Gender-based violence and harassment (GBVH) is one of the most prevalent human rights violations and business-related risks in almost all supply chains, including in apparel and textiles (A&T). More than 35 million women work in the garment sector in Asia and the Pacific, and they represent about 80% per cent of the workforce. The World Health Organisation estimates 1 in 3 women experience GBV globally and women, especially young women, are most affected when they work at the bottom of global supply chains.
“Verbal harassment is a feature of this job – as production targets increase, the harassment increases.” Read the story of Melati, a 24-year-old garment worker from Jakarta. As part of our partnership with STITCH, we followed her journey as she speaks up and report the abuses that are happening in her factory. Read her story.
Ahead of International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and 16 Days of Activism later this month, these challenges have been front of mind for ETI. How can we overcome slow progress on GBVH? And what role can ETI play in expediting it?
As per the ILO C190 definition, the term “gender-based violence and harassment” means violence and harassment directed at persons because of their sex or gender, or affecting persons of a particular sex or gender disproportionately, and includes sexual harassment.
Women represent about 80% of the workforce in A&T supply chains worldwide. With workers at risk of abuse, buyers and suppliers are themselves exposed to high reputational, financial and, increasingly, regulatory risks if they don’t address GBVH risks in their supply chains. Action is needed now, both for workers and for business.
The costs of GBVH
The business and economic costs of GBVH are well documented. For example, it is estimated that sexual harassment costs the Cambodian garment sector US$ 89 million per year. Data from a study by ILO shows sexual harassment and violence in the workplace can cause losses between 1 and 3.5 per cent of the national gross domestic product. GBVH impacts productivity, turnover, absenteeism, and overall morale. More importantly however, are the negative physical and psychological costs to the individual who experiences GBVH as well as those who witness it. Businesses that don’t address GBVH are more likely to face labour unrest in their supply chains, high staff turnover, and increased hiring and training costs. They are also more exposed to negative reputation and fragile credibility with customers and investors who expect responsible companies to ensure instances of GBVH are reduced and women workers are protected.
Increased regulatory risks
There is growing momentum worldwide to strengthen legislation on the responsibility of companies to respect workers’ rights. We have seen significant litigation addressing GBVH in supply chains being brought and heard before UK courts. The EU CSDDD requires companies to take the necessary measures to identify and address human rights risks within their supply chains. With a vast majority of workers being women, it is likely that A&T companies will need to focus on GBVH as a key risk within their own operations and supply chains. Some gender-sensitive considerations have been adopted in the legislation. Alongside this, the ILO C190 and Recommendation 206 recognises everyone’s right to a work environment free from violence and harassment. Once implemented, this convention will be powerful tool that governments will increasingly use to strengthen local laws to prevent GBVH.
As these measures come into force, it is particularly pertinent for companies to conduct thorough due diligence to mitigate the risk of GBVH in their supply chains.
Despite these risks, GBVH remains largely hidden across A&T supply chains. It is well established that gender-based violence and harassment is notoriously hard to trace and evidence. Social audits and conventional grievance mechanisms are rarely capable of capturing or demonstrating where it’s occurring, with devastating outcomes for workers involved.
The biggest challenge for brands and their suppliers in relation to addressing GBVH in supply chains, is knowing how and where to start with their due diligence. There remains significant work to ensure strong, systematic, and scaled application of gender-responsive HRDD in global supply chains. Without this progress gender-based risks will no doubt prevail, and business will be both ill-equipped to meet new legal requirements and growing investor and stakeholder expectations. More importantly they will be incapable of resolving real and pervasive issues affecting women and girls in their supply chains.
Driving practicable progress through gender-responsive HRDD
Gender-responsive human rights due diligence (GRHRDD) is a continuous process that helps companies to identify adverse impacts relating to human and labour rights on a particular gender in their own operations, supply chains and other services, with a view to ending, preventing, or mitigating those risks. According to our Gender Advisor, Halima Ahmed, “It essentially means being able to apply a gender lens to each step of the due diligence process to minimise the adverse business impacts on women, given that they are the more vulnerable gender, thereby contribute to gender equality”.
In recent years, ETI has championed a number of initiatives and programmes aimed at supporting GRHRDD and addressing these issues – from our Gender Data Initiative, to the gender-sensitive workplace programme implemented across factories in Bangladesh and advocating for the ratification of ILO Convention 190 by governments in key production countries.
Start your GRHRDD journey with three simple steps:
- Develop your understanding of how gender-based human rights risks manifest in the supply chain. This is key to ensuring your policies reflect an understanding of the issues and your commitment to addressing them. ETI’s Base Code Guidance on Gender (Part A) is a good resource to consult.
- Examine the supply chain data you currently collect and start identifying any gaps in gender-disaggregation. Such data is critical to understand actual and potential impact of risks on women and men. ETI’s gender data initiative has developed resources that can help you.
- Start having strategic conversations with your supplier base on gender-based human rights risks and why it is important to address them, particularly difficult issues such as gender-based violence and harassment.
ETI is now embarking on a practical approach that focuses on bringing A&T industry stakeholders together to leverage their collective experience, expertise, and guidance to reduce risks of GBVH and address its root causes through GRHRDD. We will work collectively to address GBVH in a manner that tackles root causes and results in systemic change in policies, processes, and behaviours at workplace level.
This blog is part of a new series of blogs and events. Watch this space for more on what ETI is doing to drive practicable progress on GBVH in apparel and textiles.