Gender-based Violence and Discrimination
Globally, over 80 percent of garment workers are women. Women workers face particular challenges in addition to those faced by all workers. In an effort to avoid the costs associated with providing legally required benefits, factory managers often fire workers who become pregnant, sometimes even forcing all female employees to take pregnancy tests before being hired. Even if pregnant women are allowed to keep working, they are often denied benefits required under national law, including maternity leave, child care, and time to breastfeed.
They also face sexual harassment and abuse from managers, and may risk being fired if they respond negatively or report the harassment to superiors. In most factories, since most workers are women, and most managers are men, the verbal abuse that all workers face becomes gendered, with managers shouting insults of a sexual nature at workers.
Gender-based violence does not happen in a vacuum: the risk for gender-based violence is increased in contexts where workers cannot exercise their right to bargain collectively and organize.
The WRC combats gender discrimination and harassment by responding to and documenting violations of women’s rights and pressing brands and factory owners to ensure that their suppliers stop any practices of gender-based discrimination or sexual harassment and abuse.
Landmark Agreements Tackle Gender-based Violence and Harassment in Lesotho Garment Factories
On August 15, 2019, a set of landmark agreements were signed among leading apparel brands, the coalition of labor unions and women’s rights advocates, and Nien Hsing, a major producer of denim jeans globally, to address gender-based violence and harassment in Lesotho.
The agreements establish Workers’ Rights Watch, an independent investigative organization, which has the responsibility to investigate allegations of gender-based violence and harassment at the factories owned by Nien Hsing in Lesotho and direct specific remedies up to and including termination from employment for violations of the code of conduct. The agreements also establish a toll-free information line—run by one of the women’s rights organizations so that workers can learn more about the program and safely report incidents of gender-based violence and harassment without fear of retaliation—and an extensive education and awareness program, which includes a two-day workshop on gender-based violence and harassment, the program code of conduct, and how to report gender-based violence and harassment for all Nien Hsing employees. Recognizing the crucial role of workers’ ability to act collectively to protect their rights in changing gender-based power inequality, the agreement also protects associational rights by prohibiting any form of anti-union retaliation or interference with workers’ exercise of their right to organize.
Beyond Lesotho, these agreements set a vital precedent in the fight against gender-based violence and harassment at work.