Apparel retailer H&M has signed a legally binding agreement with Eastman Exports, its largest Indian clothing supplier; it pledges to end sexual violence and harassment on the factory floor after the death of a young worker last year. The agreement signed is only the second of its kind in the fashion industry and the first time a brand took up an initiative to tackle gender-based violence.
In January 2021, Jeyasre Kathiravel, a 20-yar-old Dalit woman, was found dead on farmland near her home after her shift at Natchi Apparel, a factory making clothes for H&M in Kaithian Kottai, Tamil Nadu. Reportedly, her supervisor confessed to her killing and is awaiting trial. Jeyasri’s family however alleged that she was raped before she was killed and that she was subjected to sexual harassment and intimidation at work in the months before her death.
Worker Rights Consortium (WRC), last year, heard testimonies from other female workers about the prevalent gender-based violence at the factory. Retailer H&M and Eastman Exports then spoke with the Tamil Nadu Textile and Common Labour Union (TTCU), as well as regional and international labour rights groups.
Suggested Reading: Know How Your Jeans Impacts The Environment: Why Sustainable Fashion Matters
H&M Sexual Violence Accord: Terms and Conditions
Reportedly, under the terms of the agreement, all workers, supervisors and executives will undergo mandatory gender-based violence training and the TTCU will recruit and train female workers as “shopfloor monitors” who will ensure women are protected from verbal harassment and sexual intimidation.
Internal Complaints Committees, a mechanism prerequisite under the law in workplaces across India, will be reframed under the part of this agreement because it failed to safeguard the female employees from gender-based violence at Natchi factories.
Additionally, the women can report sexual harassment anonymously to an independent panel that will be set up. The panel will have the power to dismiss perpetrators and seek financial compensation for survivors and their families.
All the signatories in the agreement: Eastman Exports, TTCU, Asia Floor Wage Alliance (AFWA), the international labour rights group Global Labour Justice-International Labour Rights Forum and retailer H&M hailed the agreement and said that their motive is to end gender-based violence while condoling Jeyasri’s death.
In 2019, the US brands Levi Strauss, Wrangler Jeans and The Children’s Place signed the Lesotho Agreement, the first accord which tackled gender-based violence after a WRC probe uncovered systematic sexual assault of female employees at three jeans factories in Lesotho.