Author: Poonam Whabi

November 25th is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.

In honor of this day, Global Labor Justice created this video highlighting three women labor leaders on the frontlines of the global fight to end gender-based violence in the world of work. The video uplifts the narratives of women organizing within the global labor movement and explains what the recent historic adoption of the C190 ILO Convention means for women and their respective movements, the intersection of migration and the labor movement, along with their inspirational visions of change for the future of women in labor. The video is bi-lingual in English and Spanish with the respective subtitles.

September 24, 2019, New York

President of Garment and Allied Workers Union in North India

International Coordinator, Asia Floor Wage Alliance

At this moment in global history, we are witnessing a rise in authoritarianism, restrictions on civic freedoms and crackdowns on democracy in the biggest democracies in the world. As such, the independent trade union movement is needed more than ever to fight back against rising authoritarianism and fascism in the global landscape. The labor movement has always been at the forefront of liberation movements in South and Southeast Asia, by playing a strong role in the fight against colonialism and military dictatorships in India and Indonesia. We see the rise of anti-worker and anti-union labor reforms in India and throughout Asia — including Sri Lanka, Cambodia, and Indonesia — at the behest of Western led agencies, governments and multinational corporations housed in these countries.

In order to overturn the authoritarianism that is sneaking up on us, we need strategic unity between the independent trade union movement (that is organising among young workers and women workers) and the traditional mainstream labor movement. Asia Floor Wage Alliance is an Asian-led global alliance of trade unions and labor organizations fighting for living wages, freedom of association, and a violence free workplace for women workers in garment global supply chains. We emphasize Asian-led because we are building an alliance in the labor movement where the leadership comes from the production countries themselves and then allies with global North countries.

In June 2019, the International Labour Organisation — in its 100th year — voted overwhelmingly to adopt a new Convention and Recommendation to end violence and harassment in the world of work. Convention 190 (C190) explicitly addresses gender-based violence and harassment (GBVH) in the world of work. Through our twelve year history fighting for living wages and the freedom of association as Asia Floor Wage Alliance, we have found that gender-based violence in the workplace to be the most corrosive element that works against everything, and now implementing the ILO convention 190 in the workplace along with the prevention of gender based violence and harassment has become central to our strategy.

As the President of Garment and Allied Workers Union in North India and International Coordinator of AFWA, everyday we find women workers who are facing gender-based violence on the production line and in the factories. As a result, it becomes really difficult for women to attempt to unionize, which leads to a low unionization density throughout the garment industry. The elimination of gender-based violence is a necessary condition for accessing other labor rights, including the right to a living wage and the right to freedom of association.

Corporate social responsibility divisions of global garment brands have developed multiple training programs for the workplace. At the ground level, however, these trainings have failed to address the spectrum of GBVH that women garment workers face on production lines. We know from experience that training cannot accomplish the deep transformation in organizational culture that is required to end GBVH in garment factories. The purchasing practices of brands, who are the main drivers of garment global supply chains, are what cause gender-based violence. As such, any agreements that are made between workers and management, must address the deeper issues that women workers at the production line face so they can get to a place where they feel empowered to raise their voices, which cannot be simply done through the detection of labor and GBVH violations.

Our Safe Circle Approach, is a transformative approach to GBVH prevention that provides a step-by-step methodology. Focused on the front lines of GBVH, the Safe Circle approach provides guidance for implementing the crucial missing links in existing workplace programs to address GBVH: organizational transformation through the empowerment of women workers on production lines. Preventing GBVH is not only fundamental to the health, safety, and dignity of women workers, but it is also foundational to freedom of association and collective bargaining in industries dominated by women workers.

Through the Safe Circle Approach, AFWA approaches  gender-based violence as a preventative methodology for accessing other rights. This is the third necessary component in addition to corporate accountability through enforceable agreements with suppliers and brands focused on detection and remedy.   To eliminate gender based violence women workers at the production line and the mill supervisors and their male colleagues have to engage in an ongoing process of interaction in order to get to a place where women feel empowered to raise their voices. That cannot be simply done through detection of violation and addressing them.  Safe circles provides for continuous, regular interaction that builds women power to say “yes, I understand where I come from, why this is happening to me.” It is both personal transformation and institutional transformation.

Photo credit:

Women in Deogarh, Orissa,. Photo by Simon Williams / Ekta Parishad – Ekta Parishad. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

September 20th, 2019

Asia Floor Wage Alliance Women’s Leadership Committee

As women trade union leaders of the Asia Floor Wage Alliance, Women’s Leadership Committee (AFWA-WLC), we represent thousands of women garment workers in Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka. Our members produce clothes for H&M, Gap, Walmart and other well-known multinational brands that employ tens of thousands of women in the global south. The AFWA-WLC believes that the labor-power, especially in industries dominated by women workers, must be built through women’s trade union leadership. In a global industry like the garment sector, this power must be built across borders- through global organizing- to support bargaining between workers, their employers, and multinational brands.

In June 2019, the International Labour Organisation — in its 100th year — voted overwhelmingly to adopt a new Convention and Recommendation to end violence and harassment in the world of work. Convention 190 (C190) explicitly addresses gender-based violence and harassment (GBVH) in the world of work.  We applaud this effort and the women trade union leaders from around the world who organized to win this historic victory.

We know from experience, however, that international labor standards require implementation in order to eliminate GBVH.  For the garment sector, this requires brands and suppliers–in partnership with unions with strong women’s leadership—to catalyze transformational interventions in garment global supply chains.  On garment global supply chains, where production takes place exclusively in the Global South, successful interventions require investment in building the power of women trade union leaders from across the global south to engage with global brands and suppliers.

Corporate social responsibility divisions of global garment brands have developed multiple training programs for the workplace. At the ground level, however, these trainings have failed to address the spectrum of GBVH that women garment workers face on production lines. We know from experience that trainings cannot accomplish the deep transformation in organizational culture that is required to end GBVH in garment factories.

Preventing GBVH is not only fundamental to the health, safety, and dignity of women workers, it is also foundational to freedom of association and collective bargaining in industries dominated by women workers. Freedom of association and collective bargaining, in turn, are cornerstones to attaining living wages—a decade-long mandate of the AFWA.

The AFWA Safe Circle approach to eliminating GBVH on garment production lines has been informed by our collective experience in addressing violence and building women’s leadership on production lines in garment factories in Asia.

We Know GBVH on Garment Production Lines, and We Know the Way Forward to Transform our Factories and Our Countries

In 2018, we conducted and released evidence-based research on GBVH in garment global supply chains in Asia. Shining a global spotlight on the dark side of gender oppression and violence in the global fast fashion industry, we exposed a reality that workers, trade unions, and brands themselves already knew all too well.

Following from this deep analysis, we worked with Global Labor Justice to develop innovative solutions to end GBVH. Our 2019 report, “Gender Justice on Garment Global Supply Chains: An Agenda to Transform Fast-Fashion,” presents a clear road map for fast fashion brands on how to end gender-based violence and harassment (GBVH) on garment production lines.

The roadmap in our 2019 report uplifts the AFWA-WLC’s Safe Circle Approach, a transformative approach to GBVH prevention that provides a step-by-step methodology for corporate accountability. Focused on the front lines of GBVH, the Safe Circle approach provides guidance for implementing the crucial missing links in existing workplace programs to address GBVH: organizational transformation through the empowerment of women workers on production lines.

We Urge All Garment Brands Sourcing in Asia to Work with the AFWA-WLC to Implement the Safe Circles Approach

Global garment brands must take responsibility and action to eliminate GBVH in their supply chains by compelling organizational change in supplier factories. Action to end GBVH on production lines is fundamental to ensuring that women workers can exercise their voice and rights at work without fear of retaliation.

The undersigned (and growing) alliance of women trade union leaders of the AFWA-WLC call for change in the working lives of women workers. We, therefore, call upon multinational brands to make serious commitments to ending GBVH in the garment industry and to invest in women’s empowerment. We call for them, together with their suppliers, to work with women workers and trade union leaders to implement by taking the following steps:

  1. Publicly encourage ratification of ILO Convention 190 in countries where their supply chains operate.
  2. Consult with the Asia Floor Wage Alliance- Women’s Leadership Committee and Adopt the “Safe Circles Approach” in coordination with the Women’s Leadership Committee.
  3. Join a public sector-side corporate accountability mechanism to validate their commitment.


  • Sumiyati, SPN, Indonesia
  • Elly Rosita, Garteks, Indonesia
  • Lusiana, FSBI, Indonesia
  • Vindra Whindalis, SBSI92, Indonesia
  • Yang Sophorn, CATU, Cambodia
  • Heng Chenda, CCAWDU, Cambodia
  • Rukmini V.P., GLU, India
  • Pooja, KOOGU, India
  • Anannya Bhattacharjee, GAWU, India
  • Chamila Tushari, DCU, Sri Lanka
  • Lakmali Hemachandra, CMU
  • N.M. Riyana Ferios, NUSS
  • Lalitha Ranjanee Dedduwakumara, TGCWU, Sri Lanka

History Is Made —  ILO Adopts Convention To Stop GBV At Work!

Jennifer (JJ) Rosenbaum

*Any views expressed in this article are those of the author.

Last week, in a historic close to its Centenary Conference, the International Labor Organization in Geneva voted to adopt a global convention and recommendation on eliminating gender based violence at workGlobal Labor Justice (GLJ) and the Asia Floor Wage Alliance (AFWA) supported the inclusion of protections for global supply chains and the elevation of human rights principles.  GLJ also supported women trade union leaders to participate in these negotiations and plan together for the next phase of ratification and implementation.  

These international labor standards provide a framework; but they are only a first step.  Eliminating gender based violence in garment supply chains and across all sectors will require workplace programs involving brands, suppliers, and unions with strong women’s leadership.  

GLJ’s new report titled, “Gender Justice on Garment Global Supply Chains: An Agenda to Transform Fast-Fashion”, provides a clear road map for fast fashion brands on how to end gender based violence and harassment (GBVH) on garment production lines, along with a set of recommendations to the ILO.  

The report uplifts the AFWA’s Safe Circle Approach  a transformative approach to GBVH prevention that integrates key components of a corporate accountability approach.   AFWA’s safe circle approach was designed by the AFWA Women’s Leadership Committee in partnership with women workers on production lines and their trade unions, supplier factories and brands. It was created in response to GBVH in garment factories to develop and sustain a positive organizational culture on garment production lines. 

You can read the report here

Going forward GLJ will use the #GarmentMeToo campaign to support the call from the  

Asia Floor Wage Alliance’s Women’s Leadership Committee for a commitment from multinational brands employing tens of thousands of women in the global south to implement the Safe Circle strategies approach. 

This is a historic moment for gender justice and it is only the beginning.  Transforming workplaces and global supply chains to meet the challenges posed by global inequality and the gender gap requires a gender lens. More important, the leadership of women in trade unions and civil society organizations is a must to face these challenges along with rising fascism, xenophobic nationalism, and climate change.

We hope you will continue to stand with Global Labor Justice and its partners to defend freedom of association and elevate women’s leadership in organizing and bargaining.

Please help us mark this moment. Here you’ll find some sample social media posts that you can use to promote the release of today’s reports, and you can keep up with the latest from us by following us onFacebook andTwitter.  Follow additional updates from GLJ and our partners on our blog.

Onward towards eliminating gender based violence in garment production network and expansion of freedom of association and collective bargaining that enable women workers to be change agents in the global economy!

In solidarity,

Jennifer (JJ) Rosenbaum

U.S. Director, Global Labor Justice


Looking Forward with Global Labor Justice: 

Labor Migration 

In the coming months, GLJ will be releasing new research as part of its Labor Migration Program.  Perspectives on Migration Governance is a series of research papers aimed at informing critical debates on migration governance with a bold vision around a future of work in global labor markets that promotes gender equity, labor rights, and democracy for migrant workers.


Global Value Chains 

GLJ continues its program to hold international financial institutions accountable to decent work including global labor peace agreements at the finance level. More information on this work is available here


Global Supply Chains and Gender Justice 

Ending gender based violence and harassment (GBHV) is one key component of bringing a gender justice approach to global supply chains- specifically fast fashion. 

GLJ’s report —Gender Justice on Garment Global Supply Chains: An Agenda to Transform Fast-Fashion—is the first in a series that will provide a roadmap for international legal frameworks, criteria for corporate accountability initiatives, and a transformative new prevention approach from the Asia Floor Wage Alliance to end GBVH on garment production lines.

The Global Labor Justice series, Gender Justice on Garment Global Supply Chains: An Agenda to Transform Fast- Fashion, lays out six pillars of a gender justice approach:

  • Pillar 1, End Gender Based Violence and Harassment: Gender Justice on Garment Global Supply Chains, An Agenda to Transform Fast-Fashion
  • Pillar 2, Advance Economic Security: Protect Workers as Supply Chains Relocate
  • Pillar 3, Incorporate a Gender Lens into Living Wage Frameworks
  • Pillar 4, Uplift Women’s Leadership in Organizations and Advocacy
  • Pillar 5, Promote Decent Work and Fair Migration in the Garment Sector
  • Pillar 6, Shift Coercive Supply Chain Practices that Contribute to and Constitute Forced Labor

The series will analyze key barriers to gender justice and proposes a bold and transformative vision of work with dignity and economic security for women workers led by women worker leaders involved in national and regional worker organizations. Each Pillar sets out concrete solutions to advance gender justice on garment supply chains, including recommendations for new international labor standards and interpretations, and innovative roles for supplier unions, allied unions, women’s organizations, human rights organizations, and consumers in production and retail countries.

Through this series, women worker leaders on Asian garment supply chains draw from their deep experience to show us the way forward.


Why women workers in global garment supply chains are saying #MeToo

Bobbie Sta Maria & Jennifer (JJ) Rosenbaum

Original Post at Ethical Corporation
*Any views expressed in this article are those of the author.*

Bobbie Sta Maria of the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, and JJ Rosenbaum of Global Labor Justice say the drafting of a convention to end gender-based violence against women workers at the ILO’s meeting in Geneva this week is long over-due.

“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’,” said Radhika, a woman worker at an H&M supplier factory in Bangalore, India. “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.” Radhika filed a written complaint to human resources, but was forced to apologise to her supervisor and return to work.

Radhika is one of countless women who are speaking out about the abuses they have suffered at work, and demanding change, through the #GarmentMeToo campaign. They speak of physical violence and verbal abuse in factories – especially during high-stress production times – sexual abuse while commuting home from work, and sexual favours being demanded in exchange for lighter workloads.

These stories have been hidden from view, just like the women themselves, working away in remote supply chains for companies including Gap, Nike, Walmart, Target.

The International Trade Union Confederation estimates that the world’s 50 largest companies have 116 million “hidden” workers toiling in their supply chains

And the practice is certainly not restricted to the garment trade. The International Trade Union Confederation estimates that the world’s 50 largest companies have 116 million “hidden” workers toiling in their supply chains, with no direct employment relationship or employer responsibility.

Global brands are quick to use female empowerment when marketing their products. But when they exert relentless pressure to get more products for less money, it’s women workers who pay the price.

This week, these women are helping to forge an international convention on violence and harassment of women at work. At the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) centennial conference in Geneva, the final stages of a strong convention to end gender-based violence in the world of work is being drafted with the input of women workers, governments and employers. This would set an international standard for eradicating violence and harassment of women in the workplace, and point the way towards how to put this into practice.

Women workers on the agenda – The International Labour Conference 2019 in Geneva. (Credit: ILO)

This is a huge milestone built on the courage of women – factory workers, farmworkers, restaurant servers, teachers, domestic helpers – coming forward to tell their #MeToo stories and organising for lasting change.

It can’t come soon enough. A new report by Global Labor Justice (GLJ) and Asia Floor Wage Alliance (AFWA), “Gender Justice on Garment Global Supply Chains, An Agenda to Transform Fast-Fashion”, released as part of their #GarmentMeToo campaign, exposes how physical and verbal abuse, coercion, threats, and deprivations of liberty are tied to workers’ ability to reach production targets.

The physical violence reported by women workers include slapping, pushing, kicking, and throwing heavy bundles of papers and clothes. Workers reported that “discipline practices” tended to spike after low-tier managers meet with their bosses about hitting production targets.

Downward price pressures, unrealistic turnaround times and financial penalties leave workers vulnerable in the hands of factory supervisors

These match findings by Business & Human Rights Resource CentreHuman Rights Watch and others that show purchasing practices play a huge role in creating incentives for exploitation. Short-term purchasing relationships, downward price pressures, unrealistic turnaround times, and financial penalties leave workers vulnerable in the hands of factory supervisors pressed to deliver on impossible goals.

The GLJ report also highlighted how patterns of gender-based violence and harassment of garment workers reflect the local power dynamics between men and women. Reports of sexual harm most often featured employment relationships where women held subordinate roles to male supervisors, managers, or mechanics fixing machines.

The ILO’s convention and recommendation will provide an important framework for governments, employers and trade unions to prevent gender-based violence at work. GLJ and AFWA’s report presents The Safe Circle Approach, a transformative model of gender-based violence and harassment prevention, for garment supply chains to adopt in order to end this abuse, with roles for each stakeholder.

One of the cases highlighted by the Asia Floor Wage Alliance. (Credit: AFWA)

In addressing this entrenched subordination of women in the workplace, a recent United Nations report recommends gender-specific policies. These include reviewing whether standards or practices are discriminatory towards women and taking action to achieve substantive gender equality and end discrimination, harassment and violence.

The ILO’s draft convention process is the product of a surge of organising by women trade union leaders and their allies, elevating issues of workplace violence and building a consensus with government and employers to support a unified response to these urgent issues.

However, there is much work ahead to secure adoptions and ratifications, to make sure these standards are implemented properly, and reform entrenched practices that heighten the risk of abuse. The organising power and story-telling of women workers has propelled us to this pivotal moment in international standard-setting. However, solidarity and support from a broad coalition for the collective power of women to negotiate with brands and suppliers is critical for ending gender-based violence in supply chains, and empowering women to be change-makers in the global economy.

Bobbie Sta Maria is director for labour rights and Asia at Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, and JJ Rosenbaum is US Director at Global Labor Justice.

New Report Outlines Gender-Based Violence in Garment Supply Chain

Sam Nelson

Original Post at Jobs with Justice 

*Any views expressed in this article are those of the author.


The latest report from Global Labor Justice (GLJ) and the Asia Floor Wage Alliance (AFWA) details gender-based violence in the workplace that has become a front and center issue in recent years. While the issue itself receives more attention than it once did, we still lack the resources or guidelines with which to address gender-based violence. The new report from GLJ and AFWA aims to change that. The report’s release also coincides with the International Labor Conference’s (ILO) centennial anniversary, and in conjunction with a new ILO Convention, could provide a global standard for gender-based violence and how we can better address the issue.

As the #MeToo movement emerged and spread to strikes at major companies like Marriott and fast food chains around the world, the #GarmentMeToo movement was able to negotiate collectively with factory owners and directly with international clothing companies.

From their company-specific reports on GapH&M, and Walmart last year, we see each company taking a different approach to gender-based violence and how best to work with those impacted by it. In some cases, companies remain reluctant or unwilling to face gender-based violence head-on. Walmart has been non-responsive, H&M agreed to meet and even set a date and location, but then pulled out citing their work with IndustriALL (though nothing would prevent them from pursuing both strategies). Gap, on the other hand, has been in talks with AFWA’s Women Leadership Committee on worker-led and developed proactive measures to address gender-based violence in Gap’s supply chain.

From the interviews with workers, GLJ and AFWA have developed a set of criteria to judge the effectiveness of GBV prevention initiatives including:

    1. Comprehensive identification of the locally-specific spectrum of Gender-Based Violence and Harassment (GBVH)—including all forms of violence covered by international law—and developed through proactive engagement with women production-line workers who are targets of violence
    2. Opportunities for collaboration between women who are targets of violence, supervisors, and bystanders to address gendered relationships of power within factories and advance a shared goal of ending GBVH in the workplace
    3. Protections against workplace retaliation for reporting violence and other violations of rights and work
    4. Protection of freedom of association and collective bargaining to safeguard the rights of workers who participate in processes to transform their workplaces
    5. Avenues to address risk factors for GBVH related to brand purchasing practices, including production targets, accelerated work, failure to pay living wages, and lack of job security

By these standards, there is a clear gap between what existing brands are doing and what needs to happen in order to eliminate GBV. Not just that, but the report asserts that GBV is accepted by the industry, given the heavily gendered nature of the workforce, and the repression working women face.

Working people are involved and negotiate with employers on two core concepts, “safe circles” and “GBV-free zones,” helping to create a positive organizational culture on production lines that seeks to end gender-based violence. First developed in Japan, safe circles are made up of working people and management who meet to address specific issues in each factory and then develop a binding plan to implement them. Safe circles represent the entirety of a factory and provide flexibility by developing specific “GBV lists” for local contexts:

GBV Lists created at the production line and factory level will give a measurable index of behaviors to eliminate gender-based violence, and a mechanism of measuring progressive change. Local development of GBV Lists is vital to understand and make visible cultural differences that belie gender-based violence in certain countries and contexts. Although there are commonalities among garment producing countries throughout Asia, the Safe Circle Approach must also accommodate local differences in language, dress code, and behavioral norms.

The final crucial component are trainings, for both working people and management, many of which originate in “free trade zones” where the factories reside. The brands, suppliers, and AFWA’s Women’s Leadership Committee develop trainings for workers and management. Working people can tailor trainings to match the circumstances within their factories, and unlike the ones created by major retailers, the Women’s Leadership Committee-developed courses are transparent and include direct worker input and control.

GLJ and AFWA put forward a different approach to addressing gender-based violence by placing direct pressure on big brands to negotiate with working people. The Safe Circles Approach creates a new a new model for unions and people around the world to use, adapt, and ultimately put working women in control over how they’re treated in the workplace.  Gap, H&M, Walmart and other brands should use this approach to provide them with the tools and voice they deserve.

Global firms who want to be industry leaders by taking a stand against forced labour must do more than adopt principles- they must practice what they preach


Tom Hunt, Genevieve LeBaron, Jennifer (JJ) Rosenbaum | University of Sheffield

Original Post at Thomson Reuters Foundation News

*Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Tom Hunt is deputy director of the Sheffield Political Economy Research Institute (SPERI) at the University of Sheffield.

Genevieve LeBaron is professor of politics and co-director of the Sheffield Political Economy Research Institute (SPERI) at the University of Sheffield.

Jennifer (JJ) Rosenbaum is the U.S. director for Global Labor Justice. She is also a lecturer in law at the Harvard Law School and co-chair of the American Bar Association’s Immigration and Human Trafficking Committee. 

Let us introduce you to two workers. Their work is physically demanding and at times unsafe. The hours are irregular and their low pay isn’t enough to live on. Both workers have taken loans from their employer to get through tough periods. Interest rates and fees are high and repayments further shrink their pay. They are trapped in a vicious low-pay debt trap: not paid enough, indebted, and unable to leave. One is a tea worker on a plantation in India. The other works for Marriott International in the USA cleaning hotel rooms. Both workers deserve decent work and economic stability. Both cases require new forms of corporate accountability.

For the last few years, we’ve investigated debt bondage by studying the global tea and cocoa industries. Our survey work reveals patterns of forced labour at the base of supply chains of large multi-national corporations, including forms of debt bondage, an internationally recognised type of forced labour. We found highly exploited tea workers in India unable to exit plantations due to debts from usurious loans from employers. Over half of the tea workers we surveyed had borrowed money and over half had no savings. Deep poverty and racial inequality combined with low pay leaves labourers reliant on exploitative employers just to survive.

Hotel workers at Marriott International, the world’s largest and richest hotel chain, are now drawing attention to similar practices in the U.S. Under a slogan of ‘One job should be enough’ members of the UNITE HERE union have taken industrial action to demand a living wage and safe conditions. The strike has highlighted an additional factor that puts some of Marriott’s predominantly black and Latino workforce in an even worse situation: fees and interest payments from the Marriott Employees Federal Credit Union(MEFCU), an officially independent credit union but which is led by senior Marriott executives.

A class action lawsuit alleges that MEFCU, in violation of US lending law, doesn’t inform its members – who are employees at Marriott International and other companies- about the true cost of its ‘mini-loans’. The plaintiffs allege that when application fees are added to the interest rate, the mini-loans of up to $500 have an APR of 46%, way above the advertised 18%. In 2017 MEFCU charged ‘more in fees for every dollar loaned than any other credit union of its membership type’.

Court papers argue that “while the mini-loan may appear to be a free-standing financial product, it is part-and-parcel of the unequal bargaining relationship between the Marriott and its employees.” Here is the crux of it: instead of getting regular shifts and stable wages, Marriott workers are offered quick high-cost loans with repayments deducted from their pay.

These are red flags for forced labour.

This matters because our research reveals there is a porous boundary between someone being a victim of forced labour and a worker subjected to lesser and more routine forms of exploitation. An unexpected hospital bill or a drop in scheduled working hours could be the trigger that sees a desperate, impoverished worker borrow money and cross that boundary. US workers’ action, court cases, and media reports raise serious concerns that the business model at Marriott is configured around labour exploitation, which in severe cases, is likely to cross the line into forced labour.

Global firms like Marriott who want to be industry leaders by taking a stand against forced labour must do more than adopt principles- they must practice what they preach. The International Labour Organization has adopted global labour standards including on forced labour prevention and guidelines on promotion of decent work and sustainable tourism agreed to by governments, employers, and worker organizations from around the world. It is highly questionable whether Marriott’s actions are sufficient to prevent forced labour and promote decent work in the US and its global expansion.

In some U.S. hotels, Marriott continues to use temporary foreign worker programs where workers pay fees to obtain the jobs and have limited mobility.  Unions and NGOs have filed complaints that Marriott projects in India and Bangladesh breach labor standards leaving many workers subject to poverty wages, and fearing retaliation if they report violations or join a union. Marriott has refused to negotiate with the IUF union on a global framework agreement to protect workers from sexual harassment and gender-based violence. And in the UK in 2017 Marriott underpaid 279 minimum wage workers by £71,722.93.

Government, business, and activists fighting forced labour should take note of the issues Marriott workers are raising across the globe. Dynamics of exploitation typical of debt bondage and forced labour continue to exist. If Marriott really wants tackle forced labour at home and overseas there is lots it can do. Prioritizing paying living wages, preventing wage theft, gender based violence and unfair labour practices, and engaging trade unions as a core partner would be a real plan to prevent forced labour – wherever the workers are.

Aaron Halegua, Jennifer Rosenbaum and Mariam Bhacker

Original Post at Marianas Variety

*Any views expressed in this article are those of the author.


WE are individuals and groups concerned by the labor abuses that transpired at the Imperial Pacific construction site.

The confiscation of worker passports, failure to pay workers the minimum wage, high rates of injury and even deaths, and retaliation against complaining workers have all been well-documented. In order to prevent future exploitation, we support the proposal to establish an independent and transparent monitoring mechanism in which the voice of workers and their representatives plays a crucial role.

Imperial Pacific promises that the situation has been remedied because it terminated the previous contractors. In fact, a significant risk remains. As the Financial Times recently noted, the construction industry as a whole is a “particularly high-risk sector for worker exploitation.” Further, Imperial Pacific’s workforce now primarily consists of foreign H-2B workers. Not surprisingly, this program that allows companies to bring in cheaper, short-term workers is rife with abuse. From 2010 and 2014, the U.S. Department of Labor identified nearly 1,000 employers that violated H-2 laws. Moreover, statistics reveal that immigrant construction workers are more likely to get injured.

In other contexts where serious worker abuse was discovered, an independent monitoring mechanism was established to ensure compliance with labor and safety rules. An example of this is the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety, negotiated after the Rana Plaza factory collapsed killing over 1,100 workers, in which clothing retailers agreed to establish an independent monitoring regime overseen by a steering committee comprised of brands, global unions, and neutral experts. In Qatar, upon reports of  widespread abuse of foreign workers building sites for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, the local organizing committee established a monitoring framework to ensure contractors’ compliance with a set of worker protection standards. As part of the auditing regime, an independent monitor was hired to assess companies’ compliance with the standards and an agreement was concluded with the global union, Building and Wood Workers’ International, to jointly conduct health and safety inspections. In both examples, a central tenant of promoting transparency and accountability is that reports by the monitoring bodies are made public.

The logic underlying these programs is simple: we cannot rely on companies to police themselves and the actors at the top of the supply chain or construction project must use their leverage to ensure compliance by subcontractors. Further, government enforcement agencies have limited resources to detect violations, let alone prevent them.

If Imperial Pacific is serious about eradicating abuse from its projects, it too should conclude a binding agreement requiring that its contractors adhere to specific local, national and international standards on labor, safety, and human rights. An independent party should conduct regular audits and publish the results. Any violations should trigger defined, mandatory penalties. Worker organizations should also be permitted to educate employees in their native language about worker rights, grievance mechanisms, and protections from retaliation. The specifics should be negotiated with organizations that genuinely represent worker interests, who then play an ongoing role in ensuring its rigorous implementation and impact on workplace standards.

These proposals are not radical steps. They are recognized “best practices” emerging in the construction sector and established in other industries. Imperial Pacific should embrace this opportunity to join firms that are leading their industries in ensuring workers’ rights and safety.

But Imperial Pacific must not be allowed to simply monitor itself — the Commonwealth’s recent experience in construction and long experience with the garment sector show this to be true. The CNMI government is aware of the need for meaningful oversight and should take this opportunity to turn the industry around. Government authorities told the U.S. Congress, international media, and other stakeholders that CNMI is committed to protecting workers. It is time to make good on these statements by requiring Imperial Pacific to establish a negotiated, transparent and independent monitoring program as a condition for continuing operations in the CNMI.

Aaron Halegua is research fellow of the New York University School of Law. This opinion is submitted in his personal capacity and not as a representative of New York University.

Jennifer Rosenbaum is with Global Labor Justice while Mariam Bhacker is with Business & Human Rights Resource Centre.

Sarah David Heydemann

Original Post at the National Women’s Law Center

*Any views expressed in this article are those of the author.


Responding to employee pressure in the #metoo era, companies across nearly every industry are looking into measures to better prevent and respond to workplace discrimination and harassment. From mandating anti-bias training to banning pre-employment non-disclosure provisions, to instituting more robust reporting systems – workplaces across the United States are slowly implementing internal reforms to better protect their workers. While compliance with the law is essential, many anti-discrimination laws have significant gaps in protections, and so companies’ policies and practices that go beyond the minimum protections provided for under the law are critical. 

But these policies and legal protections shouldn’t be limited to workers within company headquarters. Indeed, they should ripple out to warehouses, factory floors, and even beyond U.S. borders throughout company supply chains. The #metoo movement is global, and the response should be global as well.

This is the message being amplified by workers and unions from around the globe who recently met in Geneva at the International Labor Organization (ILO) to begin a two-year, tripartite negotiation process between unions, employers and governments to develop an international standard focused on gender-based violence in the world of work. After the negotiations, participants will vote –a two-third majority of votes is required – to adopt a standard. Standards can take two forms; conventions and recommendations. Conventions are legally binding and may be ratified by each ILO member state. Once ratified, conventions come into force like laws in the countries where they have been ratified. Recommendations are non-binding guidelines. While they have less power than conventions, they are nonetheless important for setting strong global standards. If adopted, this will be the first ILO standard to address both gender based violence and workplace rights, and is especially important to advancing a global movement against gender-based violence at work in countries that lack their own legal protections. A recent ILO study on violence and harassment at work revealed that 20 of 80 countries surveyedhad no laws to protect workers from retaliation if they reported sexual harassment, and 19 did not even have a legal definition of sexual harassment at work.

In the midst of the ILO negotiation, Global Labor Justice, along with many partners, released three new reports on gender-based violence along the H&M, Gap and Walmart supply chains. These reports are the result of years of work and hundreds of conversations with the workers – a disproportionate number of whom are women – who work in garment supply chains. They detail stories of harassment, abuse, and physical violence among women working in those supply chains. These stories are similar to the ones we have heard from women like Gina Pitre, who was sexually harassed at a Walmart in Mississippi and found an attorney through our Legal Network for Gender Equity. For workers here and abroad, women experience a lack of power and control at work that leaves them acutely vulnerable to abuse. Then when abuse occurs, they often have nowhere to turn.

After the release of the reports, Gap and H&M quickly announced that they would investigate the abuses detailed in Global Labor Justices report, and have since become the first brands in the garment sector – or any other sector where women dominate the supply chain– to publicly support the adoption of an ILO Convention on gender based violence.

Unlike H&M and Gap, Walmart has remained silent. Walmart is the world’s largest private employer, and as such, has immense power to influence the business community and the lives of millions of workers when it comes to the policies that they adopt to prevent and address gender based violence in the workplace – both here and abroad. Gender based violence can take many forms. One of the most common is harassment and violence against female employees because they are pregnant. In the United States, when a woman is discriminated against because she is pregnant at work, it is a form of sex discrimination. Listening to the stories of pregnancy discrimination from people who work for Walmart from around the world highlights the need for a global response to the global problem of gender based violence.

At the National Women’s Law Center, we are representing a class of women, along with co-counsel A Better Balance and Mehri & Skalet, who are fighting back against Walmart as a result of the pregnancy discrimination they faced as Walmart employees. The story of one of these women was recently featured in the New York Times.Compare Otisha Woolbright’s story:

“In Jacksonville, Florida, Otisha Woolbright… work[ed] in the deli and bakery at Walmart. After she experienced pain and bleeding early in her pregnancy, her doctor advised her to avoid heavy lifting, but her supervisor told her that if she couldn’t do heavy lifting she could “walk out those doors” and that pregnancy was “no excuse.”  Shortly thereafter, she injured herself doing the exact sort of heavy lifting she had sought to avoid; only then, after she had been hurt because of Walmart’s failure to accommodate her restrictions, did Walmart provide her with job duties that did not include lifting, because she then had an on-the-job injury.  A few months later, immediately after she asked about Walmart’s policies around taking time off for childbirth, Otisha was fired.”

With that of women in Cambodia:

“As early as 2012, workers organizations in Cambodia began reporting that pregnant women were regularly threatened with dismissal from garment manufacturing jobs. This led many women to terminate pregnancies in order to keep their jobs. Women also force themselves to work until the very last day before the delivery, putting their own lives at risk. Most women. . . do not get their contracts renewed after they go on maternity leave.”

It is striking that pregnant women thousands of miles apart are facing similar forms of discriminatory treatment while working for Walmart.

Walmart has now begun responding to the pressure of our lawsuit by quietly changing its pregnancy accommodations policy – but the fight is far from over. Just as Walmart has begun to respond to employee advocacy and legal pressure for workers in the United States – so too should they be responsive to workers along their supply chains. All companies have a responsibility to each of the women they employ to make their workplaces respectful, dignified, and free from violence and discrimination.

As evidenced by both our work and these new reports, an ILO convention is needed to bring to light gender based violence against women that spans borders, and to give advocates and workers the framework and the tools needed to confront violence against women at work as a global phenomenon.

Jennifer Rosenbaum & Shikha Silliman BhattacharjeeopenDemocracy

Original Post at Truth Out

*Any views expressed in this article are those of the authors.

In the last week of May and first week of June 2018, trade unions, governments, and employers convened at the International Labor Organization’s 107th Session of the International Labour Conference in Geneva to negotiate an international standard on gender-based violence. The ILO Tripartite Committee ultimately decided to move forward towards trying to adopt a convention and recommendation at the close of negotiations in 2019. However, the position of employers at the negotiating table remained ambivalent and the voice of multinational brands was missing.

Despite research by the ILO and others showing patterns of gender-based violence across global value chains and sectors including garmenthospitalitydomestic work, and others, only a handful of corporate voiceshave spoken out in support of a convention – most recently from Gap and H&M. Indeed, the move toward a convention was adopted over the objection of employers.

Newly released research by the Asia Floor Wage AllianceGlobal Labor Justice, and partners shows the importance of brands and employers joining with unions and governments to support a strong convention. Research findings call for brands to recognize violence and harassment and take steps to end these violations through an approach that brings worker organizations to the table.

The Spectrum of Gender-Based Violence at Work

In her piece, “From #metoo to a global convention on sexual harassment at work”, Cathy Feingold, the global director for the AFL-CIO, laid out the important initiative trade unions have taken to bring gender-based violence to the top of the ILO’s agenda. Additionally, their work has negotiated a strong convention that provides a framework for trade unions, employers, and governments to each play a role in eliminating gender-based violence in the workplace, broadly defined, and to strengthen freedom of association and worker organizations in critical ways.

On 25 May 2018, our global coalition of trade unions, worker rights and human rights organizations, released new, factory level research detailing gender-based violence in GapH&M, and Walmart’s Asian garment supply chains. This report provides an empirical account of the spectrum of gender-based violence and risk factors for violence that women workers face in garment supply chains. This includes findings from a new investigation of gender-based violence in GapH&M, andWalmart’s garment supply chains, conducted between January 2018 and May 2018 in Dhaka, Bangladesh; Phnom Penh, Cambodia; West Java and North Jakarta, Indonesia; Bangalore, Gurgaon, and Tiruppur, India; and in Gapaha District and Vavuniya District, Sri Lanka.

The data was collected through focus group discussions with 150 women workers from 37 different factories supplying garments to Gap, H&M, and Walmart, and found that women workers are routinely subjected to a broad spectrum of violence. Our research found that women garment workers may be targets of violence on the basis of their gender, or because they are perceived as less likely or able to resist.

In particular, one respondent’s experiences offer specific insights into the risk factors that leave women workers in garment supply chains exposed to violence. Radhika, a woman worker employed in an H&M supplier factory in Bangalore, Karnataka, India reported physical abuse associated with pressure to meet production targets. 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.

Radhika filed a written complaint with the human resources department at the factory. She described the meeting between herself, the supervisor, and human resources personnel:

They called the supervisor to the office and said, “last month you did the same thing to another lady – haven’t you learned?” Then they told him to apologize to me. After that, they warned me not to mention this further. The supervisor and I left the meeting. I went back to work.

Radhika reported that the harassment from her manager did not stop, but that she continued to work at the factory because she needs the job: “My husband passed away and I have a physically challenged daughter who cannot work. That is why I need the job. I suffer a lot to earn my livelihood.”

In the H&M supplier factory where Radhika worked, women are concentrated in operator roles, as line tailors and helpers in the production department – a microcosm of gendered hiring practices in garment global production networks. Across Asia, women garment workers make up the vast majority of garment workers. In Bangladesh, Cambodia, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka, women workers represent between 80-95% of the garment workforce. In India, women account for between 60-75% of the garment workforce. Women rarely, however, hold management and supervisory positions.

The experiences of gender-based violence in garment supplier factories documented in these reports are not isolated incidents. Rather, they reflect a convergence of risk factors for gender–based violence in Asian garment supply chains that leave women garment workers systematically exposed to violence.

Our research found that risk factors for violence in garment supply chains are a by-product of how brands like Gap, H&M, and Walmart do business. The structure of production in global production networks (GPNs), involving several companies across multiple countries, allows brands and retailers to dictate sourcing and production patterns while deflecting accountability for how purchasing practices drive violence, harassment, and severe violations of rights at work.

Concentration of Women Workers in Subordinate Roles

Women are disproportionately impacted by patterns of violence in garment supply chains because they make up the vast majority of garment workers in Bangladesh (80%), Cambodia (90-95%), India (60-75%), Indonesia (80%), and Sri Lanka (85%).

Despite their numerical majority within the garment sector, women workers remain within low skill level employment and rarely reach leadership positions in their factories and unions. Detailed factory profiles reveal that at the factory level, women workers are concentrated in the production department, in subordinate roles as machine operators, checkers, and helpers in production departments.

Researchers also completed in-depth factory profiles of 13 garment supplier factories, including five factories from Bangladesh, five factories from Cambodia, and three factories from India. These factory profiles provide a demographic snapshot of the garment supply chain workforce that demonstrates the concentration of women workers in temporary, low-wage production jobs within the garment supply chain. Factory profiles also sought to understand working conditions, presence of trade unions and dispute resolution mechanisms.

Risk Factors for Gender-Based Violence in Supply Chains

The experiences of gender-based violence documented in our new reports on gender-based violence in GapH&M, and Walmart garment supply chains are not isolated incidents. Rather, they reflect a convergence of risk factors for gender-based violence in supplier factories that leave women garment workers systematically exposed to violence.

Our research sought to document working conditions that place women garment workers at routine risk of gender-based violence. For instance, researchers documented extreme pressure to complete production targets where women face routine physical violence including slapping and throwing large bundles of clothes and smaller sharp projectiles, such as scissors; and verbal abuse. Researchers also documented barriers to reporting workplace violence, including high levels of job insecurity and threats of firing among temporary workers. Finally, by completing detailed ‘day in the life’ accounts, researchers documented deprivations of liberty including being forced to work through legally mandated breaks, forced overtime, and relocation of workers between factories and buildings without prior consent.

Risk factors in garment supply chains are a by-product of how multinational corporations do business. These risk factors stem from the structure of garment supply chains, including:

  • asymmetrical relationships of power between brands and suppliers in garment supply chains;
  • brand purchasing practices driven by fast fashion trends and pressure to reduce costs; and
  • proliferation of contract labor and subcontracting practices among supplier firms.

These routine industry practices have a profound impact on Bangladeshi, Cambodian, Indian, Indonesian and Sri Lankan women workers. By analyzing cases of violence reported by women garment workers, we identified a series of risk factors for violence and barriers to accountability.

Risk Factors for Violence:

  1. Short term contracts
  2. Production targets
  3. Failure to pay a living wage
  4. Excessive hours of work
  5. Unsafe workplaces

Barriers to Accountability:

  1. Unauthorized subcontracting
  2. Denial of freedom of association
  3. Lack of independent monitoring

Drawing upon our 2016 research on violations of fundamental rights at work – including structured interviews with 745 workers employed in 105 factories in Bangladesh, Cambodia, and India – our reports demonstrate that these risk factors and barriers to accountability are widespread in the Gap, H&M, and Walmart garment supply chains.

Multinational Brands Must Speak Out

The International Labour Organization’s (ILO) Standard Setting Committee is now halfway through its important work. In June 2019, negotiations will begin again coinciding with the hundredth anniversary of the ILO with the goal of finalizing a convention and recommendation.

Action from US-based multinational brands is important. Walmart and other brands should join H&M and Gap in publicly supporting and committing to proactively implement an ILO convention and recommendation on gender-based violence that includes the recommendations from the Asia Floor Wage Alliance and partners.

H&M, Gap, and Walmart should also meet with the Asia Floor Wage Women’s Leadership Committee in the next three months to discuss the supply chain findings and next steps, including proactively working with the Asia Floor Wage Alliance to pilot women’s committees in factories that aim to eliminate gender-based violence and discrimination from supplier factories.

So far there has been no direct response. Gap and H&M have said they will engage in internal audits with their suppliers. Disappointingly they have not reached out to the trade unions. It is not enough to have so-called corporate social responsibility policies, which new research further shows are insufficient to alone deliver decent working conditions to women workers.

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. Multinational corporations are expanding global supply chain models in many sectors. But it’s not only the corporations that are going global. Intersectional movements of workers, women, migrants and others are building cross-border networks and demanding change to a system that relies on poverty wages and gender-based violence to deliver fast fashion to the US and Europe at the expense of the well-being of women garment workers and their families.