NEW YORK – Social audits in global apparel supply chains fail to address gender-based violence claims a new report by Human Rights Watch. Published to coincide with this week’s Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Forum on Due Diligence in the Garment and Footwear Sector, the report calls for global apparel companies to back growing calls for a new binding International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention on gender violence and harassment at work. “There is a desperate need for a binding convention because 59 countries do not even have any specific legal remedies against sexual harassment at work,” says Aruna Kashyap, senior counsel, Women’s Rights Division with HRW. “Even where legal remedies exist, they are often poorly enforced – like in India and Pakistan.”
The HRW highlights the flaws of relying on social audits – one of the primary tools apparel brands use to monitor conditions in factories across global supply chains – to check gender-based violence or harassment at work. Human Rights Watch looked at 50 social audit reports issued by big auditing firms, of factories primarily from Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan.
“We found that social audits (based on document reviews and on-site interviews) are not designed to elicit information about gender-based violence or harassment at work,” adds Kashyap. “They are not designed to overcome the specific barriers to reporting such harassment. They do not sufficiently create a safe space for workers who experience such harassment or guarantee anti-retaliation. Apparel companies that use social audits should know their limitations, and shouldn’t pretend they are the right tool for this job.”
HRW’s report notes that social audits are not designed to provide a safe environment to victims who experience sexual harassment. It says: “Experienced auditors from different countries who spoke with Human Rights Watch said that they randomly selected workers for interviews on-site as part of a social audit and conducted these interviews through a combination of group and individual interviews. Some of the auditors Human Rights Watch interviewed said that it was difficult to conduct good interviews with workers on-site and said that it was preferable to interview workers off-site. They said that auditors did not have the freedom to design such audits because brands or factories paid a very limited amount of money and conducting interviews off-site needed more money and time.”