Last week, Global Labour Justice reported that abuse is a daily reality for women workers at Gap and H&M factories in Asia. According to unions and rights groups, women are both sexually and physically abused. More than 540 factory workers for the two retailers have registered complaints of threats and abuse between January and May this year in India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, and Bangladesh. The report claims that harassment and violence result directly from pressure for quick turnarounds, fast fashion deadlines, and low overheads. This week, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) is meeting to address workplace harassment.
According to Tola Moeun, NGO director of Central Cambodia, workers must meet unrealistic targets in H&M and Gap’s supply chains. “Most of these cases are not reported due to fear of retaliation in the workplace,” she said. Jennifer Rosenbaum, US director of Global Labour Justice, noted that these women work unpaid overtime. “Unions and many governments agree an ILO convention on gender-based violence is essential, although there is still opposition from some employers,” she added.
There are 235 Indian garment factories among H&M suppliers. Last month, one female tailor in Bangalore reported she was punched, grabbed by the hair, and called a whore. Another said she was badly beaten for not meeting production quotas. At an H&M supplier factory in Sri Lanka, a female worker noted that when girls are grabbed, they get angry, and the operators take revenge by giving them machines that don’t work, and then blame them for not meeting their targets.
H&M stated that abuse and harassment are not acceptable and against everything, the company stands for and want to rid the women of human rights abuses. According to H&M, “Gender-based violence makes women all around the world suffer daily and undermines their health, dignity and security.” The company promised to thoroughly read the Global Labour Justice report and follow up at their factories in each country.
Gap was also extremely concerned and vowed to conduct due diligence to address these issues, promising to focus on partners sharing their values and goals. Their Code of Vendor Conduct, which strongly promotes human rights, prohibits discrimination of any kind. H&M and Gap both agree that violence to women in the workplace is a significant issue and a subject that needs to be addressed for ILO action.