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Article

23 May 2022

Author:
Annie Kelly, The Observer

India: Investigation finds at least 2 women workers murdered prior to murder of Jeyasre Kathiravel at H&M supplier Natchi Apparel; Incl. co comments

"Murder, rape and abuse in Asia’s factories: the true price of fast fashion", 22 May 2022

... On 1 January 2021... [Jeyasre Kathiravel] had failed to return home from work... [F]our days later her decomposing body was discovered by farmers just a few miles from her village.

[H]er supervisor, a man named by Indian media as V Thangadurai... has since been charged with her murder and is in jail awaiting trial. For months before Kathiravel’s death, her family and co-workers say that Thangadurai was perpetrating a relentless campaign of sexual harassment towards her, which she felt powerless to report or stop...

In the weeks after her murder, dozens of other women working at the factory came forward to claim that they too were being harassed and assaulted at Natchi. Their bravery set off a chain of events that could transform the lives of the 3,000 women working at the factory and provide a blueprint for how global fashion brands can stop the epidemic of sexual violence that has taken hold in fast fashion supply chains...

Despite the factory’s denials after the allegations were made public, the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC), a global organisation investigating labour abuses, launched an independent investigation into Natchi... In a detailed report, investigators say that multiple interviews and evidence gathering with more than 60 workers led them to conclude that Kathiravel was not the first garment worker to have been murdered at Natchi. Investigators say they are confident that at least two other female workers besides Kathiravel were killed while working at Natchi between 2019 and 2021.

The WRC says it is “virtually certain” that a company-contracted bus driver and labour recruiter murdered a female worker following a sexual relationship that began while they were both working at the factory. The report claims there is a “high likelihood” that a migrant worker was also murdered on factory grounds by an unknown perpetrator and her body dumped in a shipping container. The report claims that multiple Natchi employees, including an eyewitness, testified that the murder had occurred on factory property and that afterwards managers had told workers not to talk about the incident...

Eastman Exports, which owns Natchi Apparels, says it “disputes the accuracy of a number of statements in the WRC report” and denies that the murder of a migrant worker occurred on Natchi premises. However, the company says it has taken all the allegations seriously and “has created systems, processes and procedures to protect and promote the rights of female workers”...

Last month, groundbreaking legally binding agreements were signed between Eastman Exports and the TTCU – a local female-led garment worker trade union that represents women at the factory – 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 overhaul the factory’s internal complaints process, install TTCU members on the factory floor to ensure women are safe at work and operate a zero-tolerance approach to harassment and verbal and physical abuse.

Despite cancelling its orders at Natchi, 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...

Yet the labour rights groups involved in the Natchi case say the abuse that was uncovered should not be seen as an isolated incident. Instead, it is an indication of how sexual violence has flourished and become deeply embedded into the production model of fast fashion...

“H&M has committed to support this vital programme to combat gender-based violence and harassment by signing the agreement. If H&M does not restore orders soon, it will gravely undermine the success of its own programme,” says [Rola] Abimourched [of the WRC]. She also says that brands, including Marks & Spencer and Walmart, that were sourcing from the factory in the period of time when workers testified to experiencing sexual abuse had an obligation to resume orders. “If they do not place orders now to support this process, it will be clear that their claims about respecting worker rights are meaningless.”...

H&M says that while it had stopped orders at Natchi, “our focus and hope is that the agreement reached will contribute to sustainable and lasting change for the industry as a whole beyond one individual company”.

Marks & Spencer says 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 a request for comment...

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