University of Bristol Legal Research Paper Series: Companies, Sustainability and Gender

Research output: Working paper


Companies are playing an increasingly central role in joining with NGOs and Governments to work towards ‘sustainable development’. One theme of sustainability in which corporate action has been particularly vigorous is ‘gender equality’. Whether as directors, workers, entrepreneurs or consumers, women are central to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and post-crisis initiatives for corporate reform. While on one view these efforts might be welcome in highlighting women’s typical subordination and exclusion from economic life, the focus by companies and other financial actors on economic growth as both the best route out of poverty and the clearest path to gender equality is problematic. It results in a weak, business-centred definition of sustainability in which women become an investment, a form of gender capital that can bring something extra to business. In their current guise, corporate-led gender and sustainability initiatives risk embedding a focus on wealth maximisation while potentially creating further inequalities due to complex interactions of gender, race and class across both the global north and south. This approach has been informed by a commitment to the postulate of ‘shareholder value’, which is doctrinally and theoretically flawed. Gender can become a driver towards a strong corporate model of sustainability but this requires a significant departure from the instrumental treatment of women as a means of enhancing corporate profitability and legitimacy. Focussing instead on the possibilities that a feminist analysis of companies and sustainability offers would involve recognising corporate dependencies on unpaid labour, valuing care work in all its forms, acknowledging the new and gendered dependencies being created by the process of globalisation, and reformulating the corporate purpose to one which acts to ensure gender equality, social inclusion and strong sustainability.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages18
Publication statusPublished - 9 Mar 2018

Structured keywords

  • LAW Centre for Law and Enterprise


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