How can businesses show they really care about carers?

Fatema Tuz Johoora Livelihoods, Private sector, Women's Economic Empowerment

Firms that boost support for workers with unpaid care and domestic work responsibilities are waking up to the fact that this not only enhances women’s rights and wellbeing, but also productivity. In the first in a blog series for the International Day of Care, Fatema Tuz Johoora, Achmad Fuad Fathurrahman and Leah Payud share insights from pilots in Indonesia and the Philippines of an Oxfam care toolkit for business launching soon.

Pilot of the new Oxfam care toolkit at Coffee For Peace in the Philippines (picture: Oxfam Pilipinas)

Globally, women do 3.2 times more care work then men and there are five million women who would work more hours if they could work more flexibly, a shift that could boost women’s earnings by up to £28.4bn per annum.

Shouldering three-quarters of the world’s unpaid care and domestic work (UCDW) leaves women time poor, makes it harder to find decent work, and stops them taking part in education, training, social dialogue and decision-making. It also significantly affects women’s well-being and the time they have for rest and leisure, with patriarchal norms even leading  to gender-based violence when women are seen as not fulfilling expectations around unpaid care and domestic work.

While government policies play the most crucial role, the private sector, as an important actor in society and economies, must also do its part to support and improve the lives of employees with UCDW responsibilities. Indeed, Oxfam’s work to develop a Private Sector Rapid Care Analysis Toolkit for businesses suggests doing this not only protects and promotes the human rights of workers but also boosts productivity and secures the future of firms.

Ahead of the launch of the toolkit next year, we wanted to share the crucial issues it addresses and insights from testing it out in Indonesia and the Philippines.

How lack of support for unpaid care can undermine business

A shocking number of women dropped out of the workforce during the pandemic due to care responsibilities, 2.3 million fewer women are working now than would have been without the disruption. A recent study by Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI), GIZ and Brac found the proportion of women in the workforce of the ready-made garments industry in Bangladesh has dropped to 54%, having been as high as 80% in the 1980s. 

The main reason women cited for leaving the industry was caring for children, with other key drivers including balancing wider home and work responsibilities, as well as oppressive working conditions that means women commonly experienced harassment, violence, long working hours, and low wages.

The garment industry is the driving engine of Bangladesh’s economy, so this study suggests addressing support for unpaid care and domestic work – as well as ensuring decent work and living wages – will be crucial to ensure future supply of labour, as well as fulfilling women’s fundamental human rights. 

What firms can do to value women’s work and unpaid care

Oxfam and Unilever’s Business Briefing on Unpaid Care and Domestic Work (UCDW) shows how larger businesses are starting to support workers with UCDW responsibilities to participate more in paid work.  However, incentives and approaches to unpaid care will look very different in smaller businesses: small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and micro, small & medium enterprises (MSMEs). Key incentives for a business to support unpaid care include:

  • Supporting international mandates and human rights and gender equality principles, which recognise that unpaid care is a major barrier to gender equality and women’s rights, including the right to decent work.
  • Ensuring the wellbeing of workers, especially women workers.
  • The evidence that addressing unpaid care work can improve business operations by improving reputation, productivity, retention and quality of the workforce. 

Look out for an upcoming Oxfam business briefing on valuing women’s work that explores this issue further.

How the toolkit works

Oxfam‘s Private Sector Rapid Care Analysis Toolkit, launching next year, helps firms of all sizes to both analyse how their policies and practices impact workers’ UCDW responsibilities and develop a joint action plan for the management to act on, whether workers are in their offices or part of wider global value chains.

The toolkit looks at the many ways UCDW affects  workers, including men and women with unpaid caring roles beyond parenting. Many low-income workers struggle with inadequate access to labour-saving devices for tasks such as laundry, cooking, as well as heating for their homes. They also lack access to vital public services, such as water and sanitation, health, education and childcare.

The toolkit has a rapid, step-by-step guide of what companies should do to understand carers’ needs and support them.  The three main stages of the analysis are: 

  1. Secure leadership’s buy-in.
  2. Generate evidence through focus groups with workers.
  3. Develop a joint action plan, monitor and evaluate.  

What did we learn from testing out the toolkit?

Oxfam has been piloting the toolkit in different contexts with different types and sizes of businesses, from a global seafood processor to MSMEs.  Our pilots suggest the toolkit can bring significant changes especially in awareness and sensitivity to carers’ needs among leaders

From the pilot in the Philippines with two MSMEs, it was clear that it is vital to secure the buy-in of management at all levels (not just top management) and build their recognition that lack of support for UCDW is hindering productivity of their workers.

During joint planning between management and employees, workers set out recommendations for better workplace policies around care: including flexible working and services and support such as cash assistance, support for family emergencies, counselling, and skills enhancement.  

The pilot in Indonesia underscores how workers are not a homogeneous group: so diverse workers across the value chain need to be engaged in the process.

For instance, women who work in informal and precarious settings or from low-income groups – such as home-based, part-time and day workers – take on even greater workloads of UCDW such as  fetching water. Yet, as they are informal workers without contracts, these staff are excluded from many social protection  schemes that support unpaid care such as  parental leave, sick leave, or use of childcare facilities. In analysing workplace policies, it is important to include the whole workforce: there is no one-size-fits-all solution and actions need to be tailored to the context and the different types of workers in the value chain.

A range of solutions

Pilots identified a range of potential solutions for diverse workforces, from the low-resource and easier to implement, such as parenting and counselling sessions, to more resource-intensive changes, such as flexible working and paid leave, providing an area for expressing milk and breastfeeding, education support, cash assistance to buy labour-saving devices, and better transportation. 

In all three pilots, management recognised the value of the toolkit process in raising their awareness of employee needs and helping then to focus on what is urgent and easier to implement. All the firms involved will be holding further consultations and refresher sessions on existing policies.  

Wider policy and influencing work

Alongside the toolkit, Oxfam is also working to influence the policy environment in ASEAN countries with a set of recommendations on unpaid care for the ASEAN Inclusive Business Framework.  From the experience of piloting the toolkit, Oxfam in Indonesia incorporated specific recommendations on supporting care work and decent work.

The toolkit can also complement broader gender equity audits and strategies. We hope it can also improve the lives of other unpaid carers in the home, such as girls and of grandmothers, who often taken on extra responsibilities when women engage in paid work.

Employers have offered promising assessments of the impact the toolkit can have. Diah Novianti, HR Manager, for one of the pilot firms, PT Alter Trade Indonesia (PT Atina), says: “The PS RCA [toolkit] helped us understand the most urgent needs of our workers related to UCDW and the way these heavy caring responsibilities were affecting the wellbeing and performance of the workers in the workplace.”


Fatema Tuz Johoora

Fatema Tuz Johoora is a Private Sector Partnership Broker at Oxfam Great Britain and is leading the Private Sector Rapid Care Analysis Toolkit pilot across countries.


Achmad Fuad Fathurrahman

Achmad Fuad Fathurrahman is the Project Manager of GRAISEA 2 (Gender Transformative and Responsible Agribusiness Investments in South-East Asia), Oxfam in Indonesia


Leah Payud

Leah Payud is Resilience Portfolio Manager, Oxfam in the Philippines

The Private Sector RCA Toolkit will be published in 2024 and has been written by Thalia Kidder and Carine Pionetti. It builds on the experience of Oxfam’s ‘Women’s Economic Empowerment and Care’ (WE-Care) programme (2014-2023). The original Rapid Care Analysis, to inform this work in local communities in 25 countries was designed by Thalia Kidder and Carine Pionetti in 2013, and revised in 2016 by Unity Chipfupa and Jane Remme. Follow Policy and Practice on Twitter  for updates.

This is the first in a series of blogs to mark the International Day of Care and Support on October 29. Thank you to all the companies who supported the pilot of the new toolkit.