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#Women Harassment

Ugly truth of females exploitation in H&M supply chain in India



BM Editorial Team


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When H&M supply chain departments employee Radhika raised a complaint against her employer of sexual violence – the world knew it was true but nobody in the world has the courage to accept it.

There are no easy answers to the question ‘how can gender-based violence best be eradicated?’ Women’s organisations, international development NGOs, and human-rights campaigning bodies have succeeded in bringing out this crime into the open as a human-rights violation and a development concern, but the barriers are still formidable.


The recent case of gender based violence in H&M supply chain triggered concerns around this social issue. Are all those talks around gender equality is just a myth? Are we living in an imaginary world when we talk of women empowerments? Are we fooling ourselves and the society at large when we share success stories of women leaders and take pride in celebrating women’s day? Yes, indeed. Because, the ground realities are way different from what we can think of.


When H&M’s supply chain departments’ employee Radhika raised a complaint against her employer of sexual violence – the world knew it was true but nobody in the world has the courage to accept it.


Millions of female workers are forced to work in an intimidating, hostile or humiliating environment, and experience various unwelcome forms of sexual conduct. Despite its massive scale, sexual harassment in the workplace remains under-reported because of fear of disbelief, blame, or social or professional retaliation.


Gender-based violence, though can be understood as the use or threat of physical force against an individual based on their gender identity, but often is inflicted by men on women, represents one of the greatest risks to human potential worldwide. According to the UN, one in three women worldwide will experience physical and/or sexual violence in her lifetime. Despite this staggering number, less than 40% of women who experience violence will seek help of any kind, with less than 10% seeking help from the police.


Given these facts, Radhika’s experience of workplace violence not only provides insight into the risk factors that leave women workers in H&M garment supply chains exposed to violence, but also exposes the larger realities surrounding gender based violence in workplaces.


In the H&M supplier factory the gendered concentration of women workers as machine operators, checkers, and helpers in this H&M supplier factory is a microcosm of gendered hiring practices in garment global production networks. Across Asia, women garment workers make up the vast majority of garment workers. In Bangladesh, Cambodia, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka, women workers represent between 80 and 95% of the garment workforce. In India, women account for at between 60-75% of the garment workforce. Women rarely, however, hold management and supervisory positions, states the report by ILO 2018 on Gender Based Violence in the H&M Garment Supply Chain.


The repots points out that, woman workers concentrated in low-wage employment at the base of H&M garment supply chains are at daily risk of violence. So is the case with most other organizations (globally).


Keeping in mind the widespread prevalence of gender based violence especially in the supply chain system ILO outlined some recommendations. Of those some are listed below:

  • Adoption of an expansive definition of “worker” and “workplace” to ensure that all workers, workplaces, and forms of work are included in standards addressing workplace violence and harassment.
  • Addressing the risk factors for violence, including risk factors associated with the nature and setting of work and the structure of the labour market.
  • Drawing upon and strengthening definitions and prohibitions addressing violence against women by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) by applying these standards to gender based violence in the world of work.
  • Ensuring a duty among MNCs and their suppliers to obey national laws and respecting international standards pertaining to realization of ILO fundamental principles and rights at work.
  • Pursuing a Recommendation on human rights due diligence that takes into account and builds upon existing due diligence provisions that are evolving under the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the 2011 OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises.
  • Consistent with the Roadmap of the ILO programme of action 2017-21 arising out of the work of the 105th Session (2016) of the ILO on decent work in global supply chains, knowledge generation and dissemination of research to inform ILO global supply chain programming should include gender based violence and risk factors for gender based violence.
  • Organize a Tripartite Conference on the adverse impact of contracting and purchasing practices upon migrant workers’ rights.

(Excerpts from ILO 2018 report on Gender Based Violence in the H&M Garment Supply Chain)


It is the responsibility of the Governments, organizations, management at large to take a hard look at whether laws, policies, and practices to prevent, identify, and remedy sexual harassment are working—not just in their own companies, but also in their supply chains. Employees should also hold equal responsibility of being aware of these laws, their rights and being the whistleblowers and having the courage to speak up for anything that is wrong, immoral and unethical – for themselves and for others.