Push American companies overseas to adopt a Code of Conduct for gender equality

Credit: Center for Global Development

Credit: Center for Global Development

For women around the world, discrimination and hardship based alone on their identity as women is a daily reality that’s often reinforced by law. Nearly 80 countries, for example, exclude women from certain jobs and 15 countries allow husbands to prevent their wives from working in the first place. Such restrictions are more than violations of international norms protecting gender equality in the workplace. They also impose a form of financial penalty on forward-thinking U.S. companies overseas that want to recruit and hire talented people regardless of gender.

Here’s a remedy proposed by the Center for Global Development: through new legislation or executive order, the United States should call on U.S. firms with business abroad to adopt a “Code of Conduct” that promotes women’s equal participation in their workplaces. One way to implement the concept would be to require the code of conduct as a condition of receiving assistance through the Export-Import Bank of the United States or the Overseas Private Investment Corporation.

Just to be clear, the American policy would focus on the actions of American multinationals within the parameters of their host countries’ laws—a prerogative appropriately consistent with each nation’s sovereign authorities and responsibilities. There’s precedent for the approach, as it is modeled after legislation enacted by Congress targeting apartheid in South Africa.

Given the economic benefits of inclusive workplaces, many U.S. multinational firms have already instituted internal policies designed to promote gender equality. Thus the impact of the CGD proposal would be to create a floor—an even playing field—for corporate best practices to catch the straggler American firms, plus create a focal point around which local citizens could organize for broader reforms.

For more details, please see “A US Law or Executive Order to Combat Gender Apartheid at Work in Discriminatory Countries,” Center for Global Development (2016). A summary in blog post form is available at “Combating Gender Apartheid at Work: A Proposal for US Legislation or Executive Action,” CGD (2016).