What types of discrimination do women face in your supply chains? Here’s how to get the data you need to find out

Jiselle Steele Agriculture, Gender, Private sector

Jiselle Steele of the Oxfam Business Advisory Service on three ways firms can take the first step to gender justice in agricultural supply chains – by improving the gender data they collect

Women farmers
Women farmers in Kaya commune, Burkina Faso. Oxfam has supported women on small, individual plots on a collective farm, including by helping them do environmentally friendly farming. Small producers may need support from larger producers and companies to support the collection of gender data (picture: Samuel Turpin/Oxfam)

What types of discrimination do women face in your supply chains? For too many firms in the agricultural sector, the answer is: we don’t know because we just don’t have enough data.

A recent report Hidden in plain sight from the Work and Opportunities for Women (WOW) programme, found that, despite an increasing number of businesses recognising the importance of collecting and analysing gender data, there are still significant gaps. Companies can struggle to know where to start to close these gender data gaps, or how best to analyse the gender data they have. Global agricultural producers also face particular challenges: not least that smallholders and producer organisations may not have formal processes in place to collect gender data.

At the Oxfam Business Advisory Service we advise companies on how they can adopt positive business practices to advance gender equality and promote human rights in their global supply chains. In this blog, I suggest three steps firms can take to start to address these challenges based on what we have learned in our work.

1. Establish what gender data you already collect

An important first step is to identify what gender data you already collect and allocate resources to strengthen this data.

This could be investing time to close gender data gaps or getting support to understand better what the data is telling you. Examples of data you may already collect include wages and overtime, health and safety, leadership (management and supervisor breakdown), union or worker committee membership, contract types, and participation in training and development.

Reviewing the gender data you collect can also help you to identify which indicators from the ETI Gender Data Initiative you may be able to monitor better. The ETI Gender Data Initiative has developed a set of indicators, split across three levels, that provide clear guidance on the data companies and suppliers should be collecting. The guidance also highlights what to look out for when analysing gender data.

2. Build capacity internally, and with suppliers and producers, to collect better data

Providing training can help improve data collected by suppliers, particularly smallholders and producer organisations that may not have formal processes in place to gather gender data. It can also help track other parts of a company’s production better.

Streamlining gender data collection where possible and looking at ways to integrate it into existing internal processes for reporting and onboarding new producers is also important.

The Oxfam Business Advisory Service (OBAS) worked with global health, hygiene and nutrition company Reckitt to strengthen their gender data collection and identify ways to make their social auditing processes gender-sensitive.

We reviewed the self-assessment questionnaires completed by suppliers and internal reporting processes and systems, making recommendations for collecting additional gender data that are now being implemented by Reckitt. We then provided guidelines on how to analyse the data and identify potential gender issues in the supply chain. Beyond this, we plan to provide training to deepen Reckitt’s understanding of the underlying causes of gender inequality, as well as the opportunities and barriers to women’s empowerment across their supply chains.

3. Collaborate with women-led producer organisations to learn more and take action

Working with women-led producer organisations and women’s rights organisations on collecting and analysing gender data is important to learn more about the root causes of gender inequality issues shown by the data collected. It also enables companies to make sure women and marginalised groups are making decisions on what activities and resources are needed to address gender issues in agricultural supply chains.

In recent work with the International Coffee Organisation’s Public and Private Task Force, the Oxfam Business Advisory Service helped to facilitate a collaboration between national governments in coffee-exporting countries and local and regional chapters of the International Women’s Coffee Alliance. This collaboration aims to share the perspectives of women coffee producers to influence what data is collected for benchmarking living income for coffee producers, and how this can be used to design activities to close living income gaps.

Embedding these three steps into a timebound action plan will help to track progress being made and build greater accountability around collecting gender data.

Since 2018, the Supermarket Scorecard for Oxfam’s Behind the Barcodes campaign has rated leading UK supermarkets’ policies and practices on human rights. The latest 2022 scorecard showed that participating supermarkets are starting to recognise the importance of collecting gender data, making improvements on how they are approaching the issue since the scorecard launched. This is due to supermarkets making clear commitments to promote gender equality, putting gender strategies and action plans in place, and in the specific case of Tesco, taking steps to collect and disclose detailed data on women in their supply chains down to farmer level.  

This example shows that companies are beginning to understand that, in order to tackle gender inequalities within their supply chains, they need to collect and analyse gender data to help inform their activities and interventions to address gender issues. Understanding whether or not these interventions can drive real change in women’s lives requires effective robust impact measurement but collecting gender data is fundamental to learning more about the issues facing women in agricultural supply chains in the first place.  

Do get in touch if you want to understand more about how to improve your own gender data and to learn more about developing interventions to tackle gender inequality in your supply chains. 


Jiselle Steele

Jiselle Steele is private sector gender advisor at the Oxfam Business Advisory Service (OBAS)

Oxfam Business Advisory Service helps companies to visibly lead as global citizens, deploying positive business practices to make their supply chains stronger and more sustainable, working together to fight the global inequalities that push people into poverty. For more info on how OBAS can help collect and improve your gender data contact Jiselle at advisory@oxfam.org.uk

This blog is an adapted version of an article published by the Ethical Trading Initiative