment across the world. Being at the forefront of the fight against all forms of discrimination and inequality, protecting environmental, land, and Indigenous peoples’ rights, WHRDs constantly face harassment, imprisonment, stigmatization, criminalization, and murder in addition to gender-specific forms of violence, and discrimination, including sexual violence.  Gender-responsive corporate accountability and due diligence rules are urgently needed to properly address these deep-seated inequalities.

In 2020, 13 % of the 331 human rights defenders killed worldwide were women. Most of these killings occurred in the context of business activities, with Latin America being the most affected region. Gender-specific impacts on women happen in all sectors, from extractives, manufacturing, and agriculture to accommodation, the food services industry, and the garment sector where women make up 80% of the workforce. Furthermore, 71% of people living in modern slavery are women. Given that gender issues frequently intersect with other grounds for discrimination, many women are further discriminated against based on intersecting identities such as their ethnic origin, age, class, caste, migration status, gender identity, and/or other factors.

The European Union has the opportunity to help protect the rights of the nearly 190 million women working in global supply chains through the upcoming Sustainable Corporate Governance (SCG) directive. The Directive should bring an emphasis on gender-responsive due diligence obligations that account for intersectionality and refer to the UN Guidance on Gender Dimensions of the UN Guiding Principles and the OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Business Conduct to provide companies with gender-specific guidance. In this context, gender-responsive recommendations in the SCG Directive must:

  1. Include reference in the normative scope to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the ILO Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families, the ILO Convention 190 on Violence and Harassment in the world of work.
  2. Create a robust liability regime enabling victims to access justice and obtain an effective remedy for example, by reducing time limitations, difficulties in accessing evidence, risks of negative repercussions, as well as gender inequality, vulnerabilities, and marginalization which can be major practical and procedural barriers obstructing victims’ access to effective legal remedies.
  3. Cover entire value chains, including semi-formal and informal working schemes as well as unofficial subcontracting and home-based work taking place in particular at the lowest tiers of value chains, as they disproportionately affect women and are one of the root causes of forced labor.
  4. Apply to companies of all sizes as sectors where women are hit hardest by gender-specific human rights impacts include many small and medium-sized enterprises (e.g. garment sector).
  5. Identify gender-based violence and sexual harassment as severe risks of human rights violations to be prevented, redressed and remedied.
  6. Ensure gender-sensitive human rights and environmental impact assessments, including by using disaggregated data (based on sex, ethnicity, age, migration status, and others) and outcome indicators to assess the true impact of companies’ activities on women, including how they may add to their unpaid care work, and account for the intersectional nature of discrimination. Companies should also track and monitor the implementation and effectiveness of the adopted measures. These results must be made public and used to inform possible changes to the global business operations and human rights and environmental due diligence process.
  7. Ensure a gender-responsive approach in stakeholder engagement and alert mechanisms; effective stakeholder engagement must occur without risk of retaliation and with free, timely, and informed consent. Stakeholder engagement processes should aim to understand how existing contexts and/or vulnerabilities may create disproportionate impacts for marginalized groups including women and children, migrant workers, homeworkers, temporary workers, indigenous peoples, and communities among others. Special attention should be paid to implementing a gender-responsive approach to ensure the safe and equal participation of women in decision-making processes in particular where culture or tradition excludes them from being represented.
  8. Include purchasing practices of companies in the framework of human rights and environmental due diligence processes.  Profit prioritization at the cost of human rights, labor rights, and environmental harms and irresponsible practices on prices, delivery time, or payment terms have impacts on all workers. This disproportionately impacts women in sectors such as the garment industry and agriculture. Unfair purchasing practices have numerous repercussions on workers including their wage levels and drive precarious hiring practices and abusive overtime.

A gender-responsive approach to corporate regulation by the EU will be instrumental to attain the objectives under international commitments like the Sustainable Development Goals and the Beijing Declaration, which made clear roadmaps on the EU’s obligation towards advancing women’s and girls’ rights. Strong political action and alignment with the Gender Equality Strategy and the Gender Action Plan III is urgently needed to address the persistent gender inequalities that prevent many women and girls affected by the activities of European business from leading a safe and prosperous life.

The SCG Directive must ensure that European companies are compelled to change their own practices and business models, cover the costs of compliance to prevent harms and face the judicial and administrative consequences of failing to do so. It represents a unique opportunity to fight gender inequality and discrimination in global value chains. We call on you to take that step by incorporating these recommendations into the text.


1. ActionAid International

2. Aktionsgemeinschaft Solidarische Welt e.V. ASW (Germany)

3. ALTSEAN-Burma

4. Anti-Slavery International

5. Arbeitsgemeinschaft der Eine Welt-Landesnetzwerke in Deutschland e.V.

6. Association of Ethical Shareholders Germany

7. Broederlijk Delen (Belgium)

8. Business & Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC)

9. CARE International

10. CCFD-Terre Solidaire (France)

11. Christian Initiative Romero (CIR)

12. Clean Clothes Campaign

13. Coordinadora Latinoamericana y del Caribe de Pequeños Productores y Trabajadores de Comercio Justo (CLAC)

14. CorA Network for Corporate Accountability (Germany)

15. Corporate Justice Coalition (UK)

16. Dachverband Entwicklungspolitik Baden-Württemberg, DEAB e.V.(Germany)

17. Entwicklungspolitisches Netzwerk Sachsen ENS (Germany)

18. EU-LAT Network

19. European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR)

20. European Coalition for Corporate Justice (ECCJ)

21. European Network Committees Oscar Romero

22. European Public Service Union (EPSU)

23. Fair Trade Advocacy Office

24. Fairtrade Deutschland e.V.

25. Fairtrade International

26. Fédération internationale pour les Droits Humains / International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)

27. FEMNET e.V.

28. Friends of the Earth Europe

29. Global Policy Forum Europe

30. Global Witness

31. Human Rights International Corner ETS (Italy)

32. Human Rights Watch

33. INKOTA-netzwerk

34. International Dalit Solidarity Network

35. IUCN National Committee of the Netherlands

36. Justice et Paix (Belgium)

37. New Financial Forum Foundation (Netherlands)

38. Oidhaco: Oficina Internacional de Derechos Humanos Acción Colombia

39. Open Society European Policy Institute

40. OQ Consulting BV (Netherlands/Germany)

41. Our Food. Our Future (OFOF)

42. Oxfam International

43. Pax Christi International

44. PICUM (Platform for International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants)

45. Polish Institute for Human Rights and Business

46. Rainforest Alliance

47. Réseau France Colombie Solidarités – RFCS (France)

48. ShareAction

49. Südwind (Austria)

50. Swedwatch

51. TERRE DES FEMMES e.V. (Germany)

52. Vamos por la paz – Ensemble pour la paix ( France & Colombia )

53. Vredesactie (Belgium)

54. WEED – World Economy, Ecology & Development e.V.

55. Werkstatt Ökonomie (Germany)

56. WeWorld Onlus (Italy)

57. Women Engage for a Common Future – WECF International

58. Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom

59. World House, Wetten (Germany)

60. World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)

61. WSM (Belgium)