The MNE Declaration and gender equality

Equality between women and men in the world of work has seen encouraging advances over the past decennia. However, the progress on closing gender gaps has slowed down. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated even further the challenges that women face in employment. Achieving gender equality and decent work, as stated in Sustainable Development Goal 5 on achieving gender equality, and Sustainable Development Goal 8 on inclusive economic growth and decent work for all, requires transformative change by a range of institutions as well as concrete initiatives in specific areas, supported by social dialogue and concerted action between governments, employers’ and workers’ organizations as well as enterprises.

The ILO Tripartite Declaration of Principles concerning Multinational Enterprises and Social Policy (ILO MNE Declaration) is the only ILO instrument that provides direct guidance to enterprises (multinational and national) as well as to governments, employers’ and workers’ organizations on encouraging the positive contribution of business to decent work and mitigating and resolving potential adverse impacts of business operations regarding labour rights and employment opportunities. It offers various entry points to advance gender equality in the world of work.

The MNE Declaration’s principles are based primarily on international labour standards including the principles concerning fundamental rights set out in the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work. As such, it contains guidance to governments and enterprises on promoting equality of opportunity and treatment in employment, with a view to eliminating any discrimination in the world of work. This guidance can inform policies and practices towards more equitable workplaces and reducing existing gender gaps. The MNE Declaration also states that governments should promote equal remuneration for men and women workers for work of equal value.

The MNE Declaration also provides guidance in a number of other areas that provide direct opportunities to reduce gender gaps and enhance gender equality. This includes for example the expectation that multinational enterprises should, wherever practicable, give consideration to the conclusion of contracts with national enterprises. This guidance can foster linkages with women’s owned enterprises as well as stimulate women’s entrepreneurship development, empowering starting and well-established women entrepreneurs who want to grow their business.

The MNE Declaration also calls on governments, especially in developing countries, to adopt suitable measures to ensure that lower income groups and less developed areas benefit as much as possible from the activities of multinational enterprises. Women are traditionally in such lower income groups.

The MNE Declaration also states that governments should develop and implement an integrated policy framework to facilitate the transition to the formal economy, recognizing that decent work deficits are most pronounced in the informal economy. It also calls on multinational and other enterprises to contribute to this aim. Given that women are more likely than men to work in the informal economy, therefore lacking opportunities to access decent jobs, minimum social protection and social security benefits, public and private policies and actions that aim to promote formalization of enterprises and workers and extend social protection can have a transformational impact on gender equality.

The MNE Declaration also provides guidance regarding freedom of association and collective bargaining, which have played – as fundamental and enabling rights - an important role in achieving many of the gender gains which are now common features in many labour markets, such as maternity protection.

The realization of gender equality in the world of work and women’s economic empowerment are crucial for achieving broad-based economic growth, social justice, and poverty reduction. Through transformational public and private policies, based on social dialogue, gender equality can become a reality. The ILO works on the gender dimension of the responsible business conduct and business and human rights agenda in collaboration with international partners such as UN Women, OHCHR and the UN Global Compact, among others.