VF Corporation

VF Corporation is an apparel and footwear company with a global footprint spanning more than 170 countries. VF has a long history of prioritising women’s empowerment throughout its supply chain, including CEO-level commitments, and over the last two years the company has put particular emphasis on Gender-Based Violence and Harassment (GBVH). GBVH became a VF priority after a comprehensive assessment in 2018 to understand the risks and opportunities, as well as what other industry stakeholders were doing to address this critical issue.

VF Corporation now has an updated Gender-Based Violence and Harassment(GBVH) strategy, audit guidelines and GBVH roadmap including a designed pilot programme.

VF conducted an internal assessment which included an enterprise-wide human rights risk assessment, review of supplier needs assessments, utilization of the Women’s Empowerment Principles gap analysis, and incorporated company-wide knowledge of the risks women face in the industry. Externally, this work coincided with the global ratification of the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) global standards aimed at ending violence and harassment in the world of work (Convention 190). In March 2020, VF Corporation held a roundtable discussion with sector experts to solidify this priority and build a roadmap to address this often hidden but systemic issue.

How is this Gender-Responsive Due Diligence?

Step 2 of Gender-Responsive Due Diligence (GRDD) focuses on the process that companies need to go through to identify and assess both the actual and potential adverse impacts in their supply chain. VF Corporation takes a comprehensive approach, with two departments looking at different aspects of due diligence to provide a holistic view of adverse impacts: the Global Impact team focuses on corporate human rights and value chain due diligence, reporting to the Executive Vice President, Chief Human Resources Officer and Public Affairs, while a supply-chain focused Worker’s Rights team reports to The Executive Vice President, Global Supply Chain.

These teams work closely together to identify gender-related risks in the supply chain via:

  • Securing information from gender experts via stakeholder engagement and roundtable discussions with international NGOs, civil society, trade unions, and lobbyists. A 2020 roundtable started with a focus on women’s rights, and the intelligence gathered helped to solidify GBVH as a priority issue.
  • Conducting an annual needs assessment through their Worker and Community Development Programme, which asks gender related and GBVH questions that help provide direct insight into challenges faced by factory workers. This allows suppliers and workers to share their factory and workforce needs to VF Corporation. This assessment includes more than 150 suppliers – primarily Tier 1 and some nominated Tier 2 suppliers – representing over 7000 workers.
  • Carrying out an annual impact assessment to inform implementation of the Worker’s Rights strategy.
  • Utilising insights of the most salient risks from globally positioned team members – including the Sustainable Operations team members, based in production countries, who work closely with factories and can observe risks, hear directly from workers, and help build knowledge capacity within the factory.
  • Matching supply chain insights with external evidence and data (reports), movements (#MeToo), and conventions (ILO Convention 190)
  • Engaging with leading NGOs to review VF policies and procedures with a gender sensitive lens, including audit scope, to improve their overall approach to support women workers.
  • Publishing a value chain wide Commitment to Eradicate Gender Based Violence and Harassment in line with ILO Convention 190.
  • Committing publicly to the Women’s Empowerment Principles (GRDD Step 1) and leveraging the principles as a framework to support their deeper focus on women’s safety and eradicating harassment (aligning with WEP Principle 3).


  • By convening an in-person stakeholder roundtable meeting with a range of industry and gender experts, VF Corporation identified priority focus areas across various internal departments. This decision was backed by senior level company leadership.
  • The roundtable enabled VF Corporation to identify expert partners to work with to address GBVH. They have since formed a partnership with the international NGO CARE based on their gender and GBVH expertise. With CARE’s support, VF Corporation now has an updated GBVH strategy, audit guidelines and GBVH roadmap including a designed pilot programme. CARE has also delivered gender training with a focus on GBVH to more than 40 VF Corporation staff members – all progressing VF Corporation into GRDD Step 3.
  • VF Corporation continued to carry out needs assessments despite COVID-19 lockdowns and 2020 supply chain disarray, and where they could not meet face-to-face with suppliers, used alternative insights (e.g.: general feedback from on-the-ground Sustainable Operations team members) to keep progressing their gender-responsive due diligence process.

Learning and Recommendations for others

VF Corporation shares the following learning and recommendations for others in the process of identifying adverse impacts in their supply chain:

  • Don’t rely solely on audits: Audits are a good tool to identify risks and are an important data point to be considered, especially those related to visible issues such as occupational health and safety. Audits will not necessarily uncover an issue like GBVH though, because it is less visible, more taboo to talk about, can carry risk to job security if reported, and requires a survivor-centred approach which not all auditors are trained on. To truly identify all adverse impacts, further assessments that intentionally involve workers, including women, are needed.
  • Be close to your workforce: If you have the resource and capacity, have a team on the ground who works closely with suppliers – this allows for strong relationships to be built and furthers supplier level insights to inform priorities.
  • Use existing frameworks: Conduct the Women’s Empowerment Principles gap analysis. This tool is expansive and looks into a company’s value chain approach to women’s empowerment which can strengthen any process to identify adverse impacts as well as address them.
  • Share and collaborate: Suppliers have “initiative fatigue” and “audit fatigue” – it is recommended to use existing information to inform your assessments and collaborate as an industry. For any pre-competitive issues (such as GBVH), the sharing of tools helps to scale initiatives, and achieve greater impact. VF Corporation is supportive of a gender self-diagnostic tool developed by Nike with the ICRW, and is keen to engage in the Empower@Work initiative once fully established.
  • Use the latest guidelines to keep your GRDD process up to date. VF Corporation’s GBVH strategy launch coincided with the release of apparel industry guidelines on violence and harassment in the workplace, helping ensure alignment to best practice.
  • Create space for continuous learning: COVID-19 has demonstrated an increased vulnerability of women, and the long-term impacts cannot be underestimated. Suppliers have had continuous disruptions, and the combination of worker layoffs followed by a production backlog, creates the perfect environment for increased risks, particularly for women. This disruption means few suppliers have the bandwidth to engage in initiatives. For VF Corporation, this means risks need to be reviewed continuously rather than annually, with day-to-day reacting prioritised over strategic prevention.

Written by Joanna Howarth