Hivos International



Productive employment and Decent Work are key elements to achieving a fair globalisation and the reduction of poverty. Women @ Work, Hivos’ newest international advocacy campaign, is aimed at enforcing the right to decent work for women in formal and informal economies, particularly in global production chains. Read more.


In 2012, Hivos started the Women @ Work Campaign to bring about decent work for women who earn their living in global production chains such as coffee, flowers and garments. Since relatively high numbers of women work in these sectors, and Hivos has long worked with Southern partners committed to working women’s rights, we focused our campaign on:

  • capacity development, specifically in the countries in East Africa and Central America where Hivos has regional offices,
  • advocating for the enforcement of women workers’ rights and for their economic empowerment as part of CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) and the implementation of Decent Work for women,
  • highlighting women’s work and the rights of women workers in the flower industry through consumer action calling for fair trade flowers.

The Women @ Work Campaign involves 15 Southern partners spread over Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua, as well as 3 regional networks. Our partners develop programmes for the protection of women workers’ rights, and press for the implementation of international treaties and national legislation that guarantee decent work.

A good example is Hivos partner Cobades (Community Based Development Services) in Kenya. They run a very successful programme that puts the spotlight on employment rights of women working on flower plantations, as well as those in the textile, tea, sisal and domestic sectors. Cobades lobbies the government for proper labour legislation and representation for  women in decision-making at the workplace and in trade unions. This is especially needed at flower farms, where despite the high number of female employees (80%), very few women sit on the worker’s committees and issues like maternity leave and sexual harassment are left off the agenda. Cobades’ programme, together with the work of the Labour Awareness & Resource Centre, has directly reached over 5,000 women working in twelve flower farms in Naivasha over the past ten years.

To protect the rights of women and improve working conditions in global supply chains in the South, we also need to show the connection between the women who produce the goods and the women who buy them. The public campaign in the Netherlands targets the flower industry, for example, because of the overwhelming number of women it employs and because flowers are a product with a particular appeal for women. 

But Women @ Work not only calls on consumers to buy fair and sustainable products, but also targets Dutch companies to ensure they adhere to internationally agreed labour standards, the Decent Work agenda of the ILO and the OECD guidelines for corporate social responsibility, The floral industry is a major economic sector in the Netherlands, and Dutch growers play an important role in East Africa.

Consumer demand can be instrumental in convincing companies to provide sustainably produced products from countries or enterprises that also uphold decent work. This is why we use public campaigns that inform consumers and enable conscious purchasing behaviour in favour of fair, sustainable (fair trade) products. Increased social pressure on companies in the North can have a direct impact on improving corporate social responsibility in the South.


Hivos believes in a world in which all people have equal access to opportunities and resources for development. But deeply-rooted inequalities in the social, political and economic sphere keep women in disadvantaged positions and disempower women workers. We launched the Women @ Work Campaign in 2012 to help tackle the exploitation and exclusion women workers face all over the world.

Globalisation has drawn millions of women into employment in farms and factories in the South that manufacture products to fulfil the needs of our consumer societies in the North. Since their work in both formal and informal economies is often regarded as having little or no meaningful economic value, and is frequently not or not fully visible, women can be exploited and their labour rights violated. This means that compliance with labour rights cannot be verified, let alone improved.

The growth of modern industrial and agricultural value chains (see definition below) has also had major implications for women’s employment. This new business model, based on companies outsourcing production through global supply chains that demand low-cost and flexible labour, results in millions of women employed precariously at the end of those supply chains. They are hired on short-term contracts (or no contracts at all), working long hours at high speed for low wages in unhealthy conditions. Most have no sick leave or maternity leave.

But at the same time, the concept of Corporate Social Responsibility has emerged and grown rapidly among companies in the North that market clothing, toys, forest products, agricultural products and electronics. CSR promotes social standards along value chains in an attempt to improve company performance related to labour standards (such as workers rights, discrimination and child labour). This requires regulation of labour conditions at the production sites to comply with those standards.

Hivos believes that upholding the rights of women workers is not only beneficial for the social development of the workers and their families, but is also in the interest of the companies involved. So the Women @ Work Campaign has decided to capitalise on the increased importance of Corporate Social Responsibility to influence and advise politicians and companies on measures that will improve working conditions for women.

As the Women @ Work Campaign develops through 2015, it will make a business case for how and why the private sector should intensify its engagement in the economic empowerment of women in developing countries. Simply put, raising women’s incomes and standards of living benefits both productivity and product quality and the lives of the entire family, thereby contributing to a healthier and more productive society. And economically empowered women are also potential customers. The more of them there are, the larger the market for selling goods and services.

Finally, women wage earners are especially powerful catalysts for development because they tend to invest more of their income than men into the health, education and well-being of their families. The 2012 World Bank report, ‘Gender Equality and Development’, states it is “smart economics” to invest in women: greater gender equality will enhance productivity, improve development outcomes for the next generation and make institutions more representative.

Facts & Figures

Period: 2012-2015
Budget: € 2 000 000
Donor: Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Scope: International
Partners: 15 Southern partners in East Africa (Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania) and Central America (Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala) & 3 international networks.

Aim: policy change in the North and strengthening Southern partner capacity in the South to bring about decent work for women**.

Sectors: coffee, flowers and garments

Representation of women working in these sectors:

  • coffee producers - 50%
  • flower farm labourers - 70%
  • garment industry - 80%

Women @ Work output indicators:

  • Per year, at least 30 policymakers and business people approached directly at conferences, round tables and seminars with information and suggestions for policy changes.
  • Per year, at least 10 businesses approached with concrete proposals for action in their own production chains.
  • Per year, the campaign tool reaches at least 500,000 people.
  • After 2 years, 90% of the selected partners make quality (online) contributions to campaigns.
  • Per year, 2 documented cases are used by other campaign participants sharing results and experiences.

** What is “Decent Work” for women?

The ILO Decent Work Agenda consists of four strategic pillars: job creation, rights at work, social protection and social dialogue, with gender equality as a crosscutting objective.  For women this means:

  • Fair income: living wage (minimum wage necessary to meet basic needs)
  • Security in the workplace: no sexual harassment
  • Social protection: comprehensive maternity protection
  • Full compliance with international health and safety standards
  • Freedom to organise: women’s voices in trade unions
  • Participation in decision-making
Story: No bed of roses

By Siebe Aanbeek

Women in developing countries bear a heavy workload. This story is about women who work in the greenhouses of Kenya.

As soon as the horn sounds Fatima jumps out of bed. She only has about five minutes before the bus driver releases the horn and drives off. It’s 5 o’clock in the morning on her second day of work.

Pulling her blanket around her, Fatima carefully steps over Fatiyah. Her seven-year-old daughter sleeps next to her, since her husband no longer does. The cold air of the Kenyan plains blows through the wooden walls of the house and dew seeps in under the door.

Without waking up the girl she takes the lid off a pot, eats a handful of rice from the day before and pours herself a cup of water from the bucket beside the door. That’s all there is for breakfast – for now. She cleans her teeth and puts the blanket back on the bed, over Fatiyah. It’s time.

Hey, noisemaker

Outside she greets the man, who for months she had been cursing, with a big smile. “Hey noisemaker, I’m awake you know.” Collins, the bus driver, laughs and continues to honk the horn. “We’re almost complete, welcome back!” Fatima greets the other women and in the dark she makes her way to the back of the bus. For the first time in months, Collins’s horn no longer gives her a headache. Today the noise is also for her.

As soon as the bus leaves, the ladies start to doze off, their heads bobbing along to the rhythm of the road. Only Fatima and Collins are awake. He makes eye contact in the rear-view mirror. “How are you? I heard you were having a hard time.” Fatima nods.


Until Fatima lost her job she used to ride along with Collins to the greenhouses every day. She used to work in the packaging department of a big rose growing company, where she earned the equivalent of one euro a day. It was enough to keep her and Fatiyah alive, but insufficient for virtually everything else. There was simply no money for school supplies, healthy food or medical care, which became painfully evident when Fatiyah suffered a severe attack of malaria.

Fatima asked her team manager for an advance on her wages so she could buy medicine for her daughter. That wouldn’t be a problem, he said, provided she was willing to go to bed with him. She agreed and got the money. Fatiyah recovered, but Fatima was not relieved of her team manager. He felt entitled to more and began increasingly to demand that Fatima go to his office with him. She refused. After her two-month contract expired, the team manager told her she could leave. In the four months that followed she sold bags of water along the highway she was now travelling on again.

A new future

The neighbour who introduced Fatima to her new team manager is asleep at the front of the bus. After all the misery in her previous job her neighbour’s stories about the greenhouse they are driving to sounded like music to Fatima’s ears. A higher salary and a permanent contract after one year, the right to paid maternity leave and paid overtime, taking part in staff councils, female team managers and the possibility of promotion – her neighbour had seen it all change over the years. Hivos partner COBADES, an organisation that supports women in labour disputes and makes them aware of their rights, had begun to mobilise employees. The highest bosses were willing to do something about the working conditions in the greenhouse and gradually everything improved.

As the road becomes illuminated by the lights of the first greenhouses and the scent of flowers dispels that of exhaust fumes, she answers Collins’s question. “It doesn’t matter. Today, the future starts again.”