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Tina Casey headshot

Nordstrom Embarks on New Drive for Women’s Rights

Business leaders increasingly find themselves having to advocate for women working within their supply chains; here's how Nordstrom leads on this front.
By Tina Casey

For all the progress made in women’s rights in recent decades, reproductive health continues to be a zone of intense conflict. Women’s reproductive rights in the U.S. were largely defined under the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, but they have been eroded by a series of federal and state laws that restrict access to abortion. The situation has already forced business leaders to confront shortcomings in their own diversity efforts and advocate more broadly for women. The question now is how to carry the conversation to the next level, and Nordstrom has just provided one solution.

(Some) businesses speak up in support of reproductive health rights

One sign of corporate advocacy on reproductive rights occurred last June. One week after the international women’s rights conference Women Deliver occurred in Vancouver, Canada, 180 business leaders signed on to a brief but powerful full-page statement in the New York Times in support of reproductive care, including abortion.

Under the headline “Don’t Ban Equality,” the statement made a clear bottom line case for women’s health rights:

“Restricting access to comprehensive reproductive care, including abortion, threatens the health, independence and economic stability of our employees and customers…It impairs our ability to build diverse and inclusive workforce pipelines, recruit top talent across the states, and protect the well-being of all the people who keep our businesses thriving day in and out.”

An important step up on women’s rights

The Don’t Ban Equality effort appears to have gone dormant in terms of media attention, but meanwhile, Nordstrom embarked on its own path and took an important step last week, when it announced new human rights goals for its suppliers.

The new announcement builds on Nordstrom’s ongoing partnership with the global advocacy organization BSR.

Nordstrom has been working with BSR since 2007, and partnership has expanded significantly in recent months. After 12 years, as of early 2019, its programs reached approximately 12,000 factory workers with services relating to women’s health and finance, as well as anti-violence measures.

Last June, Nordstrom announced a new expansion of its women’s equality work with BSR to reach an estimated 75,000 workers in Vietnam, India and Bangladesh.

The announcement last week provides Nordstrom with the potential to wield a broader influence across its supply chain.

The new announcement continues expanding the relationship with BSR while also bringing in a new partner, the organization CARE.

By virtue of its new relationship with CARE, Nordstrom now has a platform to take an unequivocal stand on women’s reproductive rights.

As a matter of official policy, CARE states that “access to quality sexual and reproductive health is both a fundamental human right and a critical development issue,” further arguing that “all women, men, and young people should have equitable access to the information and services they need to realize their rights and attain the highest possible standard of sexual and reproductive health – free of discrimination, stigma, coercion, and violence.”

CARE also provides Nordstrom with a springboard for future advocacy efforts involving public policy. The organization maintains that providing direct health services is a critical effort, but it is not sufficient to guarantee health rights.

“…large-scale and sustainable change requires that we address underlying and systemic factors,” CARE states, "Including gender inequality, policy barriers, and power imbalances that have an impact on health.”

So far Nordstrom has not specified where its support for CARE will focus, except to note that a grant will go to “programs aimed to remove the root causes of poverty experienced by women.”

Nordstrom commits to women working across its supply chain

Whether Nordstrom chooses to exercise its new power in the field of legislative advocacy in the U.S. is another matter entirely.

Still, the new human rights effort appears to be priming the pump for raising grassroots awareness of the challenges and opportunities facing women around the globe, and here in the U.S.

The new human rights goals provide shoppers with transparency about the situation of women who make the clothes they buy.

Through the new guidelines, Nordstrom has committed to transitioning 90 percent of its “Nordstrom Made” products to factories that are engaged in women’s initiatives, with an additional commitment to ensure those products can be traced to their source.

The initiative also includes living wage goals and additional investments in training and resources in Nordstrom’s global supply chain.

The company may be on to something. Nordstrom has been keeping a sharp eye on consumer trends, as evidenced by its recent foray in the resale field as well as its ahead-of-the-pack decision to stop carrying the controversial Ivanka brand in 2017.

Also of interest is the company’s decision to host pop-up shops by the beauty company Glossier, which is among the high-profile supporters of the Don’t Ban Equality statement.

In a public statement on its new human rights goals, the company’s Jennifer Jackson Brown remarked that "Nordstrom is committed to offering our customers a selection of products they can feel good about because they know they're made in a responsible way.”

That statement may resonate in powerful - and perhaps unexpected ways - as the battle over women’s reproductive health plays out here in the U.S. and around the world.

Image credit: BSR

Tina Casey headshot

Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes.

Read more stories by Tina Casey