Trade for Her: Empowering women through international trade

ILO Director-General Guy Ryder underlined the need for a human-centred approach to trade policy at the ‘Trade for Her’ conference, organized by the European Commissioner for Trade.

News | 30 September 2019
ILO Director-General Guy Ryder spoke at the ‘Trade for Her’ conference, which addressed the challenges to empower women through international trade and potential solutions. He presented in a high-level panel with speakers from the European Commission, represented by the European Commissioner for Trade, the World Trade Organization, the UN Economic Commission for Africa and Amfori.

Trade creates economic growth and jobs and can help to alleviate extreme poverty. The ILO Director-General underlined the need to leverage the opportunities trade provides for decent work, e.g. for young women in rural areas and in apparel, against the dangers that are also present in global supply chains, as typified by the tragedy of Rana Plaza where some 1100 people, mainly young women, died.

Despite the extraordinary opportunity of trade, insufficiently regulated trade liberalization will not maximize the advantages of trade and safeguard the safety and conditions of the workers concerned.

The ILO works closely with the European Commission on such issues, in light of the clauses citing international labour standards in EU trade agreements. Over 80 per cent of trade agreements that came into force since 2013 contain labour provisions, indicating that it is a broader phenomenon. ILO research on the impact of labour provisions in trade agreements finds that they boost access to jobs for women and help narrow the wage gap between men and women in specific sectors. “Such provisions can be strengthened by effective enforcement mechanisms,” Mr Ryder said.


Better Work, a joint ILO-IFC programme focused on improving working conditions in the garment industry, has shown that factories participating in the programme achieved up to a 25 per cent increase in productivity, with improvements in job satisfaction and working experience. Therefore, business should recognize that good supply chain management makes for more sustainable business, in a positive paradigm going forward.

Furthermore, the evidence shows that labour clauses in trade agreements do not displace economic activity but increase it – indicating that a level-headed approach can demonstrate to all trading partners concerned that this is a win-win scenario.

Finally, Mr Ryder acknowledged that labour market problems are not determined by trade practices alone, but trade is an important lever to make a difference. Therefore, all stakeholders need to work in a more coherent way, nationally and internationally, as emphasized in the ILO Centenary Declaration that strongly urged international organizations to work together towards the objectives that they share.