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Tupperware India, uplifting impoverished women

cheerful indian business woman talking on mobile phone at airport
Article by: Nancy Tobler
September 26, 2016

The economic plight of women continues in many places around the world. Women often work in what is called the informal sector—working for cash, off the books—and are thus economically dependent on others (UN Women). While some in the informal sector choose their work based on social and other preferences, in many places for-cash work is the only option available to women. Impoverished women spend many hours a day providing the basics—water, food, and fuel—for themselves and their children. The time spent on mere survival often restricts young women and girls from accessing education and in turn better, more stable employment. According to the UN “the male employment-to-population ratio stood at 72.2 per cent, while the ratio for females was at 47.1 per cent” in 2013. When a woman has employment, she and her children have access to better healthcare and other benefits that we, in developed countries take for granted. One way that women enter the formal sector is direct selling and some companies, like Tupperware India cater directly to helping impoverished women better their lives and circumstances (Singh, & Aggarwal, 2012).

Recently Tupperware celebrated their 20th anniversary in India. When they first opened India, Tupperware built the distributor base from the ground up. They recruited 15 distributors and trained them. The company added products that match the needs of women in India. For example, they added water filtration products and focused on dry storage (Singh, & Aggarwal, 2012). Tupperware has a plant in India that produces the products sold there providing additional jobs for those who work at the factory (Singh, & Aggarwal, 2012). The company has also set out a social responsibility project with 2% of sales going to local projects in India.

In India 90% of women work in the informal sector (Singh, & Aggarwal, 2012). Direct selling is one opportunity that fits into the informal work style Indian women are accustomed to. It can thus act as an intermediary step between the informal and formal business sectors. The direct selling model can provide women with business training as well as personal development opportunities and thus improve women’s ability to provide as well as their self-esteem. Singh and Aggarwal note that a full time Tupperware consultant can make as much as a teacher or a nurse (both occupations that have not traditionally been available to women in India).

As Biggart (1989) pointed out in her analysis, women in direct selling can work with their cooperative/relationship needs and still do well in business. Women can step out into the world of business and do so on their own terms rather than on the terms of masculine/traditional bureaucratic organizations. Biggart points out that direct selling provides one way to empower women economically. This is especially true in a culture where women are kept from other types of work. As the direct selling industry expands to more countries, it brings with it real opportunities for women to move up economically.

Biggart, N. W. (1989). Charismatic capitalism: Direct selling organizations in America. University of Chicago Press.
Singh, H., & Aggarwal, N. (2012). Tupperware: achieving sustainable development goals through elevating socio-economic status of women in India. International Journal of Business Performance Management, 13(1), 18-27.
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Nancy Tobler

Nancy Tobler has a PhD in communication from the University of Utah. She specializes in research on how organizations change,...

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