COS stands for equality and empowerment. Throughout our tier one supply chain (our direct business partners and product manufacturing partners) we contribute to the work of over 128,000 workers in 12 different countries. Each country has a unique culture, societal norms, legal contexts and levels of gender equality, resulting in women being more likely to be unemployed or have insecure contracts.
Having proper employment is one of the most important means for women’s empowerment and independence – with almost 64% of the workers in the factories in our supply chain being women, we have a responsibility to ensure that they are safe, healthy, and empowered in their everyday workplace.
We have been collaborating with global partners, governments and local policy makers, as well as our suppliers, to set clear goals and initiatives to ensure our supply chain meets local laws and International Labour Organisation standards, while striving to reach the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
To create even further impact, we have aligned with H&M Group and Plan International’s strategy to identify key focus areas to reach our ambition to achieve gender equality in our supply chain: health and safety, career and development, equal pay, and representation. These areas are all closely interwoven – and we have a responsibility to work on all of them together in order to succeed
Here’s the progress we’ve made so far, since the launch of our strategy in January 2022:
Women are safe
Our vision is that women should always be safe and healthy in their everyday workplace.
Women’s safety and health is at the heart of our gender equality strategy. Every factory we collaborate with must have clear policies regarding discrimination and harassment, and – to secure the implementation of these policies – procedures exist to address grievances within the factories.
We work with our suppliers to make sure that all our partner factories have health and safety committees, access to systems to report grievances through National Monitoring Committees, worker representation forums, and training to prevent harassment or discrimination in the workplace. Today 91% of Tier one COS supplier factories we work with at COS ensure that workers also have access to aid to resolve grievances and issues outside of the factory walls, and we are on a mission to make that number even higher.
In recent years, one of our key areas was the prevention of gender-based violence and sexual harassment, supporting all our COS partners in Bangladesh to set up committees focusing on anti-harassment to secure women’s safety.
Throughout 2022/23 we have coordinated extensive training for our staff on GBVH, together with an external consultant and our partners IndustriALL, to improve how we identify, prevent and handle GBVH cases.
We’ll continue our work in this area in 2023 and beyond to improve women’s health and ensure women feel safe not only at the workplace but also on their way to and from work.
Access to external aid has improved by 3% versus last year, with 91% of all COS supplier factories providing access to external aid.
Women can influence
It is imperative to us that women are represented and have a voice.
Wherever women work, they should have the opportunity to influence the conditions of their workplace and their employment. As a minimum requirement, all workers should have freedom of association, or the right to join or form groups to represent themselves to management. As part of H&M Group, we also partner with the IndustriALL Global Union in a number of factories to support the worker representatives in our supply chain.
In 2011, H&M Group launched its first program to help our suppliers hold democratic elections of worker representatives and have been working to uplift women’s voices in these types of forums ever since. Ten years into the program, 87% of COS factories have active worker representation committees, with an average of 65% women worker representatives. This is good progress, but we want to do more to empower women to have a voice in their workplace – our goal by 2030 is that the number of women in worker representation forums matches the number of women in the factory staff at our suppliers, ensuring their needs are brought forward and prioritised.
The gender gap in our worker representation forums has now reached zero – an improvement of 4% versus the previous year.
Women can advance
One of our core ambitions is that women are empowered and get the right support to become leaders.
Gender should never prevent career development, and we believe all women should have the same chance to advance as their male colleagues. Today an average of 55%** of the supervisors in our supply chain are women, but as 65% of the workforce are women, we need to improve this number even further. That’s why we have set a goal to have the same ratio of women supervisors in our partner factories as there are women workers by 2030.
To reach our goal of equal leadership, we need to make sure that women workers have the same career opportunities as men – from ensuring HR and recruitment processes are set up in a fair way and are free of biases, to giving women access to the same up-skilling and leadership trainings as men. Through our own programs and H&M Group’s partnership with Better Work, we conducted up-skilling and leadership training in 9 factories impacting 2,600 women workers in 2022.
It’s crucial that we arm workers with the support they need to advance both in and out of their workplace network. Through these programmes, we hope to see more women leading factories in production countries where relevant.
To further support and empower our women workforce in our supply chain, we need to foster an equitable workplace, ensuring it caters to the needs women workers have, through access to maternity leave, breastfeeding breaks and more. We are committed to creating a workplace for mothers, offering childcare facilities for those who need it and ensuring no one is left behind due to the demands and choices of their personal life.
Through our collaboration with the organisation Better Work, our suppliers have been enrolled in the program Mother@Work to create better workplaces for working mothers in Bangladesh. As of 2023, 3 COS suppliers were enrolled in this program, reaching approximately 13,000 female workers, and we hope to expand this further in the future.
The gender gap in supervisor roles is -10% – an improvement of +5% versus the previous year.
**This percentage is an average figure of all COS supplier factories globally.
Women have equal pay
At COS, we stand for equal pay for work of equal value.
Equal pay should be a given, yet according to the World Economic Forum (WEF) in 2022, the gender pay gap was only closed by 68.1%. Tracking the current rate of progress, WEF predicts it will take 132 years to reach full parity.
To ensure women receive the same compensation as men, first we need to abolish discrimination in wage systems. In all the factories where we produce, we help implement wage management systems together with our partners to promote skill-based wage systems and development of the workforce. As of 2022, we have 85% functional wage management systems in our supply chain and our 2030 ambition will mean zero wage discrimination and greater financial freedom for all.
We also want to promote financial independence for all women. Through H&M Group’s partnership with Better than Cash Alliance in Bangladesh, 100% of COS suppliers in Bangladesh now pay wages digitally, which helps women have sole control of their income. But financial freedom shouldn’t be isolated to the workplace. We have invested significant funds into our wage management systems to provide the basic tools for all workers to understand wages and payslips, ultimately encouraging financial literacy across the supply chain.
The gender pay gap in the COS supply chain is -8.4% – the same versus the previous year.
Creating the future we want to see
Our goal for 2030 is that women in our supply chain are empowered, fairly treated and safe in their everyday workplace. That means:
• Adequate protection
• Equal representation
• Equal pay
• Equal leadership
This strategy, first set in January 2022, focuses on creating long-term change when it comes to a gender equal supply chain. In 2023 we have launched the first report outlining progress made and actions for the future, which we will continue to track and share on a regular basis.
To find out more about our progress towards creating the future we want to see, download the 2022/23 report here.
The COS tote
In addition to the above work and to further support women in our wider communities, we have designed a COS tote bag. 100% of the profits from the sale of the tote are invested in partnerships with charitable organisations and NGOs delivering community projects to address key gender equality issues in communities surrounding our supply chain.
Find out more about the first two initiatives that have benefitted from the funding in Bangladesh and Türkiye below.
shop the tote
Yanindayiz Dernegi, Türkiye
We are working with local organisation Yanindayiz Dernegi to fund the delivery of trainings. The aim is to improve awareness and understanding of gender equality and gender-based violence and harassment (GBVH) issues in the workplace and beyond, by activating men’s participation in the discussion. Our goal? To reach approximately 5000 female and male workers as well as their family members and the wider community.
COS is funding the establishment and delivery of women-friendly spaces in local communities close to our supply chain, in partnership with CARE Bangladesh. These spaces provide education on GBVH, stress management, and nutrition, as well as psychosocial support and other counselling to over 4000 women and 1000 family members in their communities. The project is part of Oporajita - a wider multi-partner program initiated by H&M Foundation.