India: Garment worker allegedly raped & murdered by supervisor at H&M supplier Natchi Apparels after months of sexual abuse & harassment; Incl. H&M's response
On 5 January 2021, Jeyasre Kathiravel, a 20-year-old Dalit worker at H&M supplier Natchi Apparels in Tamil Nadu, India, was found dead after allegedly being raped and murdered by her supervisor at the factory, named by Indian media as V Thangadurai. Seven women workers at the factory testified that Kathiravel had been sexually harassed by the supervisor in the factory several times in the months leading up to her death. Thangadurai has since been charged with her murder and is in jail awaiting trial.
Women workers report multiple instances of sexual harassment, physical acts of sexual assault, unwanted sexual touching or physical contact, unwelcome sexual advances and feeling pressured to engage with supervisors and managers sexually within the factory. Despite filing complaints with management with the help of their union The Tamil Nadu Textile and Common Labour Union (TTCU), workers say Eastman Exports Global – the owner of Natchi Apparels – took no action and maintained an internal complaints committee focused on repressing rather than exposing serious and ongoing violations. When TTCU attempted to raise the non-responsiveness with management, Eastman management refused to engage. Trade unions and civil society organisations have accused buyers’ internal audit systems of failing to ensure the proper functioning of the Internal Complaints Committee at the factory.
Business & Human Rights Resource Centre invited H&M and LIDL - listed publicly as buyers from Natchi Apparels - and Eastman Exports to respond to the Kathiravel's murder and allegations raised by women workers. LIDL said it has not had a business relationship with Natchi Apparels for over two years. H&M said it is in close contact with the local trade union; has communicated a set of immediate and urgent actions for its supplier; has explicitly demanded that the factory management refrain from contacting the family; and will initiate an independent third-party investigation regarding incidents related to harassment. The full response is included below. Eastman Exports did not respond.
On 1 April 2022, groundbreaking legally binding agreements were signed between Eastman Exports and the TTCU, as well two international worker rights groups, the Asia Floor Wage Alliance (AFWA) and Global Labor Justice-International Labor Rights Forum (GLJ-ILRF). Among other provisions, the agreement will include Eastman Exports strengthening its internal complaints process and establishing an independent grievance mechanism, the installation of TTCU members on the factory floor to ensure women are safe at work and the operation of a zero-tolerance approach to harassment and verbal and physical abuse. H&M has signed a separate agreement with the TTCU, AFWA and GLJ-ILRF and has committed to staying at the factory to help with implementation.
An investigation by Worker Rights Consortium found that at least two other women workers had been murdered at the factory prior to Kathiravel. It also identified Marks & Spencer and Walmart as sourcing from the factory in the period of time when workers testified to experiencing sexual abuse. Marks & Spencer has said it ceased trading with Natchi in January 2020 and will not be working with the factory nor signing up to the agreement. Walmart did not respond to journalists' requests for comment.
On 29 July 2022, the US Customs and Border Protection issued a Withold Release Order against Natchi Apparels, over concerns of forced labour. In October 2022, it was reported that the U.S. government had withdrawn the import ban, following evidence of remediation around and the absence of forced labour, according to all five indicators of forced labour, as identified by the International Labour Organization.
This case also features in BHRRC's report "Unbearable harassment: The fashion industry and widespread abuse of female garment workers in Indian factories".