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1 Apr 2022

Annie Kelly, The Guardian,
// Scoopflix

India: H&M signs binding agreement with union & labour groups to end sexual violence & harassment in factories after garment worker’s murder

"H&M pledges to end shopfloor sexual violence in India after worker killed", 1 April 2022

H&M has signed a legally binding agreement with one of its largest Indian clothing suppliers that pledges to end sexual violence and harassment against women on the factory floor after the murder of a young garment worker by her supervisor last year.

In January 2021, Jeyasre Kathiravel, a 20-year-old Dalit woman, was found dead...after finishing a shift at Natchi Apparel, a factory making clothes for H&M in Kaithian Kottai, Tamil Nadu.

Her supervisor reportedly confessed to her murder and is awaiting trial. Her family also allege that she was raped before she was killed, and had suffered sexual harassment and intimidation at work in the months before her death, but felt powerless to prevent the abuse.

An independent investigation last year by the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC), which has not yet been made public, heard testimony from other female workers of widespread gender-based violence at Natchi Apparel, and H&M and Eastman Exports then began talks with the Tamil Nadu Textile and Common Labour Union (TTCU), as well as regional and international labour rights groups.

The legally binding agreement that resulted is only the second of its kind in the fashion industry, and the first time a brand has ever signed up to an initiative to tackle gender-based violence in Asia’s garment industry...

Under the terms of the agreement, all workers, supervisors and executives will have to undergo gender-based violence training and the TTCU will recruit and train female workers as “shopfloor monitors” who will ensure women are protected from verbal harassment and sexual intimidation.

The agreement also overhauls Natchi’s internal complaints committees, a mechanism required under Indian law in all workplaces but which has failed for decades to protect women from male violence at the Natchi factories.

Women will now be able to report sexual harassment anonymously to an independent panel that will have the power to dismiss perpetrators and seek financial compensation for victims and their families.

Subhash Tiwari, director at Eastman Exports, said: “It is our top priority to make sure that women on our shopfloors are safe and to do that women must be able to be seen and heard and feel empowered to report if something goes wrong.

“We will not allow any kind of infraction of the terms of this agreement. This is not just zero tolerance, what we want is a complete elimination of harassment and all forms of violence against our female employees.”

Thivya Rakini, state president of the TTCU, said the agreement was a victory for women in the workplace.

“We believe this has the power to change things and has meant that something good has come from the terrible tragedy of Jeyasre’s death. This has shown the power of a Dalit woman workforce to seek justice and we look forward to working with factory management.”...

The Asia Floor Wage Alliance (AFWA) and the international labour rights group Global Labor Justice-International Labor Rights Forum (GLJ-ILRF), also co-signatories to the agreement, said that this should be seen as a moment of change for the fashion industry.

Anannya Bhattacharjee, international coordinator at AFWA, said: “We are confident that this agreement can be a model for change across the global garment industry, where gender-based violence is endemic and still largely disregarded and ignored.”

Jennifer Rosenbaum, of the GLJ-ILRF, said: “This enforceable agreement is a model for how to bring about real change with collaboration among brands, suppliers, unions and global labour partners.”

In a statement, H&M said Jeyasre Kathiravel’s death was a tragedy, and the company’s thoughts were with her family.

“H&M Group wants to do our utmost to contribute to systemic and positive change in the industry and have therefore signed an agreement to work together with industry stakeholders to address, prevent and remedy gender-based violence and sexual harassment,” a spokesperson said. “We expect this agreement to contribute to a broader industry-wide initiative going forward.”...