Why We Signed the UN Women’s Empowerment Principles

July 23, 2015
  • Racheal Meiers

    Former Director, BSR

This spring, BSR became a signatory to the United Nations Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs), which provide a framework to help companies empower women in the workplace, marketplace, and community. Chaired by UN Women and the UN Global Compact, the WEPs have secured more than 970 signatory companies from across the globe. We are proud to join many BSR members—including ANN INC, Alcatel-Lucent, Diageo, Gap, IKEA, Microsoft, Novartis, and Unilever, among many others—as signatories.

As many of our members know, we view women’s empowerment as a critical pillar of global sustainability and as imperative to building an inclusive economy. We believe that businesses are a key partner in removing the barriers that women face to achieve full economic participation—and in realizing the opportunities that women promise for our global economy. By investing in women and promoting women’s empowerment, companies can help create more just and prosperous economies and ensure significant returns for society and business.

To realize this vision, we recognize that BSR has dual roles to play. First, we have a responsibility and self-interest to uphold excellent standards within our own organization to support all our employees equally. Like other WEPs signatories, we know that strong gender performance can increase our ability to attract and retain top male and female talent, enhancing our competitiveness and our ability to serve our members and our mission over time. This year, we’ll be taking a close look at how we’re fulfilling these expectations, and where we can improve our own internal practices.

Second, we see the WEPs as an important organizing force to promote greater private-sector engagement on women’s empowerment, and to share and scale best practices. This is particularly important as we look to expand on our existing partnerships supporting women’s empowerment in global supply chains—including our BSR HERproject, which has more than forty participating companies—and our broader efforts to help our member companies enhance gender performance across their business operations.

BSR has worked to support women’s empowerment for more than a decade. During this time, we’ve also been proud to contribute to and observe ever-growing interest and engagement from the business community through efforts including Walmart’s Women’s Empowerment programs, Coca-Cola’s 5 by 20 initiative, Goldman Sachs’ 10,000 Women commitment, Intel’s Women and the Web research and She Will Connect program, and Gap Inc.’s P.A.C.E. program and gender pay equity efforts.

However, despite growing business investment and engagement, women remain unequal in most societies around the world. Within this context, women face a number of barriers to full economic participation, and to full realization of their rights—women’s civil and political rights, their right to health, and their right to education are often marginalized. Furthermore, more than 35 percent of women globally have reported experiencing violence in their lifetime.

In this context, we all have an important opportunity to ensure that women’s rights are more fully integrated into private-sector partnerships and investment in women, and that an ever-growing group of companies support women and girls’ causes globally. We believe the WEPs can serve as an important organizing platform for realizing these aspirations, and at BSR, we hope to be at the forefront of supporting individual company leadership and collective-action efforts.

As members of the WEPs Leadership Group, BSR is also playing a role in insuring the principles are not only adopted by the global business community, but that companies are also empowered to act on the commitments they have made. We would love to hear from you on how the WEPs can be improved or made more relevant for your company, as well as examples of how you are using the WEPs to enhance your corporate gender performance, and contribute to your companies’ competitiveness and sustainability.

We look forward to working together to realize our shared vision of women’s full participation in an inclusive global economy.

Let’s talk about how BSR can help you to transform your business and achieve your sustainability goals.

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