Gender Based Violence in the Asian H&M and Gap Garment Supply Chains: Reports to the International Labor Organization
A global coalition of trade unions, worker rights and human rights organizations, which includes Asia Floor Wage Alliance (AFWA), CENTRAL Cambodia, Global Labor Justice, Sedane Labour Resource Centre (LIPS) Indonesia, and Society for Labour and Development (SLD) India, released two groundbreaking factory level research reports today documenting gender based violence in H&M and Gap’s Asian garment supply chains. The coalition calls on H&M and Gap to take immediate action to end the violence and harassment that women garment workers are forced to endure daily.
This new research documents sexual harassment and violence including physical violence, verbal abuse, coercion, threats and retaliation, and routine deprivations of liberty including forced overtime. The research also makes clear these are not isolated incidents — gender based violence in the H&M and Gap garment supply chains is a direct result of how these brands conduct business.
The H&M and Gap reports include investigation of gender-based violence in H&M and Gap garment supplier factories, undertaken between January 2018 and May 2018 in 9 garment production hubs across five countries in Asia, including: Dhaka, Bangladesh; Phnom Penh, Cambodia; West Java and North Jakarta, Indonesia; Bangalore, Gurugram (Gurgaon), and Tiruppur, India; and Biyagama, Gampaha District and Vavuniya District, Northern Province, Sri Lanka.
Contextualizing these findings in relationship to industry risk factors, the reports draw upon 2016 Asia Floor Wage Alliance research documenting rights violations in H&M and Gap garment global supply chains; and the findings of five national level people’s tribunals held by Asia Floor Wage on working conditions in garment global production networks in South and Southeast Asia.
After significant initiative from trade unions, the International Labour Organization (ILO) has convened to set international labor standards on gender based violence. Trade union leaders from around the world along with governments and businesses, are meeting now to begin the historic work of creating a global standard protecting women across sectors. These reports have been prepared to inform this dialogue. They aim to ensure that sure the experience and recommendations of low wage women workers in garment sector and supply chains are uplifted to create a strong framework for eliminating gender based violence in the workplace.
Based upon analysis of the spectrum of gender based violence and associated risk factors in the garment industry, these reports recommend concrete steps to eliminate gender based violence and harassment in the world of work.
In one April 2018 case study included in the H&M report, the Karnataka Garment Workers Union (KOOGU) Union presented a letter to the General Manager of an H&M supplier factory in Bangalore, India requesting a discussion of three demands:
- Inclusion of an elected worker on the factory health committee to address the quality of water available to workers at the factory;
- Worker involvement in address irregular transportation to the factory; and
- Payments below living wages
The meeting was never called. Two days later, the elected representatives of the union were physically assaulted by management. Leaders- including women workers- were physically beaten up, dragged out of the factory, and called derogatory caste related slurs. A 31-year old woman who was employed as a tailor in the factory, and elected as a leader of the union, describes being grabbed by her hair and punched while enduring a torrent of slurs including, ““you whore, your caste people should be kept where the slippers are kept”—and others with even more derogatory language.
In India, women workers employed in an H&M supplier factory in Bangalore, Karnataka, India reported physical abuse associated with pressure to meet production targets. A worker, Radhika, described being thrown to the floor and beaten, including on her breasts:
On September 27, 2017, at 12:30 pm, my batch supervisor came up behind me as I was working on the sewing machine, yelling “you are not meeting your target production.” He pulled me out of the chair and I fell on the floor. He hit me, including on my breasts. He pulled me up and then pushed me to the floor again. He kicked me.
Another woman worker, from an H&M supplier factory in Sri Lanka recounted facing retaliation for responding to unwanted physical touch from machine operators charged with fixing broken sewing machines in the production unit:
When girls scold machine operators for touching them or grabbing them, they take revenge. Sometimes they give them machines that do not function properly. Then, they do not come and repair it for a long time. After that, supervisors scold us for not meeting the target.
In an Indonesian Gap supplier factory, failure to meet production targets not only provokes verbal abuse but also intimidation and threats of firing. One woman described the daily barrage of yelling and mocking from her supervisor, driving her to meet production targets:
If you miss the target, all the workers in the production room can hear the yelling:
“You stupid! Cannot work?”
“If you are not willing to work, just go home!”
“Watch out, you! I will not extend your contract if you cannot work.”
“You don’t have to come to work tomorrow if you can’t do your job!”
They also throw materials. They kick our chairs. They don’t touch us so they don’t leave a mark that could be used as evidence with the police, but it is very stressful.
Women workers employed in a Gap supplier factory in Biyagama, Gampaha District, Sri Lanka also reported both working late into the night and risking harassment and robbery on their way home. One worker recounted:
Supervisors require us to work in the night, but we do not get transport to go home. People from the factory take advantage of women in this position. We are harassed by men who wait outside the factory gates at night, especially younger women. A friend of mine was robbed. They took all of the jewelry she was wearing.
Anannya Bhattacharjee, International Coordinator of AFWA says, “Decades of research and experience provide ample proof that voluntary corporate social responsibility initiatives whitewash a pattern of labor violations along global garment supply chains. The beneficiaries are a multi-billion-dollar corporate audit industry that has failed workers, employers, and consumers. Corporate accountability requires brands including H&M and Gap and suppliers to negotiate and adopt binding and enforceable agreements with garment unions in production countries.“
“Women workers and their labor organizations are uniting across borders to demand work that is free of gender based violence, pays a living wage, and promotes women’s initiative and leadership at all levels,” says Jennifer (JJ) Rosenbaum, U.S. Director of Global Labor Justice. “Multinational corporations are expanding global supply chain models in many sectors. But its not only the corporations that are going global. Intersectional movements of workers, women, migrants and others are building global networks to demand change to a system that relies on poverty wages and gender based violence to deliver fast fashion to the U.S. and Europe at the expense of the well-being of women garment workers and their families.”
Tola Moeun, Executive Director of CENTRAL, a Cambodian labour organization described the violence documented in the report as a daily reality, “Gender based violence is a daily reality for women garment workers driven to meet unrealistic production targets in H&M and Gap’s supply chains. Most of these cases are not reported due to fear of retaliation in the workplace, including facing higher production targets or even being fired.”
“These findings from the research show that women workers need strong, independent trade unions to respond to gender based violence and the surveillance and retaliation that block many women workers from coming forward,” said Emaleia Yanti Sihaan, General Secretary of the Indonesia Federation of Independent Trade Unions (GSBI). “Women workers want an international labor standard eliminating gender based violence – and we also want core labor standards protecting freedom of association and collective bargaining to be enforced.”
In response to the reports, the Women’s Leadership Committee of the Asia Floor Wage Alliance is asking Gap to take three immediate action steps:
- Publicly support and commit to proactively implement an ILO Convention Recommendation on Gender Based Violence that includes the recommendations from the Asia Floor Wage Alliance and partners
- Meet with the Asia Floor Wage Women’s Leadership Committee in the next three months to discuss the supply chain findings and next steps
- Proactively work with the Asia Floor Wage Alliance to pilot women’s committees in factories that eliminate gender based violence and discrimination from the supplier factories.
KOOGU, Asia Floor Wage Alliance, and Global Labor Justice are also calling on H&M to immediately address worker demands:
- Reinstate all 15 workers who were fired in retaliation for union activity;
- Terminate employment for all factory managers and senior staff involved in the attack
- Meet with KOOGU to discuss the original three demands: inclusion of an elected worker on the factory health committee to address water quality at the factory, steps to address irregular transportation to the factory, and negotiation to raise payments that are currently below living wages.
A substantive response from H&M and Gap has yet to be received after the reports coupled with requests for action were sent to H&M and Gap on May 30th, 2018.
Global Labor Justice (GLJ) is a US based strategy hub supporting transnational collaboration among worker and migrant organizations to expand labor rights and new forms of bargaining on global value chains and international labor migration corridors.
Asia Floor Wage Alliance (AFWA) was officially formed in 2006 and includes more than 76 organizations, including garment industry trade unions, NGOs, consumer groups and research institutes from more than 17 countries from across Asia, Europe and North America.
CENTRAL (The Center for Alliance of Labor & Human Rights) is a local Cambodian NGO. The organization empowers Cambodian working people to demand transparent and accountable governance for labor and human rights through legal aid and other appropriate means.
Sedane Labour Resource Centre/Lembaga Informasi Perburuhan Sedane (LIPS) is a nongovernmental organization in labor studies. LIPS works to strengthen the labor movement by documenting knowledge through participatory research and developing methods of popular education in labor groups and unions.
Society for Labour and Development (SDI) is a Delhi-based labour rights organisation. SLD promotes equitable development by advocating for the social and economic wellbeing of workers, with a particular emphasis on women’s and migrants’ rights and cultural renewal among disenfranchised people. SLD works in the National Capital Region Territory, Haryana, Uttar, Pradesh, Bihar, and Jharkhand.
CONTACT: Khun Tharo
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