Global brands urged to empower exploited female Dalit workers in India

Guardian Breaks Story on Gender-Based Violence and Harassment Endemic in Clothing Supply Chains

Tirupur, India, 22 May 2022: The Tamil Nadu Textile and Common Labour Union (TTCU), the Asia Floor Wage Alliance (AFWA), and the Global Labor Justice-International Labor Rights Forum (GLJ-ILRF) today called on more global brands to join H&M in signing the groundbreaking Dindigul Agreement to Eliminate Gender-Based Violence and Harassment (GBVH), which will empower 5,000 mostly female Dalit workers to protect themselves and their coworkers in spinning mills and garment cut and sew facilities.

New reporting in the Guardian details how global fashion supply chains are built on widespread gender-based violence and harassment across Asia.

TTCU, AFWA and GLJ-ILRF have a long history of organizing with and supporting the workers who are fighting back. We launched the Justice for Jeyasre campaign in 2021 when Jeyasre Kathiravel, a young garment worker and union member in TTCU was murdered after facing months of sexual harassment by her supervisor.

Thanks to the movement we built with workers in India and around the world, in April, factory owner Eastman Exports Global Clothing Private Limited, the TTCU, AFWA and GLJ-ILRF, along with H&M Group (H&M), announced the Dindigul Agreement, 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 GBVH 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 has agreed to a regular review mechanism in deciding its level of sourcing based on Eastman’s fulfillment of the provisions of the agreement, other brands, especially those who were sourcing from Eastman at the time of Jeyasre’s death should follow suit, meet with us and sign on.

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A joint statement from the original signing parties is available here.

Labor stakeholders are also in dialogue with other brands sourcing from Eastman Exports’ Natchi facilities in the past two years including Walmart, M&S, and Authentic Brands Group (which owns Lucky Brand Jeans, Brooks Brothers, Forever 21, Izod, and others)- along with BlackRock a major investor in Authentic- about joining the agreement consistent with responsible business practices under the UN Guiding Principles on business and human rights. Together with the labor stakeholders and Eastman, brands and investors who join the agreement would be contributing to a model for the industry.

“When reporting workplace problems 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,” said Jennifer (JJ) Rosenbaum, Executive Director of GLJ-ILRF. “For brand investors like BlackRock, this is also a concrete way to make their environmental, social, and governance commitments (ESG) commitments real.”

“For the first time, workers have an agreement that empowers us 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,” said Jeeva M, General Secretary, TTCU.

“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 recognize workers’ rights to organize in unions. Too often, when abuses are brought to light, brands will try to save their reputation by pulling out of the factory, victimizing workers a second time as they lose their jobs,” said Anannya Bhattacharjee, AFWA International Coordinator.

By SAT News Desk

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