Fast Fashion Workers Abused For Failing To Meet Production Targets

by: Lucy Jones | 1 year ago | News

A factory worker at a H&M supplier in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Image Source.

Female garment workers are being abused for failing to meet production targets set by fast fashion companies, according to new reports. International labor rights group Global Labor Justice released two reports last week that expose the gender-based violence taking place in Gap and H&M's supply chains.

Over 540 workers from factories in Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Indonesia and Sri Lanka told GLO researchers that they had experienced physical and sexual abuse at work. The reports claim that these incidents are directly related to the pressure put on workers to produce clothes quickly and cheaply. Workers told researchers that they had been threatened, verbally harassed, and physically abused for failing to meet fast fashion production quotas on time.

“[My] batch supervisor came up behind me as I was working on the sewing machine, yelling, ‘You are not meeting your target production.’ 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 [and] kicked me,” one worker said.

“When girls scold machine operators for touching them or grabbing them, they take revenge. Sometimes they give them machines that don’t function properly. Then they don’t come and repair it for a long time. After that, supervisors scold us for not meeting the target,” another worker from a H&M factory in Sri Lanka said.

Another woman working at one of Gap's Indonesia factories said that her supervisors have mocked her for working too slowly and threatened to terminate her contract.

“They also throw materials. They kick our chairs. They don’t touch us, so they don’t leave a mark that could be used as evidence with the police,” she added.

Tola Moeun, the director of an NGO called Central Cambodia that was involved in the research, said that abuse is a daily reality for most garment workers in fast fashion supply chains. “Most of these cases are not reported due to fear of retaliation in the workplace,” he explained.

These reports coincide with negotiations about workplace harassment that are taking place at the International Labour Organisation this week. Gap and H&M both told the Guardian that they will be investigating the findings and that they support any initiatives dedicated to tackling workplace harassment. However, other global leaders in this area have suggested that the entire fast fashion business model is to blame for these injustices.

"We must understand gender-based violence as an outcome of the global supply chain structure. H&M and Gap’s fast fashion supply chain model creates unreasonable production targets and underbid contracts, resulting in women working unpaid overtime and working very fast under extreme pressure," US director of Global Labour Justice Jennifer Rosenbaum told The Guardian.

“Unions and many governments agree an ILO convention on gender-based violence is essential, although there is still opposition from some employers.”

H&M promised to address the allegations in an email, writing:

“All forms of abuse or harassment are against everything that H&M group stands for. Violence against women is one of the most prevalent human rights violations. Gender-based violence makes women all around the world suffer daily and undermines their health, dignity and security. This is why we welcome any initiative strengthening the human rights of women at work, such as the international convention against gender-based violence in the workplace being discussed within the ILO. We will go through every section of the report and follow-up on factory level with our local teams based in each production country.”

Gap also said it will be investigating the distressing claims put forward in the reports.

“We are committed to making sure that the people who make our clothes work in safe conditions and are treated with respect. We’ve consolidated our supplier base to focus on partners that share our values and goals, and an increasing number of factories we source from are audited by ILO’s Better Work programme. Our Code of Vendor Conduct, which closely aligns with our environmental and human rights policies, prohibits any form of discrimination. We conduct assessments of our branded apparel suppliers on a regular basis to ensure compliance, and when we encounter any discriminatory or retaliatory practices in our supply chain, we require that our suppliers promptly remediate the situation."

Debbie Coulter from the Ethical Trading Initiative — an alliance of companies, trade unions and NGOs that H&M and Gap belong to — said the companies must ensure that women are working under safe conditions in their factories.

“These allegations are deeply concerning. Gender-based violence is unacceptable under any circumstances, and brands need to make sure that women working in their supply chain are protected," she said.

“We expect H&M and Gap to investigate these allegations, and to work with supplier factories so that any women affected have swift access to remedy. ETI will be in regular contact with these members and will offer support where appropriate to ensure a swift resolution for all workers affected.”

Click here to read the full report about gender-based violence in Gap's supply chain and click here to read the full report about gender-based violence in H&M's supply chain.

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