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Clifford Chance

Clifford Chance

Responsible Business Insights

Working towards a sustainable future

Helping businesses to implement diverse supplier programmes

Winning a supplier contract with a major corporate can transform the future prospects of any organisation. For businesses looking to extend their practices of gender-responsiveness, diversity and inclusion, supply chain management can therefore be an effective tool in accelerating the economic empowerment of women, as it can help to level the playing field and create the conditions for women to succeed in business.

A range of different policies can contribute to this objective, including establishing a set of supplier diversity values, introducing supplier diversity targets, increasing access to information, and adjusting contract sizes to increase the scope of eligible suppliers.

A survey conducted in 2020 by Global Management Consulting firm Kearney, in partnership with the Women's Forum for the Economy & Society (the Women's Forum), found that 39% of the organisations surveyed have implemented a supplier diversity or gender-responsive procurement programme, up from 23% in 2019. However, many respondents also reported difficulty in identifying suppliers that meet the requirements of their programmes. This could be for several different reasons: gender-diverse businesses may not be sufficiently visible in the market due to a lack of available data, they may not be aware of and not accessing the opportunities available to them, or they may simply not exist in sufficient numbers.

In the EU, a key stumbling block for businesses looking to implement gender-responsive procurement policies is the absence of a clear legal framework. Indeed, businesses have to self-assess the legality of the policies they wish to introduce, and it can be difficult to distinguish legally permitted measures from measures that would infringe the EU's rules against discrimination. This lack of clear guidance reduces the willingness of businesses to develop genuinely inclusive supply chains, as the risk of inadvertently implementing discriminatory policies can outweigh the benefits of promoting economic inclusion.

Against this background, we have collaborated with the Women's Forum to publish a Legal Guide for Positive Action. The guide explains the EU's legal framework for supplier diversity policies and the collection of data to implement those policies, and contains effective guidance as to what businesses can and cannot do in support of supplier diversity. This includes a helpful list of do's and don'ts for businesses self-assessing the legality of a given set of policies.

The Women's Forum is a leading platform featuring women's voices, views and values on major social and economic issues, and its Women4Business Daring Circle is committed to promoting and accelerating women's economic empowerment in business and supply chains. The Legal Guide for Positive Action aims to provide businesses with essential tools to implement diverse supplier programs in the long term. It forms part of the Toolkit for Action put together by the Women4Business Daring Circle, presented in the Women4Business Report 2020, entitled "Inclusive sourcing and women's entrepreneurship: Accelerating the recovery for business, economy and society". Clifford Chance has been a partner to the Women's Forum since November 2019, and partner Katrin Schallenberg recently moderated the Women's Forum's Women4Business Virtual Session entitled 'Women entrepreneurs: Innovation fuelling the recovery'.