Many workers at factories which manufacture Levi's and Wrangler products in Lesotho were coerced into sexual relationships © Sean Gallup/Getty Images
Many workers at factories which manufacture Levi's and Wrangler products in Lesotho were coerced into sexual relationships © Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Levi’s and Wrangler act over workers forced to have sex at factories

22 August 2019

Levi’s and Wrangler have made an enforceable agreement with a supplier in Lesotho following complaints that factory workers were coerced to have sex with supervisors. 

The fashion brands and trade unions, women’s rights organisations, the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC) and Taiwanese supplier Nien Hsing Textile have all signed agreements aiming to protect workers’ rights, support economic development, and promote Lesotho as an apparel exporting country.

The move follows an investigation by WRC which exposed “severe and extensive sexual harassment and coercion” at the five factories in Lesotho owned by Nien Hsing Textile.

Offsite interviews with dozens of Nien Hsing workers revealed that managers and supervisors coerced many workers into sexual relationships and subjected women to frequent sexual harassment.

One worker told the WRC: “Many supervisors demand sexual favors and bribes from prospective employees. They promise jobs to the workers who are still on probationary contracts. […] All of the women in my department have slept with the supervisor. For the women, this is about survival and nothing else… If you say no, you won’t get the job, or your contract will not be renewed.” 

By implementing the enforceable brand-worker agreement, the brands are obligated to use their economic power to encourage Nien Hsing Textile to keep high labour standards in its factories, which employ around 10,000 people. 

It was also agreed that an independent investigative office be established to receive and investigate complaints of gender-based violence and harassment. The organisation could identify violations of a jointly-developed code of conduct and direct and enforce remedies in accordance with Lesotho law. 

Levi’s and Kontoor Brands, which owns brands such as Wrangler and Lee, jointly stated: “We are committed to working to protect workers’ rights and foster well-being at third party supplier factories, so that all workers at these facilities, especially female workers, feel safe, valued and empowered. 

“We believe this multi-faceted programme can create lasting change and better working environments at these factories, making a significant positive impact on the entire workforce.” 

Rola Abimourched, senior program director at the WRC, said: “These breakthrough agreements set an example for the rest of the apparel industry on how to address harassment and abuse in apparel supply chains.

“The parties worked together to develop a series of binding agreements between Nien Hsing, its brand customers, and unions and women’s organisations, that guarantee protection for workers and punishment for harassers. Hopefully this is something others will see and build on, so we can collectively make an impact far beyond any single country.”

Lesotho’s garment industry specialises in the production of denim products and the country is estimated to make 26m pairs of jeans each year.

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