"We do not tolerate harassment of any kind" an H&M spokesperson told just-style

"We do not tolerate harassment of any kind" an H&M spokesperson told just-style

H&M has begun a probe into allegations of harassment at one of its supplier factories in India after a female worker was killed on her way home from work and a supervisor arrested in connection with the crime.

The Natchi Apparels factory based in Tamil Nadu is part of the Eastman Exports Global Clothing group, whose senior vice president of quality, CSR and sustainable textiles, S Alagesan, confirmed to just-style that 22-year-old K Jeyasre had worked for the company since 2018. Her body was found 70km away from the factory, and two men (including supervisor V Thangadurai) have been charged with her abduction and murder.

Alagesan also stressed a report in The Guardian alleging Jeyasre had suffered "months of sexual harassment and intimidation on the factory floor," is "baseless, false and far away from the ground realities."

"It is not a workplace gender based sexual harassment case and multiple investigations till date have not indicated any work related harassment of Ms Jeyasre by anyone. We have found no evidence however remote to suggest any harassment," he explained.

Alagesan added the allegations raised against the factory in the article were based on claims made by several worker unions which it "strongly disagreed" with. "The said international labour rights groups or the trade union did not approach us prior to forwarding their details to "The Guardian" or publishing in their own websites. They neither physically visited our factory nor contacted us."

According to Alagesan, Eastman Exports has several grievance redressal mechanisms in its factories: Grievance Redressal Committee, Internal Complaints Committee (for addressing sexual harassment), Workforce Representatives Committee. Details of any grievances received are registered, attended, rectified and recorded in the respective logbooks. 

It has also rolled out a hotline grievance mechanism in its Natchi factory in association with M/S Impact – a  third-party audit firm based in the UK with whom it is running a  project to improve the factory's workplace environment including policies and procedures. Alagesan said "no negative incident" was reported through these mechanisms.

"We are always transparent and all these logbooks are open to the investigation at any point in time.  Therefore it is not a workplace gender-based sexual harassment case and multiple investigations to date have not indicated any work-related harassment...We have found no evidence...to suggest any harassment.

"We have been unfairly targeted without any detailed investigation, which is unfortunate. We fear that this would have a negative impact on our business and thereby livelihood of many of our employees."

Legal proceedings

A spokesperson for H&M told just-style the company was aware that legal proceedings are now underway.

"We do not tolerate harassment of any kind, and suppliers that do not share these values cannot and will not be part of our supply chain," the spokesperson said, adding that at request of the trade union, it is not terminating the business relationship with the supplier in question and has instead actively work to strengthen workplace safety.

"We are therefore in close contact with the supplier and have set some immediate and urgent actions that we expect them to complete in order to demonstrate how they can guarantee a workplace free from harassment. We will also, in collaboration with other brands, and in line with the trade union's wish, initiate an independent third-party investigation regarding incidents related to harassment.

"Any future relationship with this supplier will entirely depend on the result of that investigation as well as the factory management team taking necessary actions within a set timeline and guaranteeing a fully transparent line of communication going forward. 

"We have made it clear to the supplier that the family must be compensated according to the law, without requiring confidentiality or non-disclosure as a condition of compensation. We also stressed that no one, including the supplier, should under any circumstances coerce or pressure the family in any matter. We have also explicitly demanded that the factory management team refrain from contacting the family without engagement with the unions or H&M Group."