Saturday, March 24, 2018 | ePaper

Women's rights and corporate abuses

  • Print
Adriana Espinosa and Claudia Saller :
On 8th March 1857, fifteen thousand women garment workers rallied in New York in protest of working conditions, low wages, and inequality. On 24th April 2013, the Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh collapsed killing more than one thousand garment workers, mostly women.  
These two episodes are connected by a story of women's struggle for recognition of their dignity. A recognition that means respect for their integrity, and equality not only on paper but in practice. Ultimately, this International Women's Day marks more than 160 years of women's quest for the full respect of their inalienable human rights.
Let's try an exercise. Let's ask ourselves why, whilst the word "feminism" is becoming mainstream and institutions have embraced the equality discourse, we still wake up with headlines of women and girls toiling in slave-like conditions producing for European brands, of female human rights defenders killed for protecting nature from corporate greed; and a very long etcetera.
The need for a gender lens on corporate human rights abuses
Sure, corporate abuses affect women and men, children and adults. But let's face it; women experience these abuses in unique and disproportionate ways. Verbal and sexual harassment, discrimination, or the absence of minimum hygienic conditions are "business as usual" in global supply chains employing women, especially in the so-called "feminised sectors" such as the garment or the electronic industries.
Moreover, corporate impacts on women are structural, and this has to do with entrenched discrimination, endemic inequality (poverty has a female face), and inhibiting gender roles. These factors exacerbate gender-specific abuses, which also tend to go unnoticed because society has normalised those patriarchal structures.
Finally, these social structures also impact the aftermath of the abuse itself. As recognized by international organisations, women face additional barriers in accessing justice in general, and specifically in relation to corporate abuses.
Women at the forefront of resistance
But the story of women's rights is not merely one of the victims, much less a tale of fragile creatures in helpless need of an external rescuer. Throughout history, women have been ready to stand up for their rights, the rights of their families and their communities. They lead the fight for reproductive and sexual rights (including LGTB rights), and the defence of the environment from corporate exploitation.
The price for this activism is of course generously paid. More than half of the women included in a 2017 tribute to female activists have been murdered. On top of the abuses that affect human rights defenders in general, women face specific forms of gender-based violence, including sexual violence, stigmatisation, and sexist defamation. These women face, and challenge, multiple layers of oppression.
Time for rules to make business respect human rights
The Rana Plaza tragedy was a wake-up call. It shed light on the rampant human rights abuses that take place all along global corporate structures and supply chains. The scandal soon became the textbook illustration of how the absence of well-defined and enforceable rules leads to appalling human rights abuses by companies, to the impunity of perpetrators, and the helplessness of their victims.
History shows that women are strong enough to vindicate their rights. Women don't need and don't call for governments to act for the sake of paternalism, or pity.
What women, and society itself, need are policy-makers that live up to their obligations, make business enterprises respect human rights, and grant victims of abuses access to justice.
Nearly two centuries have passed since the famous New York women's march. Some European States such as France have started to move in the right direction. We cannot wait for another hundred years to see binding rules that simply oblige companies to do the right thing: to respect and not to abuse the rights of others.

(Claudia Saller and Adriana Espinosa, European Coalition for Corporate Justice).

More News For this Category

Consumers must be protected from deceptive adds

CONSUMERS are increasingly becoming helpless victims of false information from innumerable advertisements in various platforms. Both private and government firms are routinely exploiting the people in varying situation taking

Democratic process important to achieve sustainable growth

BANGLADESH, for the first time in history has fulfilled the UN eligibility criteria to become a developing country. It will be able now to graduate to the status of

Financial autonomy of Union Parishad

Dr. Md. Shairul Mashreque :As we know Union Parishad has a myriad of development functions. This is to promote participatory rural development at the grassroots. Yet its poor capacity disposition

Yet again ILO’s failure to cut ties with tobacco industry

Tih Ntiabang :Last week, the International Labour Organization's (ILO) governing body postponed yet again a decision to stop accepting money from the tobacco industry for its projects to end child

Need for fresh air

Ranjit Devraj :With India's citizens clamouring for breathable air and efficient energy options, the country's planners are more receptive than ever to explore sustainable development options, says Frank Rijsberman, Director-General

Readers’ Forum

Ensure quality educationThe 1972 Constitution of Bangladesh proclaimed that the state must be "establishing a uniform, mass-oriented and universal system of education and extending free and compulsory education to all

Before recapitalisation of Farmers Bank the looters must be punished

MEDIA reports on Friday said depositors in Farmers Bank have filed complaints with the Bangladesh Bank for failing to repay their deposits on maturity to the tune of around

Protection to wildlife

ACCORDING to media reports, the government lack of initiative and even enough interest to conserve existing forestland is causing rapid loss of forestland in the country making wildlife vulnerable

Readers’ Forum

To the Mayors of City Corporations :Dhaka South City Corporation Mayor Mohammad Sayed Khokonon on March 19 warned the homeowners of the city about eliminating Aedes mosquitoes' germs. He

A pledge for parity

Ann-Kathrin Pohlers  :With March marking Women's History Month, the debate over gender-based discrimination couldn't have reached its new peak at a more critical time.Speaking on International Women's Day, UN