How can you be assured that your everyday products match your values?
Unless you hear about a company’s good (or bad) practices on the news, it’s difficult to make informed purchasing decisions—that is, unless you do intentional research.
For years, we’ve seen labels pledging a company’s commitment to sustainable practices. With a single certification, you can learn more about a company from a trustworthy, objective third party—but mostly in the realms of sustainability and workers’ rights.
And on some levels, certifications lower the stress that comes with conscious consumer living. No need to research all your favorite products before you shop, or use an app to scan barcodes as you peruse grocery store shelves—someone’s done the research for you.
The environmental movement has taken the certification system and run with it. You can buy certified organic milk, direct trade chocolate, free-range chicken, and Rainforest Alliance coffee. Your clothes can be made from organic cotton, or fair trade fabric. You can live and work in LEED certified buildings, and eat at certified green restaurants.
So what if that product certification extended to all social causes?
Now we’re one important step closer.
The EDGE Certification (The Global Business Certification for Gender Equality) was designed with feminism in mind. The seal targets five main areas of gender inequality, to name the companies that are performing at the highest global standards of employee hiring, access, and leadership.
On the whole, the global workforce is not ideally situated towards women: only 5.2% of women hold CEO positions in Fortune 500 companies, and the gender pay gap leaves women with 70-90% of the pay as men for the same positions. Women hold only 9% of corporate board director roles, and just 16% of business-critical jobs.
EDGE seeks to hold businesses responsible for their role in the matter—working to change the hiring processes and employee policies that have a hand in holding women back. Their website states their goal:
“[Our vision is] a world of equal opportunities, a world where men and women are equally valued and respected in all aspects of economic, political and social life.”
But in order to keep the bar high (and to keep the publicity-interested companies out), the application process for EDGE certification is extensive. To get certified, each company must participate in 6 months’ worth of assessment interviews, surveys, and meetings. Applying companies are expected to provide a high level of transparency in all related aspects of hiring, business practices, and policies, to prove they are investing in gender equality for the long term. Company executives and regular employees alike are asked to participate in the process.
So far, cosmetics company L’Oreal USA is the only American company to have passed the intense certification process. Five other companies worldwide have been certified: IKEA Switzerland, Deloitte Switzerland, Banco Compartamentos Mexico, Lombard Odier Switzerland, and CEPD N.V. Poland.
To ensure that EDGE standards are maintained, companies will only hold certification for two years. After that time, each company will be expected to reapply. Compliance with two of EDGE’s five global standards (equal pay, hiring/ promotion equality, leadership training, flexible work policies, and “culture”) within five years is also expected.
Angela Guy, senior vice president of diversity & inclusion at L’Oreal USA, explained in an interview with ThinkProgress that the application procedures were no easy feat:
“The certification process was extremely time-intensive and rigorous, required a high level of transparency, and involved numerous people at L’Oreal USA, including the CEO, Office of Diversity & Inclusion, Legal, Human Resources, and Human Resource Information Services in compiling the data.
We’re hoping our leadership will inspire others to support a gender balanced workplace.”
Although this process is a costly, time-wise and financially (and therefore certification is unattainable for many small to medium companies), it’s a step in the right direction. Maybe certification by third parties will expand to new venues and social causes—imagine buying gender equality shampoo and racial diversity soup.
Certification has proven to be an easy way to demonstrate a company’s commitment to the environment. And so harnessing the immediacy of a label makes gender equality into a simple grocery store decision, too. Now, when you purchase a L’Oreal product, you can know that the company you’re funding is committed to women, and to 21st Century business practices.
L’Oreal is taking a stand here for feminists, and this move illustrates poignantly that our purchases are more than just daily necessities. Consumers have to make the connection between the product and the company—and if we can reward companies that have invested in causes that we care about, we’ll help push big businesses and industries to wield their massive resources for good.
To L’Oreal, IKEA, and the other businesses on the list, thank you.
To the companies who have yet to commit, it’s time to step up.
Kelsey Ryan is the editor of Groundswell’s magazine. She’s a linguist, fledgling Tolkien scholar, knitter, Oxford comma proponent, and firm believer in the use of stories for social good. Explore her website, or connect on Twitter: @kryanlion.