17 May, 2021After reports that workers at Taiwanese-owned Hippo Knitting are subjected to sexual harassment and violence in the workplace, IndustriALL Global Union affiliate, the Independent Democratic Union of Lesotho (IDUL), are fighting back against the rampant violations.
Taiwanese-owned Hippo Knitting in Maseru, Lesotho, supplies workout wear to Fabletics, a brand co-founded by actor Kate Hudson.
Three women workers and members of IDUL, confirm that sexual harassment and verbal abuse is common at the factory, taking many forms, including being asked to undress during searching. Verbal abuse including comments on the women’s bodies and other derogatory remarks are a daily occurrence.
The management also snoops into the women’s private lives including their relationships and uses the information when deciding who should report for duty during the weekend for overtime work.
Mathabiso Moshabe, a shop steward at the factory says:
“The company asks women workers to undress during searches when they knock off work and justifies this by saying they suspect that the workers are stealing from the factory. But we are refusing the body searches which are humiliating, disrespectful and against our dignity.
“One of the human resources managers teases workers that since they undress for others to take photos; why not undress for body searches. The manager also makes fun of their bodies, mocks how they dress, and the shoes they wear.”
Of the 1,000 workers at Hippo Knitting, 538 are IDUL members of whom 479 are women. With more than 50 per cent members at the factory, the union is preparing to sign a recognition agreement with the factory as per labour laws as more members continue to join.
However, Hippo Knitting has cancelled the stop order agreement for union dues following recent action by workers demanding the gazetting of new wages by the government.
Mamahlomola Ntikoane, IDUL treasurer and a shop steward at Hippo Knitting says:
“A woman was sexually harassed by a supervisor, but the human resources department did not act. Instead, the perpetrator was transferred to another factory. The managers are also involved in sexual harassment. One female manager followed a worker into the toilet and attempted to grab his genitals.”
Hippo Knitting is not the first factory where IDUL is fighting sexual harassment. At Nien Hsing, IDUL together with other unions and international partners, campaigned for an agreement to be reached to end sexual harassment at the factory.
Christina Hajagos-Clausen, IndustriALL textile director says:
“We condemn sexual and gender-based violence at Hippo Knitting which is a violation of human and trade union rights and the dignity of the women workers. We support IDUL in its campaign to end the abuses in Lesotho’s garment factories.”
Lesotho’s garment sector employs over 40,000 workers, 70 per cent of whom are women. The factory supplies the garments under the African Growth and Opportunity Act which allows duty free exports from Lesotho to the US.
Photo credit: Lesotho garment factory, Enhanced Integrated Framework, Flickr