UNCTAD study makes policy recommendations to leverage foreign investment for women’s empowerment


The potential positive impact of foreign investment on women’s empowerment through the creation of formal employment and business linkages is considerable, but the operations of transnational corporations (TNCs) also risk increasing women’s vulnerability in the workplace or exacerbating gender inequality, a new UNCTAD report has found.


Investment by TNCs and Gender, launched during a session on women’s empowerment at the UNCTAD World Investment Forum on 14 October, argues for targeted policies and corporate action to ensure that the activities of TNCs translate into real benefits for women in developing countries.

Investment by multinationals has been instrumental in creating job opportunities for women, particularly in labour-intensive, largely export-orientated industries. These include textiles, garment manufacture, electronics, agriculture, call centres and the hotel, catering and tourism industries, the report says.

As well as providing access to employment opportunities for women, multinationals often offer higher wages, employment stability, skills development and further career opportunities. In addition, such jobs are likely to be unionized and better protected under labour legislation.

But the report also identifies a number of risks, such as poor working conditions and limited access to training for women, especially when the jobs created are confined to low-paid activities or occur in the informal sector. Women employees are more at risk of being marginalized when firms upgrade or when low-cost, labour-intensive industries decline.

The report underlines the key challenges to maximizing the benefits of investment by TNCs for women’s empowerment. A positive impact is not automatic, the effect can vary over time and it is country- and context-specific, the report says.

Legal and sociocultural impediments can prevent access to employment for women. For example, despite having access to education, legal restrictions often prevent women from participating in the labour market. Patterns of job segregation deeply rooted in social structures may restrict women’s opportunities for employment, upgrading skills and career progression. Such impediments can also be reflected within businesses themselves.

The report notes that another important constraint is the paucity of data on women’s empowerment – such data would enable Governments to adopt targeted policies. There is also a lack of research into the specific impact of investment by TNCs on women’s participation in labour markets.

The report proposes a number of targeted policies and actions that Governments and foreign firms might undertake to address such challenges. Three key policy interventions were identified:

  • Governments need a specific strategy for women’s empowerment that complements efforts to achieve economic and social development. The strategy should consider how different policy areas impact on each other: for example, how women’s access to education determines their employment opportunities or how support for women’s health needs directly affects their access to labour markets.
  • Governments should also consider how foreign investment can support women’s equality, not undermine it. To achieve this, a number of actions can be taken to facilitate and protect women’s employment by multinationals and promote a “gender inclusive TNC value chain”. These include providing infrastructure and social protection, preparing women for work with TNCs, protecting women at work and promoting women’s career development.
  • Related to these actions, Governments should give particular attention to selected labour-intensive, export-orientated sectors and highly mobile sectors, where women are often strongly represented in the workforce.

For multinationals, the report proposes a set of guidelines on gender equality that should be included in their business models. These guidelines directly stem from the research undertaken for the report and recognize the role that foreign firms can play in supporting women’s empowerment. They include:

  • Treating men and women equally
  • Incorporating matters of gender equality into TNC investment projects and business models
  • Gathering data on women’s participation in the TNC workplace
  • Promoting women’s empowerment
  • Respecting equal rights in collective bargaining
  • Assessing the “gender impact” of divestment decisions and the development of “gender-sensitive” divestment models.

The report was launched at an interactive session during the UNCTAD World Investment Forum 2014 at which speakers discussed its key themes, highlighting their experiences of the impact of TNCs on gender, and considering avenues for policymakers to minimize risks and maximize benefits of TNC activities for women.




Key capital market leaders convene at largest Sustainable Stock Exchanges Global Dialogue

In the context of an expanded Sustainable Stock Exchanges initiative, exchanges unveil bold two-year commitments to promote corporate sustainability in their markets

The Sustainable Stock Exchanges (SSE) initiative hosted its fourth and largest Global Dialogue at the Palais des Nations in Geneva on 14 October during the UNCTAD World Investment Forum.
The initiative’s flagship event, the Global Dialogue, convened the Chief Executive Officers of stock exchanges, companies and institutional investors, alongside high-level policymakers and capital market regulators. This unique gathering offered a global platform to demonstrate leadership and understanding of the sustainability-related opportunities and challenges facing capital markets today.

The SSE currently counts 16 Partner Exchanges from every continent. More than 20 stock exchanges were represented at the meeting, half of them at the Chief Executive Officer level.

“At present, financial markets are not hard-wired to drive capital towards sustainable business and achievement of the sustainable development goals. This can and should change,” UNCTAD Secretary-General Mukhisa Kituyi said.

“UNCTAD and our SSE co-organizers – the United Nations Global Compact, the United Nations Environment Programme and the Principles for Responsible Investment – can help. We continue to develop the Sustainable Stock Exchange platform to provide a mechanism for policymakers, exchanges, investors and others to share best practices and help to define the role of stock exchanges within the global sustainable development movement,” Dr. Kituyi added.

The BBC’s Tanya Beckett facilitated an interactive dialogue which brought together key players in the field to understand better and act on the sustainability-related opportunities and challenges facing capital markets today.

The Sustainable Stock Exchanges 2014 Report on Progress was launched at the 2014 Global Dialogue and contained a review of sustainability initiatives at 55 exchanges. The report found substantial progress, engagement and a set of emerging best practices among exchanges regarding the promotion of sustainability reporting and sustainable business efforts more generally.

However, it also recognized clear potential for the sector to do more. The report notes that many developments in the policy and regulatory landscape have been supportive of late and highlights practical measures that policymakers and stock exchanges can take to promote sustainability, even in the face of systemic obstacles to sustainable capital markets.

Notably, SSE Partner Exchanges marked the occasion of the 2014 Global Dialogue by publicly announcingcommitments to promote corporate sustainability in their markets during 2014–2016. Individually, the commitments ranged from launching a sustainability-related national dialogue to contributing technical know-how to social investment funds and analysing listing disclosure requirements. Collectively, they also committed to enhancing their own transparency by issuing a new “Communication to Stakeholders” tool, which will be based on a framework of questions created by the SSE Investor Working Group, the SSE secretariat and the Partner Exchanges themselves. The new Communication to Stakeholders will be available on the SSE website by the end of 2014.

For their part, companies such as Pirelli and Bloomberg LP announced their participation in the new SSE Corporate Working Group, affirming their support for stock exchanges’ role in promoting corporate sustainability. The Group is expected to represent the voice and interests of companies and contribute advice, expertise and knowledge when the SSE calls upon it. It is moderated by the United Nations Global Compact and runs in parallel with the SSE Investor Working Group. The latter, coordinated by the Principles for Responsible Investment and chaired by Aviva Investors since 2009, is comprised of investors representing approximately US$1.8 trillion in assets under management.

All interested parties are encouraged to visit the SSE website for more information on specific sustainability efforts of exchanges and further opportunities to advance the integration of sustainability within capital markets.
The SSE is convened by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, the United Nations Global Compact, the United Nations Environment Programme Finance Initiative, and the Principles for Responsible Investment. For further information, please visit



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Phone:  91-11-4653-2242; 2462-3439

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