H&M to probe violence, sex abuse in Asian fashion factories

In this Sept. 2, 2017, photo, North Korean workers walk into the Hong Chao Zhi Yi garment factory after visiting a street market in the city of Hunchun in northeastern China's Jilin province. (AP)
Updated 06 June 2018
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H&M to probe violence, sex abuse in Asian fashion factories

  • All forms of abuse or harassment are against everything that H&M group stands for
  • The charities said they had found widespread sex harassment, verbal and physical abuse

LONDON: Fashion giants H&M and Gap Inc. vowed on Tuesday to investigate reports that Asian garment workers who supply their high-street stores routinely face sex abuse, harassment and violence.
Based on interviews with some 550 workers in 53 H&M and Gap supplier factories in Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka, rights groups said women were at “daily risk” of violence, and faced retaliation if they reported the attacks.
The coalition has investigated the factories for several years as efforts mount to push Western brands into improving safety along their supply chains and render them slave-free.
Clothes stitched by low-paid Asian workers — part of a complex global supply chain — end up on high-priced Western high streets, with some 4,750 H&M stores located in 69 countries and about 3,700 Gap shops operating in about 90 nations.
Sweden’s H&M — the world’s No. 2 clothes group after Zara owner Inditex (ITX.MC) — said it would review the findings of the recent report by the civil society groups and unions.
“We will go through every section of the report and follow up on (a) factory level with our local teams based in each production country,” a company spokesman said in a statement.
“All forms of abuse or harassment are against everything that H&M group stands for.”
US retailer Gap said it was “deeply concerned about the troubling allegations raised by this report.”
“Our global team is currently conducting our due diligence to investigate and address these issues,” a spokeswoman said.
The charities said they had found widespread sex harassment, verbal and physical abuse — such as slapping — and threats of retaliation when women refused sexual advances from bosses.

FORCED LABOUR?
A separate report published last month by the coalition of rights groups found similar abuse of women at supplier factories in Asia for US-based Walmart, the world’s largest retailer.
Walmart said last month that it was reviewing the “concerning” accounts cited in the report.
The Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI), a group of trade unions, firms and charities of which both Gap and H&M are members, said it expected the retailers to work with the suppliers to ensure that women have swift access to remedy.
“These allegations are deeply concerning,” said Debbie Coulter of the ETI. “Gender-based violence is unacceptable under any circumstances, and brands need to make sure that women working in their supply chain are protected.”
Campaigners told the Thomson Reuters Foundation last month that the level of pressure and harassment faced by the workers in the three separate reports was approaching forced labor.
“Any time you have retaliation against workers, and coercion and control ... you are coming close to the line of forced labor,” Jennifer Rosenbaum of Global Labor Justice (GLJ), a network of worker and migrant organizations, said last month.
The reports have been published amid meetings hosted by the United Nations’ International Labour Organization (ILO) to work on the first global convention against workplace harassment after the #MeToo campaign thrust the issue into the spotlight. (Editing by Lyndsay Griffiths (Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience.


Mauritania’s electoral commission confirms Ghazouani win

Updated 24 June 2019
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Mauritania’s electoral commission confirms Ghazouani win

  • The result had been widely expected
  • The election paves the way for the first peaceful transfer of power since independence from France in 1960

NOUAKCHOTT, Mauritania: Mohamed Ould Ghazouani, a retired general who served as defense minister before being picked as the chosen successor to Mauritania’s outgoing president, won the weekend election by a large margin, the country’s electoral commission announced.
The result had been widely expected and was swiftly confirmed after Ghazouani claimed victory Saturday evening within hours of polls closing.
The election paves the way for the first peaceful transfer of power since independence from France in 1960, though retiring President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz had a hand in choosing his successor. Aziz was barred from seeking a third term under Mauritania’s constitution.
Ghazouani received 52 percent of the vote, while Biram Dah Abied, a human rights activist who has campaigned against slavery in the West African nation, received nearly 19 percent, according to the electoral commission.
Mauritania, a desert nation and moderate Islamic republic, has managed to avoid the spillover in violence from neighboring Mali that has plagued Burkina Faso and Niger.
Mauritania, though, has suffered five coups since independence, and has been led by military rulers for much of that time. Aziz himself was head of the presidential guard when he seized power in a 2008 coup, although he said he did so to prevent a return to repressive military rule.
He then won a landslide election the following year that his opponents decried as a fraudulent “electoral coup.” Most opposition parties boycotted the 2014 election, when Aziz won 82 percent of the vote according to official results.
Mauritania was the last country in the world to abolish slavery in 1981 but did not criminalize it until 2007. The United States ended trade benefits with Mauritania late last year, saying that the country is not making sufficient progress toward combating forced labor, including slavery. The Mauritanian government, however, denies that slavery is widespread in the country.