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

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.


Top diplomat implicates Trump in explosive impeachment testimony

Updated 21 November 2019

Top diplomat implicates Trump in explosive impeachment testimony

  • Sondland said Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani led the effort at Trump’s direction to pressure Ukraine President Volodymr Zelensky
  • Trump said he barely knew Sondland and had not spoken to him much

WASHINGTON: A senior US diplomat directly implicated President Donald Trump Wednesday in a scheme to force Ukraine to probe a political rival, in bombshell testimony to a televised impeachment hearing.
Gordon Sondland, the ambassador to the European Union, told lawmakers he followed the president’s orders in seeking a “quid pro quo” deal for Ukraine to investigate Democrat Joe Biden in exchange for a White House summit.
Sondland said Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani led the effort at Trump’s direction to pressure Ukraine President Volodymr Zelensky for the investigation and that top officials in the White House and State Department knew about it.
The unexpectedly damning testimony drew a sharp backlash from Trump who tweeted: “This Witch Hunt must end NOW. So bad for our Country!.”
Trump said he barely knew Sondland and had not spoken to him much, despite the senior diplomat having donated $1 million to his inauguration and testifying that he had spoken to the president some 20 times while ambassador.
Democrats said Sondland’s seven hours of testimony before the House Intelligence Committee had bolstered their case for Trump’s impeachment for what they have labeled “extortion.”
“Today’s testimony is among the most significant evidence to date,” said committee chairman Adam Schiff.
“It goes right to the heart of the issue of bribery as well as other potential high crimes or misdemeanors.”
A succession of Democrats hoping to win the nomination to take on Trump in next year’s election also said the testimony had strengthened the case for impeachment as the issue dominated the opening exchanges in their latest televised primary debate.
Sondland said Trump directed him and two other senior diplomats to work with Giuliani.
From early in the year, Giuliani mounted a pressure campaign on Zelensky’s government to investigate Biden over his son Hunter’s ties to a Ukrainian energy company, Burisma, and to probe a conspiracy theory espoused by Trump that Ukraine helped Democrats against him in 2016. Biden is one of the favorites to challenge Trump in next year’s presidential election.
“Mr. Giuliani demanded that Ukraine make a public statement announcing the investigations of the 2016 election/DNC server and Burisma,” Sondland told the panel.
“Mr Giuliani’s requests were a quid pro quo for arranging a White House visit for President Zelensky.”
Far from being a “rogue” operation outside normal US diplomatic channels, Sondland told the hearing top officials — including Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo — were kept constantly informed.
“We followed the president’s orders,” he said.
Like Trump a multimillionaire developer with a chain of high-end hotels, Sondland, who wore a $55,000 Breguet white gold watch to the hearing, fended off pressure from both Democrats and Republicans.
He had not implicated the president in earlier private testimony, when he answered scores of questions by saying he could “not remember.”
But subsequent testimony by other witnesses which had further implicated him in the Ukraine pressure scheme had jolted his memory, he said on Wednesday.
While he confirmed the linkage between the investigations and a White House meeting between Zelensky and Trump, he would not attest to allegations that Trump froze $391 million in aid as well to Ukraine to add pressure on Ukraine.
“I never heard from President Trump that aid was conditioned on an announcement” of the investigations, he said, contradicting testimony from two other diplomats.
In separate testimony, a Pentagon official appeared to undermine a key Republican defense in the impeachment battle, that Kiev did not even know until late August or even September about the July 18 aid freeze, rendering moot Democrats’ allegations that Trump had extorted Ukraine.
Laura Cooper, the Pentagon official in charge of Ukraine affairs, said Kiev voiced concern over a holdup in aid on July 25.
That was the same day that Trump told Zelensky in a phone call that he wanted a favor, asking for investigations into Biden specifically and the 2016 conspiracy theory.
“The Ukrainian embassy staff asked, ‘What is going on with Ukrainian security assistance?” she told the committee.
At the White House, Trump denied making the demand of Zelensky, citing Sondland’s own recall of their September 9 phone call on the Ukraine issue.
Reading from large-print notes, he said that he told Sonderland: “I want nothing. I want nothing. I want no quid pro quo. Tell Zelensky to do the right thing.”
“If this were a prizefight, they’d stop it!” he said of the inquiry.
Speaking at the Democrats’ debate, Biden dodged a question on the role of his son but said the testimony had shown that “Donald Trump doesn’t want me to be the nominee.”
And Bernie Sanders, another of the frontrunners for the nomination, said Trump had been shown to be “not only a pathological liar” but also “the most corrupt president in the modern history of America.”