As the #MeToo Movement continues to gain steam worldwide, a growing number of activists and NGOs have begun to call attention to the hidden workplace abuses faced by the world’s poorest women in Asia. In particular, women in apparel manufacturing — a female-dominated industry — report facing gender-based violence on a daily basis. New research into the working conditions of the garment supply chains of Walmart, H&M, and The Gap sheds light on the prevalence of verbal abuse, sexual harassment, and physical abuse that women workers in garment factories routinely face. Examples of physical abuse reported by Walmart factory workers include “slapping workers and throwing heavy bundles of papers and clothes at workers.” And while both men and women confront these kinds of abuses, women are disproportionately impacted due to a male-dominated management hierarchy in which women occupy the lowest positions of the factory and have the least amount of power. Harassment can also be sexual, targeting women in particularly vulnerable positions with no avenues for relief or protection. One former production-line manager in a supply factory for Walmart in Bangladesh was fired shortly after she resisted her manager’s sexual harassment. When she attempted to report the harassment to the police and to human resources, she was turned away.
Women in the garment industry are especially vulnerable to abuse due to their low social and economic status and the prevalence of gender discrimination more broadly, which undermines public avenues for relief. The lack of effective and reliable complaint and protection mechanisms often means that women suffer in silence. Although all three of these multinational firms have corporate social responsibility policies in place, such codes mean little in practice when companies implement weak monitoring mechanisms and shift responsibility for safeguarding worker’s rights to overseas employers. In fact, this lack of corporate accountability for human rights abuses in the supply chain is part of a larger set of factors that converge to create an environment in which gender-based violence is prevalent. These factors include the usage of short-term contracts, impossibly high production targets, excessive working hours, and low wages.
Read more at International Human Rights Clinic Blog