Sunday, October 29, 2017

Comment on UN Women's E-Discussion: How Can Grant Making Better Support Women’s Civil Society?

The October 2017 Empower Women E-Discussion focuses on the question "How Can Grant Making Better Support Women's Civil Society"?  My intervention focuses on maquiladora workers' campaign for employer-sponsored child care in Central America.

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One area in which grant makers can make a big difference in tackling all three issues (Leaving No One Behind, Capacity Development, and Learning from What Doesn't Work) is by supporting workplace-sponsored child care in low and middle income countries.  

A case in point is the current campaign by maquiladora (export processing zone) workers in Central America.  Local women's advocacy groups and trade unions are advocating that their employers and international brands follow laws in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala to establish employer-sponsored child care.  

On October 12, 2017, the International Finance Corporation (IFC) issued a report Tackling Childcare The Business Case for Employer-Supported Childcare.  This excellent report reinforces the campaign by providing data demonstrating how workplace-sponsored child care can be good for business.  The report discusses 10 original in-depth case studies that show how employers in blue, pink and white collar companies have made workplace-sponsored child care work in low-, middle- and high-income countries.  This is a report that women's and children's advocates - including Corporate Social Responsibility advocates within companies - can take to skeptical CEOs, CFOs and Boards of Directors to persuade them to fund and implement workplace-sponsored child care.

As discussed in my piece in IntLawGrrls IFC report on business case for workplace childcare reinforces maquiladora workers’ campaign in Central America, workplace-sponsored child care plays an important role not only for companies and their employees, but for society in general.  The IFC, OECD and Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) have all pointed to the importance of early childhood education to the development of young minds - and to the lack of good early childhood education programs in many low- and middle-income countries.

This is an area where grant makers can make a difference.  While the IFC shows how workplace-sponsored child care benefits the bottom line of company coffers (reduction of absenteeism, for example, or attracting new business as a result of good practices), there are significant start-up and other costs involved in setting up workplace-sponsored child care programs.  Companies in low- and middle-income countries will have a difficult time coming up with these initial costs - especially in low margin industries where women predominate, like garment manufacturing and agriculture.  International brands can support workpace-sponsored child care with both funding and purchasing policies that favor suppliers with workplace-sponsored child care.  Other international companies can support workplace-sponsored child care programs through education grants and their Corporate Social Responsibility programs.  


International grant makers can play a unique role in funding both initial start-up costs for and programs supporting workplace-sponsored child care.  Examples include:
  • Funding needs assessments, surveys and focus groups of working parents to learn about what kind of programs they want and need (Disney funded a needs assessment in Central America through local women's groups and facilitated by Canada-based Maquiladora Solidarity Network
  • Funding dialogue between local workers, worker representatives, women's rights groups, employers, international brands and governments to ensure that child care programs are feasible and meet workers' and children's needs;
  • Developing programs that provide companies and trade unions with guidance on how to establish effective workplace-sponsored child care programs that meet workers' needs and children's educational needs;
  • Developing programs to provide workforce development training and certification programs for childcare providers at varying education levels;
  • Supporting secondary and university-level Early Childhood Education programs in low-income and middle-income countries;
  • Funding legal research on the development of national laws that create the best legal environment to support workplace-sponsored child care;
  • Funding initial start-up costs for workplace-sponsored child care programs.
Working women in Central America have challenged their employers and governments to follow national laws to implement employer-sponsored child care programs.  International grant makers can help working women, employers, governments and the global CSR community to meet that challenge.