28 August, 2019A campaign by IndustriALL affiliate, the Independent Democratic Union of Lesotho (IDUL), to stop long-running gender-based violence at Nien Hsing Textile company factories has resulted in binding agreements to end the harassment, signed by unions, apparel brands and women’s rights organizations.
IDUL has been fighting gender-based violence and harassment at Nien Hsing Textile company factories in Maseru for many years. The company, which employs over 10,000 workers, even cancelled a memorandum of understanding in retaliation for being asked about the violations when IDUL wanted to access the factories to organize.
The agreements to address the pattern of abuse and harassment come after a report by US based Workers Rights Consortium (WRC), revealing that managers and supervisors at Nien Hsing forced workers into sexual relationships by “conditioning the maintenance of employment contracts/or provision of more favourable working conditions on a female worker’s willingness to engage in such a relationship.”
Management was complicit as it did not take disciplinary action against the offenders, creating a tolerance of the abuse and a fear of reporting the violations.
After extensive negotiations following on the report, IDUL together with four other unions in Lesotho, IndustriALL US affiliate Workers United, WRC and Solidarity Center signed agreements with Nien Hsing, Levi Strauss & Co, The Children’s Place and Kontoor Brands to address gender-based violence at five factories in the country.
May Rathakane, IDUL deputy general secretary says:
“We are committed to protecting workers’ rights and well-being at factories, and to ensure that female workers feel safe, valued and empowered. We are pleased to be working on a comprehensive programme to combat and prevent gender-based violence and harassment. This is a breakthrough to better working conditions and will protect workers from retaliation by employers.”
A complaint and fact-finding body will be set up to investigate the abuses, education and training on sexual harassment for factory workers, supervisors and managers will also be carried out.
The Lesotho organizations also have an agreement with each brand, to which the Solidarity Center, Workers United and WRC are also signatories, that commits the brand to cut orders with the employer if the employer fails to fulfill its obligations.
Edgar Romney, secretary-treasurer of Workers United, who assisted in the negotiations for the pact, says:
“Brands have a responsibility to ensure that their suppliers respect workers’ rights and prevent gender-based violence and harassment. These agreements reflect a shared commitment to protect the rights of the workers and is a good example of what we can achieve when joining forces globally.”