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.


Version of PM May’s deal can get through parliament: Hunt

Updated 15 December 2018
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Version of PM May’s deal can get through parliament: Hunt

  • May pulled a vote on her deal this week after acknowledging it would be heavily defeated over concerns about the divorce agreement’s “backstop”

LONDON: Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said on Saturday that the British parliament could back Prime Minister Theresa May’s deal if lawmakers received assurances from the European Union, but warned that a no deal Brexit was still on the table.
May pulled a vote on her deal this week after acknowledging it would be heavily defeated over concerns about the divorce agreement’s “backstop,” an insurance policy designed to avoid any hard land border for Ireland but which critics say could bind Britain to EU rules indefinitely.
“When the dust has settled, the only way we’re going to get this through the House of Commons ... is to have a version of the deal that the government has negotiated,” Hunt told BBC radio.
Following a summit in Brussels on Friday, May said it was possible that the EU could give further guarantees that the backstop would be temporary although the bloc’s other 27 leaders told her they would not renegotiate the treaty.
Hunt said the EU was likely to make concessions to avoid Britain leaving without any deal, a scenario that both sides say would be highly damaging for business and their economies.
“The EU cannot be sure that if they choose not to be helpful and flexible ... that we would not end up with no deal,” Hunt said. “We cannot in these negotiations take no deal off the table. I don’t think the EU could be remotely sure that if we don’t find a way through this we wouldn’t end up with no deal.”
The Times newspaper reported on Saturday that most of May’s senior ministerial team thought her deal was dead and were discussing a range of options including a second referendum.
“Brexit is in danger of getting stuck – and that is something that should worry us all,” pensions minister Amber Rudd wrote in the Daily Mail newspaper.
“If MPs (lawmakers) dig in against the Prime Minister’s deal and then hunker down in their different corners, none with a majority, the country will face serious trouble.”