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Global summit praises Lesotho GBVH agreements

3 August, 2023Over 110 participants from Argentina, Botswana, Germany, Kenya, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa, Spain, and the USA, met at a high-level summit in Maseru, Lesotho, 27 July, to strategize how to end gender-based violence and harassment in the world of work in Southern Africa.

The summit participants concurred that the Lesotho agreements were a model for Southern Africa. Agreements were signed in 2019 between three global garment brands – Levi Strauss & Co., Kontoor Brands (Lee and Wrangler Jeans), and Children’s Place - and trade unions and women’s organizations to stop gender-based violence and harassment at Nien Hsing textile factory, which employed over 10 000 workers.

These agreements were reached after an investigation, by the Workers’ Rights Consortium (WRC), exposed shocking accounts of gender-based violence and sexual harassment at Nien Hsing’s five factories. The factory managers and supervisors were the perpetrators. To end this, the agreements recommended corrective programmes to stop GBVH that included reporting mechanisms, disciplinary action against harassers including termination of contracts, and GBVH awareness, training, and education programmes. Participants said since the anti-GBVH programme implementation began in 2021, cases at the factory have declined and they wanted the agreement to be extended to other factories. 

In his special remarks the Kingdom of Lesotho’s Prime Minister Ntsokoane Samuel Matakane, said: 

“Lesotho upholds the workers’ rights that are protected in the constitution and in ILO conventions which include Convention 190. The government promotes a workplace environment free from violence and harassment and is finalizing guidelines to stop sexual exploitation.”

The event was supported by several organizations that included the American Federation of Labour and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), Federation of Women Lawyers in Lesotho (FIDA), International Domestic Workers Federation (IDWF), ITUC, ITUC-Africa, WRC, Women and Law in Southern Africa Research and Education Trust (WLSA), and Workers Rights Watch.

The unions present at the event, which are signatories to the agreements, were the Independent Democratic Union of Lesotho (IDUL) which is affiliated to IndustriALL, United Textile Employees (UNITE), and National Clothing Textile and Allied Workers Union (NACTWU). 

Shawna Bader-Blau, executive director, Solidarity Center said: 

“After years of struggle by unions and especially women workers around the world to advance workplaces free from gender-based violence and harassment, it is heartening to see pro-labour governments within the M-POWER initiative speaking with one voice that violence and harassment at work is an unacceptable form of abuse that must end if workers are going to be able to realize just and fair workplaces.”

“Unions and women’s rights organizations in Lesotho have shown it’s possible to negotiate binding agreements within the global garment supply chain to protect fundamental workers’ rights.”

The M-POWER programme was also launched in Zambia earlier this year under the theme: “Amplifying the voices of workers to safeguard democracy in Africa.”

Paule France Ndessomin, IndustriALL regional secretary for Sub-Saharan Africa said: 

“Developing mechanisms and anti-GBVH programmes are important steps in the implementation of Convention 190 to end violence and harassment in the world of work as well as adopting workplace policies as explained in Recommendation 206. Importantly, these programmes are more effective if all stakeholders including unions are involved as is the case with Lesotho. We hope the M-POWER programme will be extended to other countries in Southern Africa.”

The summit’s co-hosts were the Multilateral Partnership for Organizing, Worker Empowerment and Rights (M-POWER), Lesotho Federation of Trade Unions (LFTU), and Lesotho Labour Council (LLC). 

Lesotho is the seventh country in Sub-Saharan Africa to ratify Convention 190 after the Central Africa Republic, Mauritius, Namibia, Nigeria, Somalia, and South Africa.