Sector Risks

Discrimination, Sexual Harassment & Gender-based Violence

About the sector risk

The ILO Convention 111 on Discrimination in Employment and Occupation defines discrimination as "any distinction, exclusion or preference made on the basis of race, colour, sex, religion, political opinion, national extraction or social origin, which has the effect of nullifying or impairing equality of opportunity or treatment in employment or occupation". Discriminatory practices in the workplace are mostly related to pay, health and safety, working hours or the right to freedom of association. For example, pregnant workers are sometimes given short-term contracts that are terminated before they are entitled to maternity benefits under local law.

In textile production, women make up an estimated 70 per cent of the 60 million workers. Many women also work in the upstream stages of the value chain, for example in cotton production. Women workers in the textile industry are often exposed togender-based violence and harassment (GBVH) and face discrimination. Women are particularly affected because they work in low-paid positions, have little decision-making power and are therefore often dependent on male superiors. Migrant workers, informal workers and people with disabilities are also at risk. Depending on the country and context, workers are also discriminated against primarily on the basis of their ethnic, religious or caste affiliation.

Women often do not report cases of sexual harassment out of fear or shame, making it difficult to record. The Covid-19 crisis has further worsened the gender-specific risks in textile production. Women have been increasingly exposed to gender-based violence both at home and at work since the outbreak of the pandemic. The OECD Guidance on the garment sector states: "The enterprise is encouraged to adopt a zero-tolerance policy on sexual and gender-based violence and strict measures against sexual harassment in its own operations.”

As with the other sector risks, workplace-level grievance mechanisms are an important part of the solution. They allow workers to report harassment, violence or threats of violence 1) without fear of reprisals or criticism, 2) to contact bodies outside the company and trade union representatives, and 3) anonymously and confidentially.

The Partnership’s social goals and standards

The Textiles Partnership has formulated social goals that all members recognize by joining the Partnership. These goals are based on international social standards, in particular the ILO Conventions, the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. With regard to discrimination, harassment and mistreatment, the goal is as follows:

“Employees must be treated with respect and dignity. No employee may be subjected to humiliating or physical punishment, or to physical, sexual, psychological or verbal threats or mistreatment. Companies must not tolerate such behaviour. Legally permissible disciplinary measures do not fall under this category and, as such, are acceptable. Companies are required to document these legally justified disciplinary procedures and any disciplinary measures, including the reasoning and justification for them, and to explain them to their employees in a clear and comprehensible manner.

All forms of unlawful discrimination against employees on the basis of gender, age, religion, family status, caste, social background, illness, disability, pregnancy, ethnic or national origin, nationality, political outlook or sexual identity are prohibited. Companies must neither support nor tolerate discriminatory behaviour.“

How does the Textiles Partnership address the sector risk?

In 2020, gender-based violence was the Annual Topic in the Textiles Partnership and as such was given special focus. Members of different stakeholder groups formed an Expert Group (EG) to exchange ideas and jointly develop solutions. In online seminars, gender-specific impacts of the COVID-19 crisis, gender-specific grievance committees and the challenges of a gender data gap in global textile supply chains were discussed.

The The guidance document "Due Diligence, Social Audits and Gender-Based Violence and Harassment"  highlights challenges in identifying gender-based violence in social audits. Following on from this, it gives advice on how audits can be designed and carried out in a gender-sensitive way. Members of the Textiles Partnership, the International Association of Natural Textile Industry (IVN) and the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) developed the guide in a joint project. In a second step, gender-sensitive social audits are to be piloted in practice.

Discrimination, sexual harassment & gender-based violence are among the eleven sector risks that the Partnership companies are looking at in the review process. Based on the analysis and prioritisation of the risk, companies define targets and measures to address their most serious risks. In the risk analysis, companies should also consider the extent to which sexual harassment and sexual and gender-based violence exist in the countries in which they operate or from which they source. To support Partnership members in the review process, the Partnership Secretariat has produced country-specific factsheets on gender-based violence .

Guideline: Inclusion in textile supply chains

A guideline for textile companies on the inclusion of people with disabilities in the textile sector was published in January 2022. Click here to go to the news article: