June 29, 2004
Calvert Group Launches Code for Corporations to Profit by Promoting Gender Equality
by William Baue
Calvert links equality for women to sustainable development, making the ethical and business cases
for implementing its corporate code of conduct for empowering women.
The noted medical anthropologist and infectious disease specialist Paul Farmer once asked a Haitian
woman how to stop the spread of HIV.
"Give women jobs," she answered.
words, empowering women economically helps solve the problems created by women's poverty, or what
United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Kofi Annan calls the "feminization of poverty."
The Calvert Group, the
largest family of socially responsible investment (SRI) mutual funds in the US with $9.9 billion in
assets under management, is extending this same logic to the corporate realm in launching the Calvert Women's
Principles. Unveiled last week at UN Headquarters in New York City in collaboration with the
UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), the
principles are a set of guidelines for corporations to promote women's economic empowerment.
"The Calvert Women's Principles constitute the first global code of conduct for corporations
focused exclusively on empowering, advancing, and investing in women worldwide," said Barbara
Krumsiek, president and CEO of Calvert.
Why focus on corporations to address this social
issue? Two interrelated reasons.
First, corporate structures currently institutionalize
and exacerbate gender inequities. To support this assertion, Calvert points out that women occupy
less than three percent of the top executive posts in the largest corporations worldwide, while on
the other end of the ladder there is a 90 percent chance that a woman put together your palm pilot.
Reforming corporate structures can transform women from being victims of entrenched gender bias
and discrimination to being actors who help bring about their own economic and social empowerment.
While this reason is clearly compelling for social justice advocates, it is the second
reason that will likely convince capitalists: Calvert asserts that reversing corporate gender
inequality is good business.
"There is a strong business case and a strong economic case
for gender equality," said Ms. Krumsiek. "As a result of gender inequities, women remain--to some
degree in all parts of the globe--an untapped economic resource and an under-utilized economic
"The Calvert Women's Principles recognize that women are economic actors and
productive assets, and that empowering women is a key to sustainable development around the globe,"
Corporate failure to promote gender equality represents not only a missed
opportunity but also a significant risk, exposing themselves to potential liabilities such as
lawsuits over sex discrimination. For example, two days before the launching of the Calvert
Women's Principles, a judge granted class-action status to a suit alleging that Wal-Mart (ticker:
systematically underpays women. The decision extends the case's scope from six to 1.6 million
women working for the discount retailer since December 1998, making it the largest
employment-discrimination action ever.
Implementing the Calvert Women's Principles would
help avoid such costly risks. The principles make specific recommendations in seven broad
categories, including disclosure, implementation, and monitoring; community engagement; management
and governance; education and training; and supply chain. For example, the employment and income
category calls on companies to "establish pay equity policies that pay comparable wages and
benefits, including retirement security benefits, to men and women for comparable work." The
health, safety, and violence section asks companies to "ensure that women's health and safety,
including reproductive health, are protected" and to "prohibit discrimination against women with
health problems, including individuals with AIDS/HIV-positive status."
Women's Principles will provide a concrete set of indicators for tracking the progress of gender
justice in the corporate community," said Noeleen Heyzer, executive director of UNIFEM.
addition to providing benchmarks for both corporations and shareowners, the principles also present
auditing and verification guidelines for monitoring compliance. Calvert intends to issue ratings
of companies based in part on their commitment to the principles, to integrate the Principles into
its own social and environmental screening criteria, and to pursue shareowner action with companies
around the principles.