The global fashion retailer H&M, one of its Tiruppur-based manufacturer, the Tamil Nadu Textile and Common Labour Union (TTCU) and two other global labour rights organisations, have jointly entered a legally-binding agreement to end gender-based violence and harassment at the manufacturer’s shop floor.
The agreement, which involves the implementation of a number of worker-anchored initiatives, will be implemented at the manufacturer Eastman Exports’ unit “Natchi Apparel” in Kaithian Kottai in Vedasandur Taluk of Dindigul district, which employs around 5,000 workers. Asia Floor Wage Alliance (AFWA) and Global Labour Justice- International Labour Rights Forum (GLJ-ILRF) are the other two organisations that are a part of the agreement.
The agreement is an outcome of the campaign, intensified over the last year by TTCU and these organisations, following the murder of a 20-year-old woman employee of Natchi Apparel. Her immediate supervisor at the unit, who was arrested for sexually assaulting and murdering her, is now facing trial.
Terming the agreement as ground-breaking and historic, AFWA said it was the first time such a global brand has taken up accountability and entered into an agreement to address gender-based violence in Asia’s garment industry. Thivya Rakini, State president of TTCU, which is a women-led Dalit-majority trade union, said the agreement was an important milestone in the workers’ struggle against gender-based violence.
She said one of the highlights of the agreement was the introduction of the idea of “Safe Circles”, with regular training for workers, supervisors and managers, and designating “shop floor monitors” from among the workers to monitor, report and follow-up on sexual harassment complaints. The provisions of the agreement focussed on ensuring an environment to fearlessly report any harassment. It also included measures to strengthen the Internal Complaints Committee, she said.
Anannya Bhattacharjee, international coordinator of AFWA said the leadership and commitment of the Dalit women-led TTCU led to this agreement, which has put forth a model for fashion brands, suppliers and trade unions to work together to prevent and remediate gender-based violence and harassment in Asian garment supply chains.
Jennifer (JJ) Rosenbaum, executive director of GLJ-ILRF said all brands should sign similar agreements, join this model and replicate it across the industry.