ECCJ in Social Europe: Corporate sustainability needs a gender lens
March 29th, 2023

When industrial agriculture and salmon production came to Chile, they brought new jobs to rural and indigenous women. But the work came with a hefty price tag.

It wiped out ancestral practices and shattered solidarity-based communities. Those working the graveyard shift in salmon-processing plants endured gruelling hours and saw their family bonds deteriorate.

The salaries were low—so low they couldn’t even be considered a living wage. When the pandemic hit and the food industry shuttered, unemployment grew in nearby communities. Going into debt became unavoidable for many, while others hung by a thread.

The situation was doubly difficult for women workers, because of gender norms and intersecting vulnerabilities. Still the main caregivers, their poverty wages and brutal working conditions also affected children and elderly family members dependent on them.

Gender discrimination and inequality in global value chains have been widely documented but remain largely unaddressed by European companies and regulators.

Women in these export-oriented manufacturing sectors are vulnerable to wage theft, union-busting and other violations of labour rights—especially if they are young, migrant and/or poorly educated. Reckless business activities prey on and exacerbate inequitable gender roles, such that 71 per cent of those trapped in modern slavery are women.

All of this is hidden in plain sight.