At this point the hidden costs of “fast fashion” –– exploited labor, materials that harm the environment, and waste –– are widely understood. But now a new study released Monday is taking a deeper look into how women, the majority of its workforce, are treated.
Women factory workers in Vietnam, who produce clothing and shoes, face high rates of sexual harassment and violence on the job, the Guardian reports. The Fear Wear Foundation (FWF), an initiative working to improve workplace conditions in the garment and textile industry, partnered with humanitarian aid agency Care International for the study. It is the first report to look closely at the relationship between violence and sexual harassment within the “fast fashion” industry, which produces cheap, trendy clothing for the mass market.
Gender-based violence in the workplace is common and undermines workers’ health, safety, and productivity, according to Sarah Newell, a campaigner at the advocacy organization International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF).
“Our clothes are almost entirely sewn by women of color living in poverty, many of whom encounter gender-based violence at work regularly,” Newell told Global Citizen via email. “This violence makes it more difficult for workers to organize, to speak out about labor abuse, and to access a workplace free of fear.”
.@CARE and @fairwear_org are shedding light on the connection between violence in garment factories and 'fast fashion'. With 50% of women interviewed having experienced some form of violence, the #ILOConvention is needed more than ever. https://t.co/PHbIxgmfvx— CARE International (@CAREGlobal) April 8, 2019
Of the 763 women interviewed in factories, in three Vietnamese provinces, 43.1% said they had suffered at least one form of violence and/or harassment in the previous year. A large majority of those interviewed said they had experienced unwelcome verbal abuse and harassment in the past year. A third had experienced physical harassment such as kissing, touching, hitting, punching, or leaning.
Women detailed surviving abuse that ranged from groping and slapping to rape and threats of contract termination. Younger, better-educated women and migrant workers endured the most abuse and harassment. The abuse occurred in factories with as many as 20,000 employees, according to the report. The names of the companies that manufacture their products at these factories remain confidential, but it is likely that they are connected to many major US and European brands.
On top of working in unsafe environments, the women reported putting in more than 60 hours of overtime per month and sometimes weren’t paid for it. Some women described fearing management and sometimes not using the bathroom to avoid being scolded.
The actual rate of abuse and harassment is likely higher than was reported in the study, Dr. Jane Pillinger a gender-based violence expert who wrote the study, told the Guardian. Many women didn’t provide honest answers for the report because they feared their employer or husband might find out.
The abuse of women in factories face isn’t unique to Vietnam, according to ILRF’s Newell.
“The findings of the FWF and Care study are similar to what we’ve heard from garment workers in many regions of the world,” Newell said. Large corporations need to take accountability for the violence that occurs in factories where their clothes are produced, she urged.
The FWF is calling on brands that use factories in Vietnam to explicitly state in their contracts that they will not tolerate sexual harassment and violence. To protect workers globally, the International Labour Organization (ILO), is finalizing its Convention on Violence and Harassment in the World of work in June to set strong standards to prevent and stop abuse.