It’s no secret that clothes from the biggest fashion brands in the world are often made by workers with low wages and poor working conditions.
Fast fashion has consequences — and new reports have claimed that it’s causing female workers to face widespread abuse on a daily basis.
You might recognise the culprits. Indeed, you might be wearing their garbs right now.
H&M and Gap have been singled out in the two reports from Global Labour Justice, highlighting the “daily reality” of abuse faced by their female garment workers across factories in Asia, according to the Guardian.
And it’s all down to the excessively ambitious targets set by the companies to keep fast fashion alive at the production line.
“We must understand gender-based violence as an outcome of the global supply chain structure,” said Jennifer Rosenbaum, US director of Global Labour Justice. “H&M and Gap’s fast fashion supply chain model creates unreasonable production targets and underbid contracts, resulting in women working unpaid overtime and working very fast under extreme pressure.”
I've read countless reports and articles like this. That gender based violence in garment factories is a result of fast-fashion's unreasonable deadlines is not news to me, nor is it to @hm or @Gap. This time make your actions speak louder than your wordshttps://t.co/k8UPruYMWd— siubhan O'Donnell (@siubhan_o) June 5, 2018
Over 540 workers alleged abusive incidents between January and May this year, and reportedly blamed their employers for imposing lightning-quick turnarounds and minimal overhead costs. The factories are based in Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka.
The noted abuse includes rape, slapping, gendered bullying, and misuse of power to pursue sexual relationships. The reports also list numerous workplace malpractices, including forced overtime and preventing women from taking bathroom breaks.
“[My] batch supervisor came up behind me as I was working on the sewing machine, yelling, ‘You are not meeting your target production,’” said Radhika, a woman quoted in the report employed at a H&M factory in Bangalore, India. “He pulled me out of the chair and I fell on the floor. He hit me, including on my breasts. He pulled me up and then pushed me to the floor again [and] kicked me.”
Radhika later filed a complaint. But despite the factory’s human resources department telling the supervisor to stop harassing her, nothing changed. Radhika suffered in silence, trapped in a job she needed to support her “physically challenged daughter” after the death of her husband.
A new report highlights a link between poverty wages and #GenderBasedViolence in @hm supply chain. Yet another reason to join the #TurnAroundHM campaign and sign this petition demanding #LivingWageNow: https://t.co/XnHwIqJWMo#ILC2018pic.twitter.com/hbeG1isBYY— Clean Clothes (@cleanclothes) June 4, 2018
“These allegations are deeply concerning,” said Debbie Coulter from the Ethical Trading Initiative, a worker’s rights alliance where both H&M and Gap are members. “Gender-based violence is unacceptable under any circumstances, and brands need to make sure that women working in their supply chain are protected. We expect H&M and Gap to investigate these allegations, and to work with supplier factories so that any women affected have swift access to remedy.”
The findings are indicative of an even wider problem of exploitation and workplace neglect in the fast fashion industry. In 2016, a BBC investigation found that retailers like Marks and Spencer, Zara, and Next exploited the cheap labour of Syrian refugees in one of the largest factories in Turkey, the country with the largest refugee population in the world.
The undercover operation found that some child refugees were paid less than £1 an hour, and that health and safety regulations were forgoed for the sake of the production line. It’s a vicious cycle of modern slavery that can often lead to human trafficking — and, like the Global Labour Justice report outlined, widespread abuse.
The report has been published on the same week that the International Labour Organisation (ILO) meets to discuss action on workplace sexual harassment, and Global Labour Justice have provided a list of recommendations to tackle the issue more effectively.
Both H&M and Gap told the Guardian they will investigate the claims and condemned gender violence, stating that discrimination was against their values.
Global Citizen campaigns to achieve the UN's Global Goals, which include action to eradicate forced labour, slavery, and human trafficking. You can join us by taking action on this issue here.