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Lesotho: Women's rights alliance group pressures Taiwanese factory into pact to end gender-based sexual harassment & violence at its plants

‘Groups force Lesotho clothing factories owner to end gender-based violence’ 3 September 2019

A landmark alliance of unions and women’s rights groups in the Southern African nation of Lesotho teamed up to pressure a Taiwanese factory owner into signing a pact to end gender-based sexual harassment and violence at its plants, the director of the AFL-CIO’s Solidarity Center says. In an August 29 interview with Chris Garlock on WPFW’s Your Rights At Work, center Executive Director Shawna Bader-Blau said the pact, which she called “a collective bargaining agreement,“ covers 10,000 female garment workers toiling in large factories owned by Nien Hsing Textiles, a major supplier for western brands Levi Strauss, The Children’s Place and Kontoor.

International workers’ rights groups, including the Solidarity Center, helped broker the pact, Bader-Blau told Garlock and guest co-host Mark Gruenberg. The pact not only bans the violence and harassment, but has enforcement mechanisms against bosses who still try to sexually exploit the women, a Solidarity Center fact sheet says. And the big western buyers will fund the enforcement. “It’s really exciting to see trade unions and women’s groups come together to fight this scourge all over the world,” Bader-Blau said.

Gender-based violence and sexual harassment is particularly rampant in worldwide clothing manufacturing the Solidarity Center found. Some 85% of world garment workers are women, they’re concentrated in the lowest-paying jobs and their pay is between 60% and 75% of that paid to men doing similar or identical work. Female garment workers in developing nations often toil 10-16 hours daily, six days a week, the report adds. And in Lesotho and other supplier nations, supervisors often forced female workers into sex to get or keep jobs. “If a worker has to sleep with someone to get a job or get overtime, we’re talking about repression through sexual power,” Bader-Blau told Garlock.