WASHINGTON – Levi’s, The Children’s Place and Konyoor – owner of Wranger and Lee – have signed up to a groundbreaking programme aimed at combatting sexual harassment and abuse at their supplier garment factories in Lesotho, Africa. The US companies are funding the two-year programme together with the US Agency for International Development. It establishes an independent investigative group where factory workers can raise concerns, and comes in response to a Worker Rights Consortium investigation of jeans factories owned by Nien Hsing Textile which uncovered extensive sexual abuse of workers. The programme covers 10,000 workers and is backed by binding agreements that obligate brands to cut orders with Taiwan business Nien Hsing if the supplier refuses to comply with the monitor. This enforceable model is based on the same principles as the Bangladesh Accord.
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Previously, the Worker Rights Consortium had investigated Nien Hsing Textile factories in Lesotho after hearing from a number of sources that women who sew, sand, wash and add rivets to blue jeans and other clothes were facing gender-based violence.
It was claimed managaers and supervisors forced many female workers into sexual relationships in exchange for job security or promotions. In dozens of interviews, the women described a pattern of abuse and harassment, including inappropriate touching, sexual demands and crude comments.
When the workers objected, they faced discrimination and retaliation, according to the WRC. The factory managers also fought union organising, it says.
Levi Strauss & Co. vice president of sustainability Michael Kobori said that as soon as the company received the WRC report it told Nien Hsing “that this would not be tolerated and required them to develop a corrective action plan.”
Levi’s, The Children’s Place and Kontoor Brands have now said in a joint statement they want all workers, especially women, to feel “safe, valued and empowered.”
The US companies are now funding a two-year programme that establishes an independent investigative group where factory workers can raise concerns.
Factory owner Nien Hsing has agreed to work with Lesotho-based unions and women’s rights organisitions to develop a code of conduct and enforcement actions.
“We strive to ensure a safe and secure workplace for all workers in our factories,” Nien Hsing Chairman Richard Chen said in a written statement.
Rola Abimourched, a senior program director at the Worker Rights Consortium, said the Lesotho agreement should serve as a model for the rest of the apparel industry to prevent abuse and harassment.
“Hopefully this is something others will see and build on, so we can collectively make an impact far beyond any single country,” she said.