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Garment workers disclose worsening human rights issues in new report

By Rachel Douglass


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Image: Unsplash

A new report by the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre (BHHRC) has highlighted allegations of union-busting and human rights abuses against garment workers at the suppliers of a number of global fashion retailers.

As part of the report, the organisation interviewed 24 trade union leaders and surveyed 124 union activists and labour activists in Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Indonesia and Sri Lanka.

Allegations were present among 13 factories that supply or have supplied to at least 15 international fashion brands, according to the report, including the likes of Adidas, Bestseller, C&A, H&M, Hugo Boss, J. Crew, Mango, Next, Primark and Under Armour.

Respondents said they had continued to face discrimination, threats, violence, false charges and arrests, with many factories in question apparently using covid-19 as a means for these alleged attempts to suppress any organising efforts.

Increase in intimidation and gender-based violence

Around 61 percent of the survey respondents reported the situation for freedom of association and collective bargaining had “got worse” since the pandemic.

Additionally, almost half of the surveyees had seen an increase in issues such as intimidation and harassment of trade union members.

The BHHRC said that suppression against trade union rights, which had spiked early on in the pandemic, had today become “the norm”, causing “devastating impacts for garment workers”.

It noted that without the right level of protection, female workers were facing declining wages, precarious work conditions, longer hours and abuse on the factory floor.

This was mirrored in the collected data, which found 30 percent of respondents had reported an increase in gender-based violence.

More than half had also revealed an increase in wage and severance theft as a further result of restrictions on trade union rights.

In a release linked to the report, the BHHRC called on governments, brands and suppliers to take action in ensuring the right to freedom of association is protected throughout supply chains.

The organisation added that its data showed the need for introducing mandatory human rights due diligence frameworks, as well as proactive brand engagement with suppliers.

It concluded: “Brands and suppliers are encouraged to enter good-faith dialogue with workers and their representatives through collective bargaining and binding agreements between key stakeholders.”

Human rights
Supply Chain
Workers Rights