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May 24, 2022

H&M Group urges collaborative action on gender-based violence

H&M Group has joined a call to brands from labour groups supporting Indian garment workers pushing for the elimination of gender-based violence in supply chains.

By Beth Wright

The Tamil Nadu Textile and Common Labour Union (TTCU), the Asia Floor Wage Alliance (AFWA), and Global Labor Justice-International Labor Rights Forum (GLJ-ILRF) are calling on global brands to join H&M Group in signing the Dindigul Agreement to Eliminate Gender-Based Violence and Harassment (GBVH).

The labour groups say the agreement to tackle gender-based violence and harassment will empower 5,000 mostly female Dalit workers to protect themselves and their coworkers in spinning mills and garment cut and sew facilities.

TTCU, AFWA and GLJ-ILRF launched the Justice for Jeyasre campaign in 2021 when Jeyasre Kathiravel, a young garment worker and union member in TTCU was found dead after allegedly facing months of sexual harassment by her supervisor. 

Last month, factory owner Eastman Exports Global Clothing Private Limited, the TTCU, AFWA, and GLJ-ILRF, along with H&M Group, announced the Dindigul Agreement to Eliminate Gender-Based Violence and Harassment, a set of accords that jointly commit all parties to work together to eradicate GBVH and discrimination based on caste, or migration status; support women workers in collectively detecting, remediating and preventing it on the shopfloor, to increase transparency; and to develop a culture of mutual respect in the garment factory and beyond.

In the Dindigul Agreement, H&M Group has agreed to a regular review mechanism in deciding its level of sourcing based on Eastman’s fulfilment of the provisions of the agreement.

Julia Bakutis, strategy lead fair jobs at H&M Group sustainability department, tells Just Style: “Gender-based violence is one of the most notable human rights violations in society and we want to do our utmost to contribute to systemic and positive change in the industry. As real impact will only come when all stakeholders engage on this topic in their sphere of influence, we believe these issues need to be addressed at scale and collaboratively together with a wide range of experts and stakeholders.

“We expect this agreement to contribute to a broader industry initiative going forward and hope more brands will join. Every worker should feel safe working in our industry, whether they are employed by our suppliers or not.

TTCU, AFWA, and GLJ-ILRF concur other brands should follow suit to eliminate gender-based violence, meet with them, and sign on. 

“When reporting workplace problems it leads brands to pull orders, working women are left to choose between sexual harassment or unemployment. All brands who say they want their supply chain free of gender-based violence and harassment now have a clear choice to source from units covered by the Dindigul agreement or to talk with us about its expansion,” says Jennifer Rosenbaum, executive director of GLJ-ILRF.

Anannya Bhattacharjee, AFWA international coordinator, adds: “The Dindigul Agreement is transformative because it incentivises suppliers to protect workers’ rights and eliminate GBVH. Now is the time for more global fashion companies to be part of the solution to violence and harassment by sourcing from factories that confront these issues head-on as Eastman has agreed to do. Suppliers and brands should support worker-led processes to address GBVH and recognise workers’ rights to organise in unions. Too often, when abuses are brought to light, brands will try to save their reputation by pulling out of the factory, victimising workers a second time as they lose their jobs.”

For Jeeva M, general secretary at TTCU, the agreement marks the first time workers have a tool that empowers them to fight back collectively against violence and harassment at work.

“Garment workers have long felt that we have to accept harassment as part of our jobs – we get fired by our employers when we speak out against it and the big brands whose clothing we make, don’t take responsibility. Under this agreement, Eastman commits to zero tolerance for GBVH and to working with us to remediate any harassment that occurs. H&M commits to using business leverage to create support and accountability for that promise. More brands should follow their lead and sign on. Let it be a model for India and the globe so all garment workers are empowered and protected.”

A joint statement from the original signing parties is available here

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