H&M has committed to tackling misconduct at one of its largest suppliers in India following the alleged murder of a female garment worker last year.
The legally binding agreement sees H&M become the first fashion brand to sign an agreement to tackle gender-based violence within Asia’s garment industry.
The agreement, involving Eastman Exports Global Clothing Private Ltd, a union and NGOs, is designed to support over 5,000 female garment workers.
The agreement will mean all workers, supervisors and executives at Eastman Exports will have to complete gender-based violent training. Women workers will now also be able to anonymously report sexual haraassment to an independent panel, which will be able to dismiss accused workers and help victims and their families seek compensation.
A new complaints panel overhauls Eastman Exports’ current internal complaints committee, which is required under Indian law.
Female workers will also be trained as “shopfloor monitors” to help protect women from verbal harassment and sexual intimidation.
Julia Bakutis, industrial relations expert at H&M Global Social Sustainability team, told Supply Management: “Jeyasre Kathirave’s death was a tragedy, and our thoughts remain with her family.
“H&M Group wants to do our utmost to contribute to systemic and positive change in the industry and have therefore signed an agreement to work together with industry stakeholders to address, prevent and remedy gender-based violence and sexual harassment.
“We expect this agreement to contribute to a broader industry-wide initiative going forward. Every worker should feel safe working in our industry, whether they are employed by our suppliers or not.
“In line with our normal due diligence routines, we stopped placing orders with the supplier several months ago. We are however committed to work in collaboration to improve the conditions for workers and to being part of a solution.”
The announcement comes after Jeyasre Kathiravel – a 20-year-old Dalit woman who worked at Natchi Apparel, owned by Eastman Exports and a supplier to H&M – was found dead after finishing her shift at the factory.
Her supervisor has been charged with her murder. Her family claim she faced sexual harrassment and intimidation while working at the factory.
Jennifer Rosenbaum, executive director at the non-government organisation Global Labour Justice – International Labour Rights Forum, one of the signatories to the agreement, said: “This enforceable agreement is a model for how to bring about real change with collaboration among brands, suppliers, unions and global labour partners.
“Brands play a critical role by using commercial relationships and business leverage to reduce the existing risk of gender-based violence and harassment, incentivising suppliers to comply with remediation. We urge all brands to sign similar agreements, join this model and replicate it across the industry.”
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