As one of the biggest employers of low-skilled women workers, the garment industry holds great power and potential to positively impact the lives of millions of women in low-income countries, and by extension, their families and communities. Despite the expansion of initiatives to address women’s economic empowerment and foster their inclusion and upward mobility in value chains, little has been documented at the industry-level about what types of partnerships, programs, strategic initiatives, and advocacy are required to create lasting, meaningful improvements in the lives of garment workers across diverse contexts.
In 2015, ICRW was funded by the C&A Foundation and Levi Straus Foundation, in support of their collective efforts to improve the wellbeing of apparel workers, to examine what works to empower women in global apparel supply chains. To this end, ICRW staff conducted an extensive literature review and traveled to Brazil, Mexico, India, and Bangladesh to conduct dozens of interviews with program officers, producers, cooperatives, corporate social responsibility (CSR) experts, and other stakeholders to understand the apparel value chain and where opportunities for improved programming and policy exist. Our findings indicate that informality, violence, and the need for childcare must be addressed to improve the lives of women in the garment value chain. ICRW’s research was later taken up by Business for Social Responsibility (BSR) in their report on empowering female workers in the apparel industry.