Published 4 years ago.
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Image: Levi Strauss
Levi Strauss, The Children’s Place and Kontoor Brands have launched a pilot program aimed at ending gender-based harassment at five factories owned and operated by supplier Nien Hsing Textile Co. Ltd., in Lesotho.
The group took action after a two-year
by the nonprofit Worker Rights Consortium (WRC) revealed that managers
and supervisors regularly coerced female workers into sexual situations, through
promises of promotions or full-time contracts. The investigation also found that
management failed to punish the offenders; and that workers’ right to unionize
was suppressed, preventing them from collectively sounding the alarm. The abuses
violated not only workers’ rights under Lesotho labor laws, but also
international standards and the codes of conduct of the brands sourcing from the
The resulting accord — backed by civil and women’s rights groups; five
Lesotho-based labor unions; and US-based organizations WRC, Solidarity
Center and Workers United — will offer protection to more than 10,000
garment workers in Lesotho, as well as supporting economic development and
promoting Lesotho as an apparel-exporting country.
As the Guardian
rather than insist the brands terminate their contracts with Nien Hsing, WRC
asked them to leverage their buying power to influence the supplier to change
its practices, said WRC senior program director Rola Abimourched.
“Internal ‘complaints procedures’ ask workers to trust the very management
responsible for the abuses and ignore the power imbalance between workers and
their supervisors, who may be perpetrators of abuse,” Abimourched explained to
the Guardian. “Despite the existence of social auditing programs that aim to
address gender-based violence, workers at the bottom of supply chains remain
These binding agreements present a fundamentally different approach, one with
The agreements include creation of an independent oversight body with the power
to investigate claims of sexual harassment and expose abusive managers, and to
compel the factories to discipline offenders. The program will also involve
extensive worker-to-worker and management training, education, and related
“We strive to ensure a safe and secure workplace for all workers in our
factories and are therefore fully committed to implementing this agreement
immediately, comprehensively, and with measurable success,” Richard Chen,
Nien Hsing’s chairman,
in an emailed statement.
The pilot program — which will be funded mostly by the three clothing companies,
with additional backing from the US Agency for International Development —
will run for two years.
Taiwan-based Nien Hsing, which also operates in Mexico and Vietnam, has
agreed to provide access to its factories for reporting purposes and direct its
managers not to retaliate against workers who file complaints. Should the
supplier breach the worker-protection agreement, LS&Co, The Children’s Place and
Kontoor Brands will withdraw production orders until it is compliant.
Kontoor Brands VP Scott Deitz told the Guardian that the company was
“deeply, deeply concerned” by the allegations, adding: “This was not the way we
wanted to learn about these problems. We wanted to learn about them through the
audits we conducted.”
Levi Strauss, which has been sourcing from the Lesotho factories for the past 10
years, explained in a
“[We have] a longstanding commitment to creating safe, productive workplaces for
workers across our supply chain. As the first multinational apparel company to
establish a comprehensive workplace code of conduct for our manufacturing
it is fundamental to our work.
“Whenever we learn of issues that negatively impact workers, it is incumbent on
us to respond quickly and thoughtfully. After reviewing a summary of the report,
we immediately engaged Nien Hsing’s CEO to make it clear that the kinds of abuse
alleged would not be tolerated and required action to be taken. … All
recommendations have either been completed or are in process, and we continue to
monitor Nien Hsing’s progress.
“Addressing sexual harassment and abuse requires coordination and commitment;
there is no ‘one size fits all’ remedy. Unlike many risks that we audit against,
reports of sexual harassment and coercion are more difficult to illicit from
workers due to their fear of retaliation and other factors. We are therefore
currently engaging with experts in order to identify best practices for
identifying gender-based violence and harassment and improving our monitoring
Levi Strauss goes on to outline further company efforts to address gender-based
violence and harassment: To address the issue at a systemic level, the jeans
giant has launched a cross-functional Gender Equity Taskforce made up of
representatives from its Sourcing, Sustainability and Global Policy teams, and
the Levi Strauss Foundation, which works with industry experts to ensure
that issues tied to gender equity are addressed in all monitoring and audits.
This complements the company’s Worker Wellbeing initiatives, which the
company says have reached more than 200,000 workers in 17 countries; as well as
the publication last year of an open-source Gender Equality
outlines good practices for enhancing gender equity in the apparel industry.
“This is a global issue — an industry-wide issue — and we have every intention
of continuing to be leaders in efforts to insure a safe and productive working
environment across our entire supply chain, in order to improve the working
lives of people we know are so critical to our continued success as a company,”
the company says.
Published Aug 19, 2019 8am EDT / 5am PDT / 1pm BST / 2pm CEST