The private food and beverage sector is getting serious about gender

Clare Bishop-Sambrook, Lead Technical Specialist, Policy and Technical Advisory Division

Last week I had the opportunity to attend a workshop in London organized by Nestlé, to discuss ways in which their gender action plan for the cocoa supply chain could be strengthened. This is particularly relevant given the increasing focus on value chain projects in the IFAD portfolio and initiatives for greater engagement with the private sector.

Nestlé’s interest in gender had been triggered by Oxfam’s “Behind the Brands” campaign which challenged some of the world’s largest food and beverage firms to do more to make their agricultural production more sustainable, both socially and environmentally. The initial Oxfam report, launched in February 2013, presented data based on publicly available information that relates to the policies of 10 companies (the Big 10) on their sourcing of agricultural commodities from developing countries. The report covered seven themes: women, small scale farmers, farm workers, water, land, climate change and transparency.

With regard to gender, the Behind the Brands scorecard examines whether the policies of the Big 10 promote women’s welfare and encourage their inclusion in the food supply chain on equal terms. The scorecard also looks for policies that guarantee a discrimination-free workplace. Progress is tracked: in the 18 months since the report was launched, there has been a marked improvement across the board on the gender score, although no company has yet reached the ‘good’ category.

Distribution of performance of the Big 10 on gender scores
For many companies, the report was a wake-up call to do more in these critical areas and many have responded with positive actions.

Nestlé, the largest food and beverage company in the world, is one such company. By April 2013, two months after Oxfam’s report, Nestlé had prepared an action plan on women. This was later updated following the findings from a detailed assessment of women’s roles in Nestlé’s Cocoa Supply Chain in Cote d’Ivoire by Fair Labor Association. The plan has three main pillars: promoting equal opportunities, giving women a voice and helping increase women’s income. These are strikingly similar to IFAD’s gender policy objectives of economic empowerment, voice and decision-making, and equitable workload balance.

Actions to date by Nestlé have included gender awareness training, promotion of women’s leadership in running nurseries, support for income-generating activities, and diversification into cassava nurseries.
Motivated by a desire to improve their performance further, Nestlé organized the workshop in London, specifically to look at how to strengthen the gender dimensions of their work in the cocoa value chain in West Africa. Workshop participants represented an interesting mix drawn from the private sector, specialist cocoa organizations, NGOs, academia, and international organizations, including FAO and IFAD.

During the workshop discussions, participants urged Nestlé to go beyond the traditional approaches to gender mainstreaming and tackle the underlying causes of gender inequality by adopting gender transformative approaches. These include:
  • Developing a theory of change to underpin the action plan
  • presenting the business case – return on investment - for promoting gender equality  ─ rather than positioning it solely as a social issue
  • moving beyond activity/output indicators to outcome/impact indicators
  • engaging with men and leaders at the community level in order to create a positive environment for behaviour change
  • the need to address intra-household dynamics for gender equality
  • broadening the focus beyond the farm to other aspects of value chain development, including livelihood aspects of malnutrition
It was very exciting to witness first-hand how seriously the private sector is listening and how willing they are to go the extra mile to promote women’s empowerment and gender equality, for both business and ethical reasons. IFAD supports efforts by the private sector to become more inclusive and equitable among smallholder women and men in their supply chains.

For updates on performance, see: