Initial Fact Sheet: Agreements to Combat Gender-based Violence in Lesotho’s Garment Industry

Structure of the Agreements: There are four agreements—one with each brand and one with the employer, Nien Hsing. It is the employer agreement that sets forth the details of the program and enumerates Nien Hsing’s obligations, including its obligation to take whatever disciplinary action against abusive managers and supervisors that an independent oversight body deems necessary. The essential function of the brand agreements is to enforce the employer agreement: if Nien Hsing does not comply, as determined by the oversight body, each brand must reduce orders in a manner sufficient to convince Nien Hsing to return to compliance. The brand agreement also establishes the brands’ financial obligations and their role in appointing representatives to the Oversight Committee of the independent body.

Brands – Levi Strauss & Co.; The Children’s Place; Kontoor Brands (Wrangler and Lee)
Employer – Nien Hsing Textile Co.
Lesotho Unions – Independent Democratic Union of Lesotho; United Textile Employees; National Clothing Textile and Allied Workers Union
Lesotho Women’s Rights Advocates – Federation of Women Lawyers in Lesotho; Women and Law in Southern African Research and Education Trust-Lesotho
US Organizations – Solidarity Center; Workers United; Worker Rights Consortium
Non-Signatory Advisors – Fair Food Standards Council, Coalition of Immokalee Workers, Worker-driven Social Responsibility Network

Scope of the Agreements: The agreements cover all employees at Nien Hsing Textile’s operations in Lesotho: five factories and 10,000 workers. The factories are Global Garments, C&Y, Nien Hsing International, Glory International, and Formosa Textile Company.

Enforcement: As noted, the employer agreement is enforced, via economic sanctions, by the brand agreements. The brand agreements—which, like the employer agreement, are legal contracts—are enforceable through binding arbitration in the US. Each of the Lesotho organizations, as well as the WRC, has the power to bring a case against any of the brands—for example, for failing to reduce orders to address non-compliance by Nien Hsing.

Definition of Gender-based Violence and Harassment: The agreements include a broad and robust definition of gender-based violence in the workplace. The definition is adapted from the recently adopted ILO Convention concerning the Elimination of Violence and Harassment in the World of Work (No. 190). This is the definition used in the employer agreement: “Gender-Based Violence and Harassment in the Workplace, for purposes of this Agreement, is violence and/or harassment, including sexual harassment, directed at Workers by Other Persons in the Workplaces because of their sex, gender and/or gender identity, or affecting persons of a particular sex or gender disproportionately (“Gender-Based Violence and Harassment,” “GBVH”), where: (1) “Workers” means all individuals working for Nien Hsing Lesotho at the Factories regardless of their contractual status, including persons in training, workers on probation and applicants for work (“Workers”); (2) “Other Persons” include Workers, managers, supervisors, customers, clients, suppliers and other third-party contractors in the Workplaces (“Other Persons”); and (3) “Workplaces” includes the Factories’ production and non-production areas and premises, as well as any other location of work or work-related travel, training, or business or social activities of the Factories, and any work-related communications between or concerning Workers and Other Persons that are enabled by information and communication technologies (“Workplaces”). Additionally, this definition may include GBVH committed against a Worker by Other Persons, as defined here, while outside of the Workplaces or after work time, as such conduct nevertheless impacts the employment relationship.”

Program Elements: The program includes four components:

  • Complaint intake and counseling (led by the Lesotho women’s rights organizations)
  • Complaint investigation and the determination and implementation of punishments and remedies (led by the independent oversight body, known as the Office for the Prevention of Gender-Based Violence)
  • Broader monitoring and improvement of employer practices (also led by the Office)
  • Worker and management training (led jointly by the Lesotho unions and women’s rights organizations)

Complaints, Investigations, and Sanctions against Perpetrators of Abuse: The Office for the Prevention of Gender-Based Violence has the power to investigate complaints, with full access to the factory and necessary personnel; reach independent determinations; and decide appropriate sanctions, including dismissal. The decisions of the body are binding on Nien Hsing, which must carry them out. The agreements include strong protections to prevent retaliation against complainants or witnesses.

Anti-Retaliation Provisions: In addition to shielding complainants and witnesses from retaliation, the agreement bars Nien Hsing from engaging in any form of anti-union retaliation or interference at its factories—the first time such a broad freedom of association protection has been included as an enforceable provision of a brand-worker supply chain agreement.

Governance Structure: The Office for the Prevention of Gender-Based Violence houses the investigative function and provides coordination and administration for the overall program. The Solidarity Center was instrumental in the set-up and ongoing operations of the Office. It has an Oversight Committee, comprised equally of representatives of the Lesotho unions and women’s groups, on the one hand, and the brands, on the other (this replicates the division of power in the oversight body of the Bangladesh Accord). All of the representatives jointly choose a neutral chairperson, who also votes. The WRC and Nien Hsing each have a non-voting Observer on the Steering Committee.

Implementation Roles: This is a worker-led program. The Lesotho unions and women’s organizations play the primary role in implementation. The Solidarity Center leads from the US side, supporting the Lesotho organizations and working with Nien Hsing and the brands on all phases and aspects of the program. Support is also provided by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, the Fair Food Standards Council, the WSR Network, Workers United, and the Worker Rights Consortium.

Budget: Funding for the first two years of the program was provided by a substantial contribution from each brand and a $1 million grant from USAID. This included the budget of the Office for the Prevention of Gender-Based Violence and funds to cover the costs that each of the unions and women’s organizations incurred in carrying out their functions (including an anticipated 12 training staff housed at the unions and a team housed at the women’s organizations to handle complaint intake and counseling).