Making Supply Chains Safer with Gender Equality Principles

Interview with Joe Keefe, President and CEO, Pax World Funds

Women working in global supply chains are most at risk for being victims of unfair practices, violence, and slavery. The United Nations recognizes this and has created the Women’s Empowerment Principles to help companies view these issues through the gender lens.

Joe Keefe is President and CEO of Pax World Management LLC. He is a UN-recognized advocate for women’s equality and implements change by encouraging investors to align their investments with their values by supporting global organizations that promote the empowerment and advancement of women. In partnership with Sallie Krawcheck’s Ellevate Asset Management, Joe launched The Pax Ellevate Global Women’s Index Fund, the first U.S. mutual fund focused solely on investing in the highest-rated companies in the world in advancing women. He is the recipient of the United Nations’ 2014 Women's Empowerment Principles Leadership Award - Business Case for Action. 

What are the Women’s Empowerment Principles?

The Women’s Empowerment Principles are a set of principles created to guide businesses on how to better empower women in the workplace and community. These principles were created as a joint initiative between the United Nations Global Compact and the United Nations Women’s Empowerment Initiative with a focus on gender equality and opportunity.

There are seven broad principles that are considered guide posts for the steps that a strong company would take to better advance women in the workplace.

We believe that in order to promote the broader concepts that are within sustainability, it is imperative that gender equality be at the heart of the matter and that the private sector make it a top priority and part of their overall corporate strategy.

What is the meaning of the phrase Equality Means Business?

Equity Means Business is a very important phrase. It’s not just a marketing tag line.

Empowering women involves creating parity and equal pay. It means women will receive the education and training it takes to advance and provide for their families. Business needs to take a key leadership role and that’s where the Principles come into play. The private sector is often better suited for creating long lasting progress than government initiatives that come and go.

In order to promote sustainability and promote gender equality, business has to be at the table. Enabling women in the workplace to succeed will not only raise individual women but also businesses and families. It makes economic sense to promote women.

Are there ways to engage corporations to contribute positively to neutralizing gender equality issues?

A strong success factor for the Principles is that they are not overly prescriptive in how they are implemented. A large company might have a different scope and scale for its programs versus a smaller fledgling company. The Principles assist companies in developing programs that they can design in their own way. The issues each company chooses to address may be different as well. Some may develop programs for health and safety, others might choose to tackle domestic violence, support working parents, or promote health awareness.

We understand that companies cannot achieve significant progress over night but the Principles assist them in setting forth general guidelines and goals to work toward. It’s an approach that can work and be measured over time. An overly prescriptive approach might result in less companies signing on out of fear of over committing or undertaking legal obligations, with attendant fears of litigation, etc.

There are over 1,000 signatories now. Most of the companies that signed on have done so because the Principles provide a menu of issues to work on. This enables companies to choose to take on what they can at any given time.

One of my favorite things is to sit in the annual meeting of the Women’s empowerment Principles and listen to what companies are doing and the best practices and ideas they are sharing. This platform enables companies to come together and share what is working and not working for them.

How does the WEP support women in fields like enterprise development, supply chain, and marketing practices?

The Principles themselves don’t do the work but give companies guidelines and markers they can use to review opportunities and determine what is achievable.

There are ways that we help women in the field. We encourage companies to expand their relationships with women-owned businesses and highlight that advertising and marketing should not be exploitive to women. We can help support micro-finance and campaigns to reduce violence against women in the supply chain.

Unfortunately, there are terrible things lurking in global supply chains where women are most often the victims, issues like human trafficking, slavery, and wage issues more frequently occur to women.  Companies need to know what is happening and exert influence over what is happening in their supply chains.

Gender issues are at the heart of supply chain abuses suffered by women and young girls. It’s important to discuss all the risks associated with supply chains but particularly crucial to look at these issues through the lens of gender.

What is the WEP leadership group and can you explain its charter?

The United Nations works with companies to sign on to the Principles and incorporate them into their operations. Companies nominate people to represent them and play a leadership role by serving in the group. We have three to four phone calls per year and meet once a year to focus on what we can do to advance the Principles, encourage more companies to sign on, and move programs toward implementation.

Generally, the people who make up the leadership group are people who are actively engaged in these issues in their daily work life. It might be the Corporate Social Responsibility person, the Human Resource person, or a senior executive who can help elevate the cause. The representatives work on strategy and direction, like a board meeting but much bigger than a typical board. They become advisory in nature. I co-chair the committee and can tell you that I’ve never been more engaged in a conference. Past conferences have been a day and a half and go by too quickly.

Why is it important to have an award for CEO Leadership for gender equality and WEP?

We want to shine a spotlight on companies that are taking the Principles to heart and incorporating them into their operations. The CEO of a company is representative of that company and accepts the award for driving principles and practices to achieve this.

The positive news is that there are a ton of companies who are working on initiatives where we could shine a spotlight. It’s clear that there is no single best company and so we select five recipients to receive awards. This allows us to look globally and to review a diverse group of companies from different parts of the world facing very different challenges.

It’s important to acknowledge that different countries and different cultures have different problems. I’ve met people from across the world working to advance women in the workplace and beyond. I’ve met so many people committed to these issues that it gives me hope for the future. Most of these companies have a corporate mission to make the world a better place and all are working to promote sustainable development, starting with gender equality.

In five to ten years, we’ll be able to look back at such tremendous progress. The private sector is going to lead in advancing gender equality issues and businesses will understand that gender equality leads to business success.

Is there a way for companies and individuals to get more involved with the WEP and be part of activities with the UN Global Compact and UN Women?

Companies can start by going to our website at and then look at our annual meeting notes. Once they have an understanding, becoming a signatory is next and then jump starting a program.

Taking that first step is critical. Once signed up, companies will receive literature and be included on status emails, new happenings, and invited to meetings.

Keep in mind, signing up to the Principles is not like signing on to a code of conduct that might incur liabilities. The Principles are about getting access and information to an approach that might work for their company. It’s an entry way into a community that is discussing supply chain and other issues as they relate to women and working on empowerment and advancement for women in need.