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Beginning on April 28th, workers and young people throughout Colombia have taken to the streets in strikes and mobilizations. Their demand is simple and just: the poor and working classes cannot afford to pay even more of the costs of this economic crisis. A popular sign in the protest reads, “If people protest during a pandemic, it’s because they have more to fear from their government than from the virus.” As has been too often the story in Colombia, these protests were met with brutal repression, murder, disappearances, and sexual violence.

GLJ-ILRF stands with the global labor movement in repudiating the Colombian government’s response to protests and the country’s ongoing violence against union leaders and social activists. We add our voice to the call led by our partners at UNI Americas: The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights must intervene immediately to protect the lives and rights of the Colombian people.

On April 21st, over a 1000 people from 33 countries gathered in solidarity with the family of Jeyasre Kathiravel and her union, the Tamil Nadu Textile and Common Labour Union (TTCU). Earlier in the day, Indonesian unions and womens’ rights organizations held an in-person vigil in solidarity as well. Jeyasre, a 21-year-old Dalit woman, student and union member was murdered in January 2021 by her supervisor at the garment factory Natchi Apparels, in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Before her death, Jeyasre had faced months of sexual harassment and intimidation on the factory floor at Natchi from her supervisor. Natchi Apparels is owned and operated by Eastman Exports, one of India’s largest garment manufacturers. 

Since Jeyasre’s death, over 25 of her co-workers have come forward publicly to the Guardian (UK) to attest to a culture of gender-based violence and harassment (GBVH) at Natchi. At the vigil, several TTCU members sang two mourning songs in Jeyasre’s honor. “We miss you, our friend and our comrade,” they sang in Tamil. “We can’t accept your loss. Everywhere we look, we see your face … What happened to you must not happen to any woman. They say women are goddesses, but the evil that fell on you, you could not fight it off. How much we continue to live, missing your beautiful smile.” 

Jeyasre’s mother remembered her daughter, who was the first in her family to go to college and who worked nights at Natchi Apparels to pay for her education. “As a mother, I don’t want this to happen to any daughter, any worker,” she said. “I lost a beautiful daughter I can no longer get back. I consider all the workers present in the textile sector [to be] my daughter, so the incident that happened to my daughter should never ever happen to any young workers.” 

Thivya Rakini, the state president of TTCU, presented a transformative vision to end GBVH at Natchi Apparels in Jeyasre’s honor. “We strongly believe that ending GBVH requires structural changes in garment supply chains that bring unions, suppliers and brands together,” she said. “This is why we are demanding an enforceable binding agreement to end GBVH, so that all parties including brands and suppliers are bound to work sincerely, with concrete goals, for better working conditions for women in the factory.” 

Natchi Apparels supplies to H&M, though Eastman Exports is a major supplier to several major fashion multinationals. Global labor, women, and Dalit rights leaders extended solidarity to TTCU, Natchi Apparel workers, and Jeyasre’s family, pledging support in their fight for justice and affirming the credibility and importance of women workers who speak out against gender-based violence and harassment. 

Mariam Dhawale, General Secretary of the All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA), highlighted the need for freedom of association at Natchi Apparels. Noting that almost all workers at Natchi Apparels and other factories owned by Eastman Exports are women, she asked, “Why is it that 90% of the supervisors are men? Does Eastman Exports have an answer to that?” 

Christian Nunes, President of the National Organization of Women in the United States, said, “We must reinvent workplace cultures that treat women as subservient and powerless … Jeyasre Kathiravel was part of this struggle to end gender-based violence and harassment in her workplace … we must continue to say her name.” 

Beena Pallical, of the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights in India, said, “We have lost Jeyasre — we can’t get Jeyasre back … at the end of the day we’ve lost a precious life. But we are with you, and we stand with you very strongly and we hope that all our demands are fulfilled, not just for Jeyasre’s case but other cases in these industries. … international brands, when they come here, they do not look at the local context … many jobs [in these industries] are offered to Dalits, especially Dalit women. Dalit women’s bodies are used [in these industries] as if they have no rights.” 

From Indonesia, Elly Rosita Silaban, the President of the Confederation of All-Indonesian Trade Unions (KSBSI) and a member of Asia Floor Wage Alliance’s Womens’ Leadership Committee of women trade-union leaders in the garment industry, affirmed the need for enforceable agreements to end GBVH in garment production. She explained, “this violence is part of production processes in the factory and closely linked to the practices of brands, where male supervisors and managers have impunity to abuse women workers in order to exploit womens’ labor for greater margins and profits.”

Alvina Yeh, the Executive Director of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, AFL-CIO (APALA), said, “I want Jeyasre’s family and fellow union members to know that we are grieving with you. … Jeyasre represented all that was bold and brave in the face of sexual harassment and economic inequity. What we learn from Jeyasre and her coworkers is that supplier-led training programs and grievance mechanisms are not enough. We need deep shifts in how much power we allow bosses and managers to have over employees and their bodies.” 

In conjunction with the vigil, the International Dalit Solidarity Network (IDSN) and Asia Floor Wage Alliance have released a statement echoing the existing call from the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights for an enforceable binding brand agreement to end systemic GBVH as a step to address the ways in which GBVH leverages caste discrimination.  

During the vigil, Thivya, TTCU’s president, made it clear that TTCU, which is Dalit- and women-led, stood strong to demand an end to GBVH in the Tamil Nadu garment industry. She highlighted that since Jeyasre’s death,  even more women garment workers have joined the union, prepared to act against GBVH and demand violence-free workplaces. “In this struggle [against] GBVH, women workers should not be considered secondary actors or passive subjects, but as the primary actors who drive change in the industry.” 

Libakiso Matlho, of the Women and Law in Southern African Research and Education Trust-Lesotho, spoke on behalf of union and women’s rights organizations in Lesotho who signed the first enforceable binding agreement to combat gender-based violence in garment manufacturing. She pledged solidarity to TTCU and to women workers at Natchi Apparels in their fight for an enforceable binding agreement on GBVH. 

“All we are saying is that everyone has a right to live — has a right to live in a world where she is dignified. To live and work with freedom. … we shall not rest until garment workers’ rights are promoted and protected. … Because Jeyasre’s life matters.”

Jeyasre’s family expressed profound gratitude for the solidarity from individuals, unions and womens’ and Dalit rights organizations from around the world, both now and moving forward. Looking ahead, Thivya made TTCU’s demand clear: “The struggle for accountability from brands and suppliers to ensure decent working conditions for women workers in the factory is the way in which we should continuously honor Jeyasre’s life as well as other survivors of GBVH.” 

International Finance Corporation’s pre-approval process must address failures in health and safety, freedom of association in assessing proposed USD $50 million loan to Brandix, where Sri Lanka’s largest COVID-19 superspreader event originated

COLOMBO, SRI LANKA (March 25, 2021) — Six Sri Lankan unions and workers’ organizations are challenging the International Finance Corporation (IFC)’s existing due diligence and labor rights components of their economic and social action plan for a USD $50 million loan to Brandix Lanka LTD, which is proposed for approval this month. 

The IFC’s mandatory public disclosures published last month fail to address that Brandix Lanka LTD owns and operates a factory where a sweeping industrial COVID-19 outbreak occurred in October 2020. The COVID-19 outbreak at Brandix’s factory in Minuwangoda was detected on October 2. Within a week, 1000 out of 1400 factory workers tested positive for the virus. The Brandix COVID outbreak was a superspreader event that sparked the country’s first major COVID wave since the initial onset of the pandemic in March 2020. From October to February, daily case counts in Sri Lanka exploded from 6 to 806 people infected per day at the peak.

The outbreak is still under investigation by Sri Lankan government authorities. Unions and workers’ organizations submitted worker accounts to the IFC reporting that in the weeks before the outbreak, Brandix failed to follow Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Health’s COVID guidelines and that management denied leave to workers who reported COVID symptoms.

The IFC announced the proposed loan to Brandix Lanka LTD on February 18, 2021 to support working capital and capital expenditure for Brandix’s existing Sri lanka operations, including production for major global brands such as Uniqlo, Calvin Klein, Marks & Spencer, Victoria’s Secret and PVH. Brandix Lanka LTD operates 21 factories in Sri Lanka, together employing over 33,000 workers. 

In the past ten years, the IFC has made approximately USD $202 million in direct investments to garment manufacturers worldwide, including a $28 million investment in Sri Lankan garment manufacturer MAS Holdings in 2013. In addition to considering a USD $50 million investment in Brandix Lanka LTD, the IFC is concurrently considering another USD $50 million dollar loan to MAS Holdings, bringing the total proposed loans to the sector in Q12021 to USD $100 million.

Ashila Dandeniya, former garment worker and head of Stand Up Union Lanka, whose membership includes women Brandix workers, said: “As a top-level organization in Sri Lanka, Brandix must set an example on labour rights — especially for women workers at its factory. Dialogue and collaboration are critical to overcome supply chain pressures which contributed to the outbreak.”

Chamila Thushari, Programme Coordinator at Dabindu Collective — a workers’ organization founded in 1984, stated: “The outbreak exposes major freedom of association gaps for women workers who are the majority in Sri Lanka’s apparel sector. Women report being threatened with termination if they speak up and demand their rights. We look forward to dialogue with the IFC and Brandix on how to ensure freedom of association under this loan which is also fundamental to healthy and safe workplaces.”

“It is well documented that some employers are using COVID- 19 as an excuse to bust unions across manufacturing, healthcare, logistics, and other sectors globally, and in Sri Lanka,” said Sahiba Gill, Fast Fashion Coordinator for Global Labor Justice – International Labor Rights Forum. “In light of this, the World Bank Group must be extremely vigilant to conduct serious due diligence and include specific actions to ensure International Labor Standards, including Freedom of Association, are respected where it is a financier.” 

The Commerce and Industrial Workers Union (CIWU), a large industrial union that represents workers in Sri Lanka’s garment sector, made the following statement: “It was because workers do not have union rights that factories are asking workers to produce on maximum targets with a minimum work force, ignoring workers’ health during a pandemic. Yet the Sri Lankan government has failed to take any action against Brandix management, while many wrongly blame garment workers for spreading COVID instead.”

The six Sri Lankan unions and workers’ organizations that filed the complaint are Stand Up Workers’ Union, Dabindu Collective, Revolutionary Existence for Human Development (RED), Ceylon Mercantile Industrial & General Workers’ Union (CMU), Commercial and Industrial Workers’ Union (CIWU), and National Union of Seafarers – Sri Lanka (NUSS). Together, they represent over 26,000 workers in Sri Lanka’s industrial sector, including garment manufacturing. Along with Stand Up Workers’ Union, Dabindu Collective and RED — which focus on representing women workers including garment workers — represent women workers at Brandix, where 9 in 10 workers are women. 

Sri Lankan unions and workers’ organizations, whose memberships include Brandix workers, urge the IFC to delay its vote on the Brandix loan pending substantive consultation with key labor stakeholders and revision of the Environmental & Social Action Plan for the loan to include ensure workplace health and safety and freedom of association in compliance with the IFC’s Performance Standard 2

Background

For more information about GLJ-ILRF’s work to hold the International Finance Corporation accountable for international labor standards, see here. The World Bank Group’s mandate of poverty alleviation makes it a critical stakeholder in the response to COVID-19 worldwide, together with the ILO and trade unions at the local, national, and global level and the IFC’s investments in private sector financing. 

For a brief regarding this case in more detail, please see here.

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Global Labor Justice – International Labor Rights Forum (GLJ – ILRF) is a newly merged organization bringing strategic capacity to cross-sectoral work on global value chains and labor migration corridors. GLJ-ILRF holds global corporations accountable for labor rights violations in their supply chains, advances policies and laws that protect decent work and just migration, and strengthens freedom of association, new forms of bargaining, and worker organizations.

Global Labor Justice-International Labor Rights Forum (GLJ-ILRF) stands in solidarity with union activists in Uzbekistan organizing the country’s first independent, democratically elected union and joins the Cotton Campaign’s calls on the Uzbek government to end the intimidation of union activists from local officials. Workers from the Indorama cotton plantations founded “Odalat Sari Olg’a” (Onward to Justice) in response to low wages and deteriorating working conditions in the transnational company, Indorama.

“The ability of this women-led union to survive and grow is a test for the Biden Administration’s willingness to make good on its commitment to prioritize labor rights and specifically freedom of association in its foreign policy,” said GLJ- ILRF’s Forced Labor Director Allison Gill. “The U.S. government, as well as the European Union, UK and other regional allies, must be proactive and swift to ensure noninterference as workers in Uzbekistan freely exercise their right to organize and to make this a priority for EU, UK, and other U.S. allies.”

Leaders of Odalat Sari Olg’a (Onward to Justice), the first independent labor union in Uzbekistan, reported receiving calls from officials at the local administration who did not identify themselves warning them that their involvement in union activities would cause them problems. Two leaders said that the Akaltyn district hokim [mayor] called them to warn them. Others said they received calls from local police officers demanding that they stop their organizing activities and leave the union.

“Workers have an internationally recognized right to form a union without intimidation or coercion from the government or from employers,” said Rudy Porter, Europe and Central Asia Director at the Solidarity Center. “The government of Uzbekistan and Indorama Agro should recognize Odalat Sari Olg’a and refrain from any interference.”

On March 19, 280 employees of Indorama Agro, a cotton textile cluster operating in Syrdarya region, held a founding meeting to establish the union and elect its leadership. Members elected Roza Agaydarova leader of the union and elected 11 deputies, each representing a subdistrict. Workers had long attempted to raise concerns about low wages, poor working conditions, and lack of social benefits, bringing complaints to the company, local authorities, and the media. Instead of meeting with them to discuss and resolve the complaints, some employees faced threats of dismissal and other consequences for making their complaints public. At the meeting, workers, many of them former farmers who had operated independent farms before the land was leased to Indorama Agro, spoke out about the challenges they face at Indorama. One farmworker said he had worked for two years without vacation or holiday leave. Others said they could not support their families on the low wages.

Odalat Sari Olg’a also encountered obstacles to holding their meeting. Workers had rented a meeting room to hold their election but when they arrived, the building administrator refused them entry, telling them the room was unavailable due to “urgent repairs.” Workers eventually found a meeting space at a local tea house, but the electricity was cut off soon after they began. They continued their meeting outside with workers holding up their cellphone flashlights to provide light.

“Uzbekistan has shown the political will to combat forced labor and open its economy but has fallen short on allowing independent civil society organizations to operate,” said Umida Niyazova, Executive Director of Uzbek Forum for Human Rights. “The way it treats the first independent trade union is a test of the seriousness of its reforms and the world is watching. The government should allow Odalat Sari Olg’a to register without delay.”

On March 23, Agaydarova said that she received a call from a regional representative of the Federation of Trade Unions of Uzbekistan, the national union federation, which is not considered independent from the government, and was told that according to the laws of Uzbekistan, they had to join the Federation, otherwise their union is invalid. Agaydarova affirmed Odalat Sari Olg’a’s decision to remain independent. Uzbekistan’s newly adopted law on trade unions guarantees workers the right to join an organization of their own choosing and not to be compelled to join any organization. Under International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention 87, Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize, the decision about whether a union affiliates with a federation is the union’s own. Under Uzbekistan’s laws, a union must register as a public membership organization under the country’s burdensome rules for nongovernmental organizations. However, under Convention 87, which Uzbekistan has ratified, registration as a legal entity is not required and may not be used as a barrier for a union to organize or for an employer to recognize it.

Odalat Sari Olg’a is the first democratically elected union in Uzbekistan, marking a significant turning point in the fight to protect labor rights and eradicate forced labor in the country. “Protecting freedom of association and the right of workers to represent themselves will not only help eradicate forced labor in Uzbekistan but also prevent it from happening in the future,” said Allison Gill, Forced Labor Program Director at Global Labor Justice-International Labor Rights Forum, which hosts the Cotton Campaign. “Indorama Agro has an obligation to respect freedom of association and should recognize Odalat Sari Olg’a.”As Uzbekistan has worked to overcome a legacy of mass state-imposed forced labor with an ambitious reform agenda, it has also looked to open its cotton market to brands and investors. Together with brands and other local and international stakeholders, the

Cotton Campaign is developing a robust framework to monitor and remediate forced labor, empower workers and farmers, and encourage sourcing from Uzbekistan. At the core of this approach will be enforceable commitments to strong labor rights protections, including unhindered monitoring and grievance remediation, consistent with international standards and best practices.

“The establishment of an independent union is an important milestone in Uzbekistan and one that will help build the confidence of brands and retailers by showing tangible evidence of the necessary enabling environment for responsible sourcing,” said Nate Herman, Vice President for Policy at the American Apparel & Footwear Association. “Independent unions are a vital part of eliminating forced labor and establishing ethical supply chains,” said Julia Hughes, President of the US Fashion Industry Association.

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Global Labor Justice – International Labor Rights Forum (GLJ – ILRF) is a newly merged organization bringing strategic capacity to cross-sectoral work on global value chains and labor migration corridors. GLJ-ILRF holds global corporations accountable for labor rights violations in their supply chains, advances policies and laws that protect decent work and just migration, and strengthens freedom of association, new forms of bargaining, and worker organizations.

Rule of law must protect workers at the Marriott Sheraton Grand Conakry on the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and Dutch Development (FMO) Bank Investment Project. 

Today, Global Labor Justice-International Labor Rights Forum (GLJ-ILRF) participated in a press conference hosted by the The International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Associations (IUF) and its affiliate the Fédération de l’Hôtellerie du Tourisme Restauration Catering et Branches Connexes de l’Organisation Nationale des Syndicats Libres de Guinée (FHTRC-ONSLG), and joined by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and the International Lawyers Assisting Workers Network (ILAW) where they announced the filing of complaints against the government of Guinea for failing to protect the freedom of association and occupational health and safety of workers at the Sheraton Grand Conakry. 

Hotel union General Secretary Amadou Diallo and Deputy General Secretary Alhassane Diallo, were both terminated on October 7th, 2020 as leaders of the newly elected union, raising awareness around fundamental workplace issues, including health and safety. 

The submission to the Committee on the Freedom of Association calls on the government of Guinea to “ensure the breach is remedied including reinstatement for the Union Office Bearers after their discriminatory terminations” and  to “highlight the importance of freedom of association and collective bargaining for all workers including on development-financed projects.” The Article 24 representation also asks the ILO to establish an ad-hoc tripartite committee to advise on how to bring the Government of Guinea into compliance with International Labor Standards on labor inspections and health and safety. 

“We call on the ILO to make sure the government of Guinea protects the fundamental right to freedom of association for these Marriott-Sheraton workers in Conakry,“ said GLJ-ILRF Executive Director Jennifer (JJ) Rosenbaum. “Their struggle to negotiate with Marriott-Sheraton and the Topaz Group continues since March 2019.  International Law is clear— the General Secretary and Deputy General Secretary must be reinstated. Justice delayed is justice denied.”

IUF General Secretary Sue Longley told the journalists gathered in Conakry: “The global labor movement is coming together to back this struggle. The IUF, IUF Africa, our affiliate FHRTC-ONSLG, our affiliates in the HRCT sector, the ITUC, Global Labor Justice-ILRF, Solidarity Center and ILAW are here today to say with one voice that we will win. Our struggle here is just, and we will fight one day longer until our trade union brothers are reinstated and justice is served.

“Laws are only as good as their implementation,” said Jeff Vogt, ILAW Network Chair. “We urge an ILO tripartite Commission to improve rule of law on labor inspection and workplace health and safety by the Government of Guinea so workers and unions are protected.” 

Since 2018, the IUF, the ITUC, and GLJ-ILRF have urged the International Finance Corporation to enforce its own standards and actions consistent with responsible business practices as a development financier.  The International Finance Corporation, the Dutch Development Bank FMO, and other development investors must begin to take the role organized workers and trade unions play seriously, including making them an integral part of a dialogue with the IFC and its loan recipients and responding swiftly to address retaliation.

Contact: nazly@globallaborjustice.org, jvogt@solidaritycenter.org

Labor rights advocates in the International Lawyers Assisting Workers Network (ILAW), International Commission for Labor Rights (ICLR), Global Labor JusticeInternational Labor Rights Forum (GLJ-ILRF), and the Cornell Labor Law Clinic submitted an amicus curiae brief to the U.S. Supreme Court on February 12 in the case of Cedar Point Nursery v. Hasid. The case involves a key principle of farmworkers’ freedom of association.

In Cedar Point Nursery, California growers challenge as unconstitutional a 1975 regulation of the Agricultural Labor Relations Board that permits union representatives to meet with workers on the farms to discuss organizing and collective bargaining. The regulation balances the interests of workers and employers by limiting the time, place and duration of such access to ensure no undue effect on operations.

The ultra-conservative Pacific Legal Foundation, representing the growers, argues that the regulation is an unconstitutional per se “taking” of the growers’ property rights under the 5th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. If affirmed, the decision would be a radical expansion of “takings” jurisprudence with significance beyond union access. It is clear that the growers aim to deny all access to workers at the agricultural workplace, including by government inspectors to address safety and health risks, wage theft, child labor and other potential labor violations.

Amici argue to the contrary that reasonable union access to farms has become customary international law which should guide the Supreme Court in the Cedar Point Nursery case. Indeed, the regulation itself is consistent with international labor law and the domestic labor laws of nations around the world.

The International Labor Organization’s Committee on Freedom of Association and the Committee of Experts have affirmed that farmworkers have a right to meet with union representatives at their worksite “with due respect for the rights of property and management, so that trade unions can communicate with workers, in order to apprise them of the potential advantages of unionization.” The Committee of Experts said, “Access by trade union officials for the purpose of carrying out lawful trade union activities should be readily permitted, provided that there is no interference with work being performed during working hours and subject to any appropriate precautions being taken for the protection of the property.”

Both bodies emphasize the importance of union access to help workers with problems of occupational safety and health, a particular concern in the Coronavirus pandemic. The brief also provides multiple comparative labor law examples of national legislation mandating union representatives’ access to the agricultural workplace, always with due regard for management’s property and operational interests.

The oral argument in the case is scheduled for March 22. On February 12, the Biden administration took a dramatic step announcing it was withdrawing the Trump administration’s brief supporting employers and would instead file a brief supporting the California regulation.

The text of the coalition’s brief is available here.

Legendary former Chicago Teachers Union’s president, Karen Lewis, passed away Sunday night after a long and fierce battle with brain cancer. Lewis was one of the most influential labor leaders, dedicated to democratic militant unionism and racial justice who fought for the entire working class, inspiring unions and teachers all over the country. As one of our labor defender awardees last year, the Chicago Teachers Union has served as an exemplary model of 21st-century labor organizing and a powerful voice advocating for educational and community justice in Chicago. GLJ-ILRF offers its deepest condolences to the Chicago Teacher’s Union, Karen’s family and all those mourning her loss and continues to stand with labor rights leaders and activists from across the globe who have committed their lives to defend workers rights and build power across a range of sectors and communities.

For Immediate Release: February 5th, 2021
Contact: nazly@globallaborjustice.org

More than ninety unions, women’s organizations, and other allies including The AFL-CIO, The Cambodian Alliance of Trade Unions (CATU), Workers United – SEIU, the Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women (GAATW), and All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA) join Tamil Nadu Textile and Common Labour Union (TTCU)’s call on garment brands to negotiate a binding agreement to end systemic gender-based violence, which was exposed after the rape and murder of a worker in the supply chain of global brands earlier this year.

As awareness and international outcry grows over the murder of TTCU member and Eastman Exports garment worker Jeyasre Kathiravel, further negotiations have stalled.  Retaliatory and exaggerated criminal charges instigated by Eastman exports against 18 community members from Jeyasre’s village related to an incident where glass was broken on an Eastman Exports vehicle have not been resolved. Those who have been charged include family members and factory employees.  Eastman has used these charges as leverage to pressure the family and TTCU to withdraw from negotiations on fair compensation and an enforceable brand agreement on GBVH issues. 

After coercive attempts to pressure the family and TTCU to withdraw from negotiations that were exposed, Eastman Exports and international brands  “acknowledge the importance of adequate, negotiated compensation without pressure on the family.” Yet the court hearing to withdraw these charges did not take place and community members remain in limbo.

“We are deeply disappointed that Eastman has not yet resolved these charges against community members so that we can move forward with a fair negotiation,”  says Thivya Rakini, State President of TTCU, “Eastman pressed for exaggerated charges and must now take responsibility for ensuring the cases are closed.”

Jeyasre was a 21-year old TTCU member and garment worker who was raped and murdered by her supervisor in early January after months of ongoing and escalating sexual harassment in the factory where she worked. Since her tragic death, Jeyasre’s family has faced intense pressure and violent threats from management designed to force them to accept a minimal financial settlement and no liability for the company while Eastman Exports refuses the family’s request for TTCU leaders to be present at the settlement negotiations. 

In light of this, more than 90 trade unions and allied groups from around the world have come together to support TTCU’s demand for fair compensation for the family and protection for all other workers through an enforceable and binding agreement with H&M, Gap, PVH, and their supplier, Eastman Exports, to end the supply chain model relying on systemic gender-based violence. This agreement would include future monitoring, remediation and prevention of gender-based violence and barriers to freedom of association, mutually agreed terms for an independent investigation, and family compensation using established benchmarks for apparel workers. 

“Women-led trade unions like TTCU are standing up against gender-based violence and harassment where voluntary initiatives and management-controlled complaint mechanisms have failed. In garment supply chains where women are the vast majority of the workforce, when women-led trade unions speak up against GBVH, suppliers and brands must listen. We call for a binding agreement with TTCU to end GBVH at Eastman Exports,” says Yang Sophorn, President, The Cambodian Alliance of Trade Unions (CATU), Asia Floor Wage Alliance (AFWA) Women’s Leadership Committee (WLC) Member

“Gender-based violence and harassment in the workplace cannot be prevented or addressed without freedom of association. Binding and enforceable agreements involving trade unions, women’s rights organizations, the supplier and brands are key to addressing the root causes of gender-based violence and harassment in the garment industry. Brands and their supplier Eastman Exports must negotiate an enforceable binding agreement with Tamil Nadu Textile and Common Labour Union (TTCU) to ensure that the safety, welfare and rights of women workers at Eastman Exports are protected and strengthened,” says Mariam Dhawale, General Secretary, All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA) 

“A recent agreement by major brands and their Lesotho supplier with unions and women’s organizations to combat gender-based violence shows the way to deal with this issue. We call upon the brands sourcing from Eastman Exports to sit down with their supplier and the workers’ representatives to reach a similar agreement,“ says Jeffery Hermanson, of Workers United – Service Employees International Union (SEIU) 

“After decades of various voluntary initiatives of brands, working conditions, freedom of association and wages in the garment industry remain stagnant and the industry is marred with endemic human rights violations, including gender-based violence. We stand in solidarity with TTCU as they demand a legally binding enforceable agreement with brands and their supplier Eastman Exports to end systemic gender-based violence,” says Bandana Pattanaik, International Coordinator of Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women (GAATW)

The letter calls on H&M, Gap, and PVH to move beyond ineffective corporate social responsibility programs and audits.  AFWA, GLJ-ILRF, and partners released evidence-based reports detailing a pattern of rampant gender-based violence across H&M and Gap supply chains and seeking structural reforms, including in India at H&M and Gap in 2018.  The findings have yet to result in a sufficient response from these and other brands.

TTCU continues to organize global support and solidarity from around the world for Jeyasre Kathiravel and her family and will be launching a global vigil for supply chain accountability and justice for women garment workers.

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TTCU-solidarity-letter-PVH-Feb.5.2021

For Immediate Release: February 1st, 2021
Contact: nazly@globallaborjustice.org

Tamil Nadu Textile and Common Labour Union (TTCU) calls on garment brands to negotiate a binding agreement to end systemic gender-based violence, with plans to organize a global vigil to demand accountability from the top of the supply chain.

Over the weekend, Eastman Exports Global, one of the largest garment manufacturing companies in India that supply to brands like H&M, Gap, and PVH, sent a mob of 50 men to threaten and coerce the family of Jayasre Kathiravel, a 20-year old H&M garment worker who was murdered by her supervisor in early January after months of ongoing sexual harassment in the factory where she worked.

Led by Eastman Exports officials, 50 men invaded the family home of murdered worker and TTCU member Jeyasre to coerce her mother into sign documents releasing the company from responsibility in her daughter’s case of gender-based violence. Facing late-night intimidation in the dark with no electricity, Mrs. Kathiravel signed the documents under duress. Mrs. Kathiravel, accompanied at the time by 10 women union leaders, also fainted due to the aggressive action and was rushed to the hospital.

This incident marks a further escalation of gender-based violence and harassment at Eastman’s Natchi Apparels unit. The murder of Jayasre Kathrivel has exposed extreme and widespread conditions of gender-based violence and harassment in the factory. Jeyasre was found dead on January 5, after being reported missing on January 1. Before her death, Jeyasre told friends and coworkers that her supervisor, Thangadurai, had been sexually harassing her in the factory for months. Several other women workers have also come forward to say that Thangadurai has a record of sexually harassing women in the factory.

Thivya Rakini, State President of TTCU says, “The companies involved have put Jeyasre’s family and our leaders in further danger by their inaction. Our union and women workers are doing our part to report on the dire situation in Eastman Exports despite the serious risks to our security and livelihood. It is time for H&M and other brands to do their part.”

TTCU continues to demand a sit down with H&M and other brands and Eastman Exports Global, who have failed to protect women workers, to negotiate an enforceable agreement that covers monitoring, remediation, and prevention of gender-based violence and barriers to freedom of association in Eastman Apparel. This agreement should also include mutually agreed terms for an independent investigation, as well as ensure fair compensation and a fair process of negotiation with the family, and the protection of witnesses and victims who are being threatened into silence.

“Eastman Exports’ Natchi unit has repeatedly refused to engage TTCU on multiple reports of gender-based violence and harassment, and has chosen to maintain an internal complaints committee focused on repressing rather than exposing serious violations”, says Anannya Bhattacharjee, International Coordinator of Asia Floor Wage Alliance (AFWA), a regional organization that has been working with TTCU on the case. “This case shows the lengths to which corporations profiting from global supply chains will go to avoid responsibility. But in the end, women workers will stand up and fight back, and women around the world must stand with them for real solutions.”

H&M has been put on notice about the rampant gender-based violence in its global production supply chain including in India since 2018. That year, AFWA, GLJ-ILRF and partners released “Gender-Based Violence in H&M’s Supply Chain”, an evidence-based report detailing a pattern of rampant gender-based violence across H&M’s supply chain and seeking structural reforms. However, these findings have yet to result in any significant response from the brand.

“Fashion brands are hiding behind so-called sustainability programs when they need binding agreements with organizations representing women workers to make sure they can defend their rights at work without retaliation. Brands should not be able to avoid responsibility for sexual harassment and violence by crossing borders, says Jennifer (JJ) Rosenbaum, Executive Director of Global Labor Justice – International Labor Rights Forum, an international labor rights organization supporting the case.

In the wake of the escalation against the family, TTCU and its members demand that brands that source from Eastman agree to an enforceable binding agreement to end the supply chain model relying on systemic gender-based violence. TTCU is organizing global support and solidarity from women around the world for Jeyasre Kathiravel and her family and will be launching a global vigil for supply chain accountability and justice for women garment workers.

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The Tamil Nadu Textile and Common Labour Union (TTCU), is a registered, independent, women-led trade union, founded in 2013 that represents around 11,000 workers in Tamil Nadu. Eighty percent of TTCU’s members work in the textile and garment industry. TTCU works across the major garment hubs of Tamil Nadu including Coimbatore, Dindigul, Erode and Tirupur.