Blog

On June 17, 2020, Global Labor Justice sent a written submission to UN Special Procedure Mandates in response to the call for submissions, Protecting Human Rights During and After the COVID-19 Pandemic – Response to Joint Questionnaire by Special Procedure Mandate Holders. The submission reviews the gendered impact of COVID-19 on workers in Asian fast fashion supply chains, which produce primarily consumer apparel and footwear, and comprise 60% of the 40 million garment workers worldwide.

The human rights impacts laid out in this submission affect a workforce of mainly women with intersecting vulnerabilities associated with migrant status, living in poverty, and belonging to marginalized communities. Some women production line workers are locked out of supply chain employment — which means that they are unable to work and earn wages due to government lockdowns, layoffs, furloughs, and refusal of global brands to pay for existing contracts and orders. Other women workers are locked into supply chain employment – meaning that they are forced to work amidst the pandemic – in order to feed themselves and their families. Whether locked out or locked in, women workers on Asian fast fashion supply chains face a spectrum of violence and other human rights abuses rooted in risks associated with brand purchasing practices, concentration of a majority woman workforce in the lower tiers of supply chain production, and working conditions in supplier factories. 

GLJ-submission_UN-Special-Procedure-Mandate-Holders_COVID-19_Asian-Garment-Supply-Chains_June-17-2020

Global Labor Justice hosted its inaugural Digital Convening, Women Leading the Fight for Violence-Free Workplaces and Corporate Accountability, which featured a group of women in the labor movement leading advocacy campaigns against corporations around the world. The panel – organized in honor of  the one-year anniversary of the ILO’s Violence and Harassment Convention (C190) – was moderated by GLJ staff attorney Sahiba Gill, and centered around questions of gender, race and the power in the workplace. Panelist included Allynn Umel of Fight for 15, Angeles Solis of Make the Road New York, Gabriela Rosazza of International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF), and Roushaunda Williams with UNITE HERE Hands Off, Pants On Campaign. These labor rights leaders highlighted how corporations put profits before people, and put their public image before crucial policy changes to address vulnerability, harassment and racism in the workplace even in the midst of a global pandemic. As Sahiba Gill illuminated, “Corporations never let a crisis go to waste.”  

The panelists compared the realities of wage theft, harassment and lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) in the fast fashion and hospitality industries, as well as in Amazon warehouses, McDonald’s stores across the globe and on Fyffe fruit plantations in Honduras. The Covid-19 pandemic reveals the lack of responsibility that brands take on in order to protect their employees, and, as Angeles Solis stated, “The pandemic has pulled back the cover on how our public resources fall short on what is needed for this moment.” Through her work advocating for adequate sick leave, premium pay, and health rights for McDonald’s employees, Allynn Umel described how McDonald’s restaurants have shuttered in many countries, but remain open in the US. “The moment that we’re in today has absolutely underscored the fact that fast food workers are essential, although they’ve never been treated as such,” she said. These workers are essential for global society to function – providing food, making clothing, packing goods and offering hospitality accommodations – but are frequently exposed to the worst workplace conditions and are the most likely to contract COVID-19.

The panelists’ demands for corporate accountability centered around ensuring basic rights and dignity for workers. Whether someone is working at a garment factory in Dhaka or a hotel in Chicago, they should be fairly remunerated for their labor, safe from sexual harassment, allowed to organize without retaliation, and provided adequate protective equipment, especially during a global pandemic. Central to these demands is that corporations not only value their profits and shareholders, but workers on every level of the supply chains instead of advertising empty platitudes. “We see dozens if not hundreds of corporations releasing statements on BLM while they are actively busting union organizing campaigns organized by black and brown workers,” said Gabbriella Rosazza of ILRF. 

Sahiba Gill noted that global corporations must be taken on globally. The women who spoke at this event and the people they represent are at the vanguard of this fight for change and we are optimistic that Covid-19 will serve as a catalyst for progress in this regard.  When these types of demands come to fruition, they both empower and humanize workers.

Roushaunda Williams recounted the impact of Illinois’ statewide mandate for hospitality workers to have “panic buttons” as protection from gender-based violence: it gave [the workers] safety, it gave them protection, and it made them feel important.” C190 is a step in the right direction on a global scale, but there is a long march ahead.

In the past ten years, over ten percent of Nepalis have worked abroad, mostly as guest workers in Malaysia and the Arabian Gulf in low-wage sectors. In light of COVID-19, March 22, Nepal closed its borders, at the same time as overseas employers were firing Nepali workers due to the economic downturn.   In response, Nepal’s Supreme Court ordered Nepal’s current government to rescue Nepali workers stranded overseas and exercise oversight over health protections for those remaining overseas. 

We spoke to Shom Luitel, Advocate at People’s Forum for Human Rights, who filed the case with the Supreme Court of Nepal. 

Why did you decide to file this case? 

We are an organization that provides free legal aid to migrant workers, and also files public interest litigation. During the lockdown in Nepal (which began on March 24), I was feeling really desperate because we could not do anything for the migrant workers, and that we should be doing something. The Supreme Court is closed except for COVID-19 related cases. So we went and filed the case, even in the middle of the lockdown. 

Can you tell me how COVID-19 has affected the situation of Nepali migrant workers? 

If they have been fired from their jobs, Nepali guest workers have lost the basis both for their work permits and their residency permits, so they have to be sent home. At the same time, many workers are facing problems getting paid and getting food from their employers, since the employer usually provides them food. So they are really in a bad situation (more on the situation of Nepalis in Malaysia and the Arabian Gulf here).

What did you allege in the complaint to the Court? 

We asked for an order under the Foreign Employment Act, 2007 to bring workers back home. Section 75(2) of the Act requires if there is an epidemic, war or national disaster in a country where Nepalis are working, the Government of Nepal must “take necessary steps to bring such workers back home,” and this should be paid for in part by the Foreign Employment Welfare Fund, under Section 33 of the Act.

What did the court order? 

The bench of Justice Sapana Pradhan Malla issued an interim order to address the immediate situation. She ordered the Government to prepare a report about the situation of the migrant workers. She also ordered the repatriation of stranded workers and to make sure their health is protected according to WHO standard while they are abroad.

Has the Government of Nepal acted on this order?

Not immediately, but now they feel pressure, especially because the media is covering this closely. (Note: Adv. Luitel wrote after our interview a “Roadmap” for repatriation and reintegration of migrant workers at The Himalayan Times, which lays out next steps he hopes the Government will take. As of May 14, a parliamentary committee has asked the Government to act as well). 

How has civil society (such as trade unions and recruitment agencies) responded to the order? 

We have not been in touch with them, but we hope they have welcomed the ruling. In our written brief we have also asked for the Government to support spending the Migrant Workers’ Welfare Fund on workers (Note: the Fund was introduced in the Foreign Employment Act, 2007 and supported widely by civil society including unions and recruitment agencies, but has been misappropriated in the past. It is paid for by contributions from migrant workers themselves). The National Human Rights Commission is also working to push the Government to act.

Does this ruling touch on the situation of workers coming into Nepal from India, who were stranded at the border,  or internal migrants within Nepal? 

No; it covers workers who migrated overseas on work visas (Nepalis can work in India without visas). 

(Note: Nepali unions are working to support migrant workers within Nepal to travel within Nepal and to provide food packages to their families). 

May 1, 2020

On May Day, Global Labor Justice (GLJ) launches All Eyes on Fast Fashion — New Rules for a New Era of Supply Chains, our web-based tool to redefine rules for global supply chains that create living wage jobs and  transform how corporate accountability is defined and enforced, and how value will be redistributed from finance, brands, and platforms to retail, logistics, and production workers in the global garment supply chain. 

All Eyes on Fast Fashion will begin with a demand to fifteen major fast fashion brands for a Supply Chain Relief Contribution (SRC) equal to sixty days of income paid to workers through the suppliers who directly employ them. May Day marks more than five weeks that have passed since most of the 40 million garment workers in fast fashion supply chains — mostly women — began to be deeply impacted by the global COVID-19 pandemic.  

Government and corporate responses to the global COVID-19 pandemic have exposed structural inequalities created by supply chain models of production. Within the fast fashion industry — consumer apparel, footwear and home good textile — the pandemic revealed how current supply chain models widen inequality and create a race to the bottom for workers, small suppliers, and the governments of countries that rely on garment production as a major private sector export sector.  

In the face of COVID-19, all global garment brands immediately canceled or postponed orders invoking force majeure clauses, resulting in tens of millions of garment workers losing wages due to layoffs or suspension of work, creating a humanitarian crisis leaving garment workers without recourse to access their most basic needs including food, healthcare and lost wages.

More than 40 million garment workers — mostly women — earn poverty level wages and losing even a few weeks of wages has left them facing severe food, housing, education and healthcare insecurity. Additionally, brands’ production contracts have such low margins that suppliers were left without funds to retain workers or provide subsistence support.  

Most countries housing significant garment production were also left without significant enough resources to provide national income support because the current global supply chain production model forces countries to compete with each other by lowering wages, regulation, and contributions to state social safety net programs. 

GLJ’s partner, the Asia Floor Wage Alliance, developed this SRC demand with nineteen partner unions in four countries. GLJ has written to ask fifteen major fast fashion brands to immediately pay 2% of their annual sourcing towards immediate relief for supply chain workers. The SRC is a relief contribution and in no way substitutes brands’ existing and ongoing supply chain obligations to pay for orders given and produced, to not cancel orders, to not seek discounts in an already under-costed supply chain, and to act accountability in relation to any future cases of downsizing, retrenchment and closure.

As workers, suppliers, and brands work together to rebuild supply chain capacity in the fast fashion sector, we must create a new era of supply chains where brands and their investors are held accountable for responsible business practices that fundamentally shift the imbalance of power and massive inequalities that have long plagued the global fashion industry. 

As quoted in the Business of Fashion’s article, Protecting Workers’ Rights is Harder Than Ever in a Global Pandemic, Global Labor Justice’s U.S. Director, JJ Rosenbaum says: “This is not the time to ask the question of what is the minimum brands can get away with and not lose public face. This is the time to ask the question of how can we reorganise supply chains in a way that is promoting equity.”

As we move towards a new reality, all eyes will be on the fast fashion industry — and we will continue to push for systemic change to create a new era where exploitation is abolished and all workers on the global garment supply chain are paid a living wage, their right to freedom of association is respected, and workplaces are free from gender based violence and harassment to ensure justice for all workers in the global economy.

SRC-fact-sheet

Migrant workers in Gulf countries are facing coronavirus related threats across migration corridors which merit immediate response from home and destination countries.

Global Labor Justice has joined 12 organizations, trade unions, and global federations calling for the governments of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates to protect migrant workers rights. The letters call for Gulf governments to protect migrant workers from health risks by providing urgent access to testing and treatment in worker housing areas, humane quarantine facilities, and adequate occupational health and safety protections at all active worksites. Migrant workers who do contract coronavirus should have access to medical care. We also urge Gulf countries to end immigration detention, and refrain from detaining anyone for violating quarantine as detention is counterproductive to public health at this time.

Letter to the Bahraini Minister of Labour of Social Development Regarding Migrant Workers and Protections from COVID-19
English / Arabic

Letter to the Emirati Minister of Human Resources and Emiratisation  Regarding Migrant Workers and Protections from COVID-19
English / Arabic

Letter to the Kuwaiti Minister of Social Affairs and Labor and Director General of the Public Authority for Manpower Regarding Migrant Workers and Protections from COVID-19
English / Arabic

Letter to the Omani Minister of Manpower Regarding Migrant Workers and Protections from COVID-19
English / Arabic

Letter to the Qatar Prime Minister and Minister of the Regarding Migrant Workers and Protections from COVID-19
English / Arabic

Letter to the Saudi Minister of Labour of Social Development Regarding Migrant Workers and Protections from COVID-19
English / Arabic

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.

Signed:

  • 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.