India: Dalit women-led union TTCU celebrates 'historic' binding agreement with H&M on gender-based violence
"H&M signs historic agreement with TN supplier to end gender violence in garment factories", 6 April 2022
Thivya Rakini, state president of TTCU, told TNM, “I see the agreement as historic in the labour rights movement. Largely, in the garment industry, both buyers (clothing brands) and suppliers see trade unions as a problem. Often suppliers are only concerned with losing buyers because of trade union activities. For over a year now, we have spent many sleepless nights because of the time difference, in order to be on video calls with trade unions in other countries to convince them to stand with us in solidarity. About 97 such trade unions gave their support. So, not only in India, but we have fought for this issue — an issue of caste and gender — to be heard in as many countries that the brand works with as possible. AFWA and GLJ-ILRF have played a critical role in helping us do this.”
Thivya adds that for the first time a brand has come on board as a stakeholder for combatting GBVH. “We understood that it’s the brand that makes several times the profit that a supplier company does, so it should be them who are the first stakeholders who are accountable. That we have managed to make that happen is one of the biggest victories of this agreement,” she said.
Thivya also explains how harrowing negotiations in sexual harassment cases have been over the years and what TTCU hopes will change. “Normally it’s left to us and the supplier company to sort out. Often at some point, we have to give up on the negotiations: say, if a company has agreed to offer, Rs 10,000 as compensation, they will give only Rs 7,000 or Rs 8,000. We have to just be satisfied with that,” she explained. With the new agreement in place, Thivya said that the process has become transparent. For this, it is the shop-floor monitors who are the first line of defence.
“So far, it’s been an Internal Committee (IC) constituted by the company or an NGO working on behalf of the company that we’ve had to work with [for cases of sexual harassment]. Now, the shop-floor monitors will not only be able to give advice to a worker on how to access and navigate grievance mechanisms, but also be monitoring for any form of retaliation against a worker who has raised a complaint. And finally, if the shop-floor monitors conclude that no proper measures are being taken to redress the complaint, TTCU will step in and take the issue forward,” Thivya said.