Asia: Brand, retailer and supplier responses to BHRRC report on freedom of association in garment supply chains
In October 2022, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre (the Resource Centre) published a report on freedom of association in garment factories across Asia. The report draws on interviews with 24 trade union leaders and surveys completed by 124 union activists and labour advocates in Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Indonesia and Sri Lanka.
Allegations of union-busting and related abuses at 13 factories were revealed through the interviews for this report. These factories supply, or have recently supplied, at least 15 global fashion brands and retailers, including adidas, Asda, Benetton Group, BESTSELLER, C&A, Sainsbury's, ETAM, H&M, HUGO BOSS, J.Crew, OVS SpA, Next, Primark and Under Armour.
According to nearly two-thirds (61%) of respondents, the situation of freedom of association and collective bargaining has "got worse", bringing to light the increased and ongoing suppression of freedom of association since the pandemic. Nearly half (48%) of respondents report an increase in discrimination, threats and harassment. Union leaders also reported false charges and arrests against union members, and factories using COVID-19 as a pretext for attacks on workers’ organising efforts and other attempts to suppress organising efforts and suspend collective bargaining agreement. This crackdown on unionising has, in turn, exacerbated other labour abuses in garment factories. For example:
- Almost a third (30%) of survey respondents reported an increase in gender-based violence and harassment as a result of the restrictions on trade union rights.
- An increase in wage and severance theft as a result of trade union restrictions was reported by over half (58%) of survey respondents.
- Over a quarter (27%) reported an increase in violence against trade union leaders.
This is despite policy commitments made by brands alleging their support for workers' right to freedom of association across their supply chain, with several brands signing Global Framework Agreements with union federations.
Ahead of the report's publication, the Resource Centre gave the 15 buyers linked to the factories the opportunity to comment on the findings. The responses are included in the report and are posted in full below. At the time of writing, some of the brands are in dialogue with local unions to discuss the findings.
We will update this page as we receive further company statements in response to the findings beyond the report's publication.