US Apparel Brands Caught Up in Sexual Abuse Scandal of Garment Workers in Lesotho
The sexual abuse scandal hitting Levi Strauss, Calvin Klein and Wrangler.
A report by the Workers Rights Consortium (WRC) has revealed three garment factories in Lesotho, Southern Africa have been operating under an umbrella of systemic “gender-based violence and harassment.” The factories in question are owned by Taiwanese company Nien Hsing Textile Co. and create clothing for major US apparel brands: Levi Strauss, Calvin Klein and Wrangler.
The report is based on a two-year investigation in which 140 workers were interviewed. These workers claimed to have been forced into sexual encounters or relationships with male co-workers, supervisors or bosses.
The report discloses that the abuse was heightened by the “suppression of workers’ associational rights, which left employees unable to act collectively”. The workers claimed they were forced to lie about the afore-mentioned abuse when the clients visited the factories; threatened with the possibility of losing their jobs or having their contracts revoked.
Since the 2013 Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh, that resulted in 1,127 fatalities, the WRC has stepped up its investigations of female garment workers and their working conditions.
Now, five trade unions, women’s rights organizations, the WRC, Workers United and the Solidarity Centre have signed a series of agreements with the US apparel brands Levi Strauss, The Children’s Place and Kontoor Brands, in an attempt to combat the prolific sexual abuse and gender-based violence faced by women workers in the factories.
The brand agreements will work alongside a separate agreement between Nien Hsing Textile and the various trade unions and women’s rights organizations. The idea of this agreement is to create an independent organization that will receive complaints, investigate workers’ conditions, and enforces solutions by Lesotho law.
The garment manufacturing industry in Lesotho currently employs 38,000 workers. With the agreements now in place, the WRC believes Lesotho can lead the way for a zero-tolerance attitude towards sexual abuse in the workplace; the first agreement of its kind involving major players in the apparel industry.