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Annual topic 2020: “Gender-based violence in textile supply chains”

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11.09.2020

Annual topic 2020: “Gender-based violence in textile supply chains”

Gender Based Violence Illustration, auf einer orange-farbenen Hand steht STOP, im Hintergrund Garnrollen

Sexual and gender-specific violence describes violence against people based on their gender and affects mainly women and girls, but also men and boys, although to a lesser extent. Gender-specific violence encompasses all violent acts that cause physical, emotional, psychological or sexual harm and suffering. This may also include denial of resources or access to services. Generally, gender-specific violence is based on gender norms and unequal power relations.

Gender-specific violence against women is a widespread problem. Estimates suggest that 35 percent of all women worldwide have already experienced gender-based violence. About 80 percent of all employees in the global fashion industry are women. Working conditions are often precarious and violence against women occurs far too frequently, as various studies have shown.

  • In a survey conducted by CARE in textile factories in Cambodia, almost every third female employee stated that she had been sexually harassed at work in the last twelve months.
  • According to a survey by Better Work, 85 percent of the female textile workers in Indonesia are worried about sexual harassment.
  • Moreover, in a survey by the Fair Wear Foundation in Bangladesh, over 60 percent of women textile workers reported having been victims of gender-based violence.
Adoption of ILO Convention 190

June 21, 2019 was a groundbreaking date in the fight against gender-based violence: The International Labour Conference adopted the ILO Convention 190 to end violence and harassment in the workplace. The Convention highlights gender-specific violence and harassment and formulates concrete requirements that companies must comply with.

Christina Stockfisch of the DGB considers this as a milestone. She was actively involved in the negotiations and thinks:

“The ILO Convention is the first international standard in this area. It provides the first globally valid definition of sexual harassment and violence, and it does not refer to the workplace alone, but to the world of work in general, thus developing a far greater scope of protection for workers”.

Christina Stockfisch Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund
Companies must report on the sector risk in the review process

Gender-specific violence falls under the sector risk of discrimination. In the 2021 review process, members of the partnership will - for the first time - be required to analyze, address and report on gender-specific risks in their supply chain.

Making the topic mandatory in the review process is also a direct response to the recognition that gender-specific violence is still an often-neglected topic. The evaluation of the roadmaps of the 2019 review process showed that almost no company had taken measures against discrimination against women in their supply chain. Possible approaches could, for instance, include raising awareness of the problem among textile workers or supporting internal factory committees.

Fear and lack of awareness are hindering factors for a comprehensive analysis of the subject

In practice, identifying and addressing gender-based violence in global supply chains presents a major challenge. Victims often shy away from talking about their experiences. Research and project experiences show that three conditions are required: Time, trust and a safe space. Victims often prefer to abstractly refer to harassment experiences of others rather than talking about their own.

Furthermore, there is often a lack of awareness among employees of what gender-based violence exactly means. Very few know that it includes verbal abuse, discrimination in job selection or illegal dismissal of pregnant women.

Annual topic in the Partnership for Sustainable Textiles

Against the backdrop these developments and challenges, the Partnership for Sustainable Textiles has chosen gender-specific violence as its annual topic for 2020. ALDI Nord, ALDI Süd, Brands Fashion, CARE, DGB, FEMNET, Gerry Weber, GOTS, JBC, Mantis World, NKD, s.Oliver, Takko Fashion and Waschbär participate in an expert group which aims to work on the topic along the three pillars of the partnership, meaning to accompany members in the 2021 review process, to promote joint initiatives and to create support and exchange formats for companies.

In a first online introductory seminar, organized with the support of FEMNET, members had the opportunity to learn about the sector risk of discrimination. The following questions were addressed:

  • What is gender-based violence?
  • Which international standards apply?
  • What are the challenges in producing countries?

In order to support members in the 2021 review process in analyzing the gender-specific risks in their supply chains, the partnership secretariat prepared country-specific fact sheets on gender-specific violence in countries such as India, Bangladesh and Vietnam.

In September, the partnership secretariat also organizes a webinar on "Addressing the Gender Data Gap". Women are often overlooked by the due diligence obligations of companies, as the current report of the UN Working Group on the Gender Dimensions of the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights reveals.

One reason for this is a lack of gender-specific data. Information on women in value chains has so far been largely fragmented and anecdotal. Especially female workers in the upstream supply chain are often completely invisible. However, gender-sensitive data and its analysis are, in fact, important steps towards closing due diligence gaps of companies. Hence, the Partnership for Sustainable Textiles wants to enter into a discussion on these issues with its members.

Members of the Partnership for Sustainable Textiles share their experiences on workplace committees on harassment

At the beginning of the year, the expert group identified two priority topics: Social audits and workplace committees on harassment in factories. At the work meeting in April 2020, partnership member Takko Fashion reported on its experiences in setting up factory committees together with the independent partner Fair Wear Foundation in Bangladesh.

The committees' task is to educate textile workers about gender-specific violence and to manage concrete complaints within the factory. According to Takko Fashion, important preconditions for the committees’ work are acceptance and participation on the part of the factory management, but also close and long-term relationships with suppliers. Challenges such as high staff turnover, monitoring of committees and the difficulty of finding qualified trainers were also discussed.

Despite all the difficulties, Iryna Makoveienko from Takko Fashion draws a positive conclusion:

“Working with the committees requires patience and endurance. But the results are positive. And this is why we are planning to extend the work with the committees to all our suppliers in Bangladesh”.

Guidance to integrate gender-based violence in social audits

Brand and retail companies often use social audits to monitor working conditions at factory level. Therefore, it is important that gender-specific violence is properly addressed in these social audits. However, this is unfortunately often not the case (HRW 2019). Factory audits and interviews by male auditors are the norm and do not create a safe space for female employees to speak openly about experiences of gender-based violence.

Therefore, the expert group of the Partnership for Sustainable Textiles develops guidanceto effectively embed gender-specific violence in social audits. The guidance aims to sensitize brands to the limitations of social audits and to support them in designing social audits in a gender-sensitive manner – in order to integrate them usefully into their due diligence processes.

NKD, for example, started to design social audits in a more gender-sensitive way a few years ago.

Mali Stelzer NKD

Mali Stelzer from NKD explains: 

“At NKD we have had positive experiences with off-site interviews to identify gender-specific violence within the supply chain. The interviews take place at a neutral location, after work, far away from the factory premises. In this neutral atmosphere, workers can report their experiences at work openly without fear of reprisals. It is also important that the interviews are conducted by same-sex interlocutors.”

COVID-19 intensifies the problems

Since March 2020, textile workers, suppliers, brands and retail companies were confronted with immense and unforeseen challenges due to the COVID-19 crisis. The crisis also has gender-specific effects because women make up the largest part of the working population in the clothing sector and are therefore over proportionally affected by the rising unemployment in the textile sector.

Women garment workers often have the lowest paid jobs in factories and struggle with health problems, financial insecurity, risks of violence and a high burden of care work - both at work and at home. COVID-19 has increased these risks.

In an online workshop in May 2020 , partnership members discussed gender-specific effects of the crisis on textile workers as well as possibilities for engagement and remedies. CARE initiated the discussion, presenting the results of their rapid gender assessments from Bangladesh, Cambodia, Indonesia and Myanmar, as well as planned emergency relief measures.

Subsequently, the ALDI SÜD Group decided to support CARE's emergency aid measures.

Kathrin Raabe comments: 

“As women are particularly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and its consequences, the ALDI SÜD Group has decided to support CARE's COVID-19 fund. We were able to provide emergency aid and help textile workers in Bangladesh and Myanmar through direct financial support, the provision of hygiene kits and psychological support in cases of gender-based violence”.

Kathrin Raabe ALDI Süd
Cooperation between the Partnership for Sustainable Textiles, German development cooperation and BSR

Based on this online workshop, BSR, the Partnership for Sustainable Textiles, and German development cooperation currently develop the HERessentials cooperation project . The project mainly aims at responding to the increased risks for women during and after the crisis. Fields of action include hygiene and pandemic prevention, gender-based violence, digital financial services and financial planning, nutrition and family planning, communication at the workplace and stress management.

In addition to training for workers, close cooperation with the factory management is also planned. The focus is thereby on the process of reopening production facilities after temporary closures and gender-sensitive communication with workers in stressful situations. The training content is currently being digitalized to ensure that the measures can be carried out despite the pandemic and distancing rules.

While the GIZ sector project Multi-Stakeholder-Partnerships in the Textile Sector promotes the development and digitization of these measures, the GIZ regional project FABRIC plans to pilot the measures in supplier factories. In addition, FABRIC will coordinate the involvement of local stakeholders such as interest groups of employers and employees.

The Partnership for Sustainable Textiles plans to accompany the project focusing on the exchange of learning and experiences, thereby cooperating closely with FABRIC to enable an exchange of experience not only for brands but also within the Asian region. Partnership members can nominate supplier companies for the pilot. They can gain access to the tools which have been developed and reflect together on learning experiences through the project support in place.

Judith Kunert, Bündnissekretariat

The next year will show how the work of the partnership on this important topic will develop. Judith Kunert from the Partnership secretariat finds:

“2020 has been a difficult year in the fight against gender-based violence. After the major milestone of the adoption of ILO Convention 190 in 2019, 2020 was marked by regression and standstill due to the corona crisis. Nevertheless, the Partnership for Sustainable Textiles has managed to launch several initiatives and support services for its members. We will see in 2021 how these will be taken up and who is going to participate”.

Partnership Initiative Tamil Nadu

Our Partnership Initiative in Tamil Nadu in southern India also focuses on the promotion and education of female workers. You can find more information on the website of the Partnership Initiative..

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