170 Years to achieve gender parity? How supply chain actions can achieve faster progress

Sarah Ng, Corporate Communications Manager, ICTI Ethical Toy Program

“Inequality abounds in schools, workplaces, in government and beyond…if we do not capture the energy and creativity of women we cannot achieve the full potential of our economies and societies,”  said Michelle Yeoh, award-winning actress and UN Development Programme (UNDP) Goodwill Ambassador during the Responsible Business Forum in Singapore in 2016.

Today is International Women's Day (March 8) – a UN-organised global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity.

The launch of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) last year created a road map and facilitated high-level discussion on how to tackle key challenges such as gender equality. However, a 2016 Global Gender Gap Report conducted by the World Economic Forum indicated that without more concrete actions, it could take 170 years from now to close the gender gap.

Women play an essential role in the toy supply chain, around 60% percent of workers employed at ICTI Ethical Toy Program Certified factories around the world are women. In addition to working in factories, women often take on the burden of the responsibility for caring for their families. 

Women continue to face barriers to achieve their full potential at work, in the marketplace, and in many other aspects of life. This lack of progress on gender equality has both social and economic ramifications. A 2015 McKinsey report found that $12 trillion could be added to global GDP by 2025 by advancing women’s equality. Meanwhile, further studies have shown that eliminating discrimination against female workers and managers can boost productivity by as much as 40%.

ICTI Ethical Toy Program’s Code of Business Practice prohibits gender discrimination, and other common forms of discrimination. Beyond the implementation of our Code, ICTI Ethical Toy Program is also participating in other programs to promote women's empowerment and improve working conditions for women at toy factories. 

2016 saw the start of ICTI Ethical Toy Program’s Left-Behind Children program which is providing opportunities for domestic migrant workers to spend time with their Left-Behind Children, as well as in-factory training sessions to ease the burden of separation between workers and their children. 

ICTI Ethical Toy Program is also participating in a multi-stakeholder initiative, led by BSR, to make women’s empowerment central to the strategies, guidelines and practices which provide a global framework for supply chain management. As well as identifying opportunities to further strengthen ICTI Ethical Toy Program Certification to empower women, ICTI Ethical Toy Program will also work with BSR to design and implement women’s empowerment strategies and support at toy factories in India – in partnership with local toy industry associations – to foster deeper change in the country. From preserving women’s health rights to protecting against harassment, ensuring equal pay to promoting professional advancement, learnings from our in-factory work in India will be applied across the wider ICTI Ethical Toy Program as part of our work beyond audit to build capability and empower workers.

ICTI Ethical Toy Program will continue to tackle gender inequality, through the implementation of our Code of Business practice, collaboration with public and private sector groups, and participating in programs to promote women’s empowerment. 

Drawing on best practices collected by ICTI Ethical Toy Program from across the global toy supply chain, we suggest the following actions for the wider manufacturing industry to achieve faster progress on gender parity:


  • Develop and implement policies to ensure female workers receive equal opportunities in employment including recruitment, hiring, training, job assignment, and promotion 
  • Make forced labour, involuntary and child labour as zero tolerance to protect girls and women from trafficking  
  • Create guidelines to safeguard female workers, and ensure legal and fair pay to achieve economic equality
  • Ensure female workers are paid equally, and paid on-time



  • Ensure female workers take adequate rest between shifts, respect and allow them to take responsibilities of the role in their families
  • Provide a safe working environment to all workers; eliminate vulnerabilities leading to inequitable health outcomes
  • Prevent gender discrimination and harassment in the workplace, once noticed, it should treat as zero tolerance 
  • Provide appropriate maternal leave, protection and support for pregnant workers


Value–added actions to consider:

  • Provide couples or maternity dormitory for workers, respect their rights of family life and build a supportive environment
  • Educate factory owners, management and front-line factory workers on gender equality and discrimination issues  
  • Participate in family-friendly programs such as the Family-Friendly Space (FFS) Program from the toy industry to bring children and parents together during summer 
  • Provide capability building opportunities – such as parenting skills workshop to support workers how to raise and build relationship with their left-behind children