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

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

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.


Malaysia thanks Saudi Arabia for generous aid in fight against COVID-19

The equipment and vaccines were handed over to the Malaysian government by the Saudi ambassador on Friday. (Photo/Twitter)
The equipment and vaccines were handed over to the Malaysian government by the Saudi ambassador on Friday. (Photo/Twitter)
Updated 28 min 37 sec ago

Malaysia thanks Saudi Arabia for generous aid in fight against COVID-19

The equipment and vaccines were handed over to the Malaysian government by the Saudi ambassador on Friday. (Photo/Twitter)
  • Among the 4.5 million units of medical supplies delivered by KSrelief were ventilators, oxygen concentrators, defibrillators and protective gear, as well as 1 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine

KUALA LUMPUR: Saudi Arabia has become Malaysia’s largest single contributor of pandemic assistance, Malaysian Foreign Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said on Friday, as he received medical supplies brought to the Southeast Asian country through a special humanitarian air bridge established by King Salman.
The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Malaysia has become one of the world’s worst.
Despite implementing multiple restrictions and a state of emergency, the country has been struggling in recent weeks to tame a surge in cases.
The Saudi aid, worth $5 million and comprising vaccine doses and medical equipment, was brought to Kuala Lumpur by the King Salman Center for Relief and Humanitarian Aid (KSrelief) on Thursday, just days after the king’s directive to open the air bridge following a request for help from Hussein.
The equipment and vaccines were handed over to the Malaysian government by the Saudi ambassador on Friday.
“On behalf of Malaysia, I extend our deepest appreciation and gratitude,” Hussein said in a statement. “With this most recent contribution, Saudi Arabia is the single largest contributor of COVID-19 assistance to Malaysia.
“His Majesty King Salman’s continued regard for Malaysia, as well as efforts by the government of Saudi Arabia in executing His Majesty’s royal decree proves Saudi Arabia’s sincerity and their resolve to stand with Malaysia during this challenging pandemic.”

FASTFACTS

• $5 million in Saudi aid arrives through special humanitarian air bridge opened by King Salman.

• KSrelief brought over 4.5 million units of medical equipment and 1 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

It is not the first time Saudi Arabia has helped Malaysia with COVID-19 assistance. In May 2020, the Kingdom was one of the first countries to extend its help.
Among the 4.5 million units of medical supplies delivered by KSrelief were ventilators, oxygen concentrators, defibrillators and protective gear, as well as 1 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which will support the immunization drive of the country that has so far vaccinated just 18 percent of its 32 million population. The aid is also widely seen as an indication of the strengthening of ties between Riyadh and Kuala Lumpur.
“It is a great honor and it reflects Saudi Arabia’s sincerity in forging a friendship with Malaysia,” Dr. Khoo Yoong Khean, healthcare administrator and managing editor of the Malaysian Medical Gazette, told Arab News.
He added the help will be of great assistance in addressing the country’s current COVID-19 response.
According to geopolitics expert Prof. Azmi Hassan of the Technology University of Malaysia, the humanitarian assistance comes amid rapidly improving Saudi-Malaysian relations, since Hussein took office as foreign minister last year.
“That is a good sign that the relationship is back on track,” he told Arab News. “This is not only good for the country but for the Muslim community across the world.”


Philippine president drops plan to scrap key military agreement with US

Philippine president drops plan to scrap key military agreement with US
Updated 27 min 13 sec ago

Philippine president drops plan to scrap key military agreement with US

Philippine president drops plan to scrap key military agreement with US
  • Decision follows Rodrigo Duterte’s meeting with US Defense Secretary Austin
  • Duterte notified the US government in February 2020 that the Philippines intended to abrogate the agreement

MANILA: A key pact allowing the presence of US forces in the Philippines for military drills and joint exercises has been restored to “full force,” American and Filipino defense chiefs revealed on Friday.

The announcement followed President Rodrigo Duterte’s decision to backtrack on plans to scrap the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).
Signed in 1998, the VFA provides rules for the entry of US troops, ships, and aircraft into the Philippines for military exercises. Under the terms of the deal, it can be terminated through written notice by either party, taking effect within 180 days.
Duterte threatened to tear up the accord in February last year after the US Department of State canceled a visa for one of his political allies and he has suspended the termination letter on several occasions since then.
The Filipino president’s decision to keep the agreement followed his meeting on Thursday with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin who was in Manila on a two-day visit during his first Southeast Asia tour to fortify regional alliances.
During a joint press conference with Austin at Camp General Emilio Aguinaldo in Quezon City, Philippines Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said: “The VFA is in full force again. There is no termination letter pending and we are back on track. The president (Duterte) decided to recall or retract the termination letter.”
Duterte’s spokesman, Harry Roque, said the president decided to continue with the VFA for the sake of his country’s strategic interests under the US-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT).
Filipino Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin handed Austin a letter recalling the termination of the treaty. “As such, upon the instructions of President Duterte, today I handed over to US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin the diplomatic note recalling the abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement,” he said, adding that the Americans had addressed issues over the bilateral security relationship “with good faith.”
The VFA, and all other bilateral military agreements and activities between the US and the Philippines are supplemental to the 1951 MDT, which serves as the foundation for the security relationship between the two countries and requires each to come to the other’s aid if attacked by a third party.
A report by the Congressional Research Service (CRS) in March last year noted that, “while the termination of the VFA would not abrogate the MDT, it would complicate the US defense department’s ability to fulfill its obligations under the treaty.”
During the press conference, Austin said: “On behalf of the US, let me thank President Duterte for his decision to fully restore the Visiting Forces Agreement. A strong, resilient US-Philippines alliance will remain vital to the security, stability, and prosperity of the Indo-Pacific.”
Austin was the first member of US President Joe Biden’s Cabinet to visit the Philippines, arriving in the country on Thursday wearing a face mask and full-face shield. Although ridiculed by some politicians in America, where coronavirus disease (COVID-19) restrictions have been lifted, Austin’s precautions were welcomed in the Philippines, a nation still struggling to deal with the pandemic and recently forced to reimpose strict new rules to help stop the spread of the virus.
“It clearly shows that Secretary Austin is very much aware of and is abiding by stringent Philippine health protocols,” Department of National Defense spokesman, Arsenio Andolong, told Arab News.

 


Bangladeshi garment factories plead for vaccines as lockdown delays deliveries to Europe

Bangladeshi garment factories plead for vaccines as lockdown delays deliveries to Europe
Updated 31 July 2021

Bangladeshi garment factories plead for vaccines as lockdown delays deliveries to Europe

Bangladeshi garment factories plead for vaccines as lockdown delays deliveries to Europe
  • Clothing manufacturers export nearly 40 percent of their annual output during July and August, as the West prepares for winter collections
  • Authorities in the country ordered all business activity to shut down between July 23 and Aug. 5 in an attempt to halt a surge in COVID-19 cases

DHAKA: Clothing manufacturers in Bangladesh are calling on the government to accelerate vaccination programs for factory workers to save the country’s textile sector. It is suffering because a COVID-19 lockdown has halted production during the peak season for orders from Western countries.

A recent surge in cases of the highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus forced the government to impose strict health precautions, including a halt to all business activity between July 23 and Aug. 5. As a result, thousands of garment factories had to close — and the timing could not be worse.

This is the time of year when the factories are working on multimillion-dollar orders from major Western clothing brands such as H&M, Inditex and Marks and Spencer for their upcoming winter collections. July and August are the peak months for the Bangladeshi garment sector, during which it exports nearly 40 percent of its annual production.

Industry representatives met Cabinet Secretary Khandaker Anwarul Islam on Thursday to appeal to the government to lift the restrictions on garment factories during this crucial period. They also called on authorities speed up the vaccination of factory workers.

Last week, nearly 30,000 workers from factories that supply H&M and Marks and Spencer received a first dose of the Moderna vaccine. But they represent less than 1 percent of the total industry workforce, and the country’s vaccination effort is one of the slowest in the world; only 4.3 million of the country’s 170 million population have been fully vaccinated.

“Once the factories open, we can vaccinate the workers in bulk,” Faruque Hassan, president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association told Arab News on Friday. “And it’s very easy, as we noticed during a pilot program that saw the successful inoculation of about 30,000 factory workers in two days.”

Garment manufacturers fear that if they fail to deliver, big brands might turn to factories in other countries. This would deal a major blow to an industry that is the largest in Bangladesh. It employs more than 4 million people, contributes more than 11 percent of the country’s gross domestic product, and accounts for 80 percent of its exports.

“Our industry is completely export-oriented and we produce time-bound products,” said Hassan. “Currently, our factories are working on the next winter and fall season for the Western market. If we fail to export on time our credibility and future business relations will be at stake. Already buyers have stated putting future orders on hold, but they didn’t cancel them.

“If we are allowed to open the factories from the first week of August, we still can recover the losses — otherwise things will be difficult for us.”

The lockdown in Bangladesh comes as many Western countries ease their pandemic restrictions. Apparel sales are rebounding as life begins to return to normal, people order more clothes and big brands prepare for their winter and Christmas seasons.

When Bangladesh went into its first coronavirus lockdown last year, the industry was not too concerned because Western buyers had put their orders on hold because of their own lockdowns. Now, things are different.

“This year, the Western market is fully open,” Hassan said. “People in Europe and America are now keen to buy clothing since they couldn’t do much in the past year.”

Before the pandemic, Bangladesh, the world’s second-largest garment manufacturer after China, earned $34 billion from exports of apparel. In the 2019-20 fiscal year the value of exports dropped to $28 billion as the pandemic took hold. They recovered to $31 billion during the 2020-21 fiscal year, which ended in June, raising hopes of a major rebound this year.

It was unclear on Friday whether the factories will be allowed to reopen sooner than planned. The cabinet secretary told the factory owners during Thursday’s meeting that “further decisions would be announced after consulting with the prime minister.”

Criticism of the lockdown is growing, as the strict rules do not appear to be succeeding in slowing the spread of COVID-19. The number of coronavirus-related fatalities continues to hit record highs, with more than 200 deaths since the start of this week alone. The infection rate stood at nearly 31 percent on Friday, higher that it was before the lockdown.

“Our economy has been severely disrupted due to the lockdown,” Zahid Hussain, a former lead economist at the World Bank in Dhaka, told Arab News. “If we are failing to reap the benefits of this lockdown, there is no point in closing the factory operations.”


First evacuation flight brings 221 Afghans, many kids, to US

First evacuation flight brings 221 Afghans, many kids, to US
Updated 30 July 2021

First evacuation flight brings 221 Afghans, many kids, to US

First evacuation flight brings 221 Afghans, many kids, to US
  • US President Joe Biden said he was proud to welcome them home
  • Evacuation flights highlights American uncertainty about how Afghanistan’s government and military will fare after U.S. combat forces leave

WASHINGTON: The first flight evacuating Afghans who worked alongside Americans in Afghanistan brought more than 200 people, including scores of children and babies in arms, to new lives in the United States on Friday.
US President Joe Biden said he was proud to welcome them home.
The launch of the evacuation flights, bringing out former interpreters and others who fear retaliation from Afghanistan’s Taliban for having worked with American troops and civilians, highlights American uncertainty about how Afghanistan’s government and military will fare after the last US combat forces leave that country in the coming weeks.
Family members are accompanying the interpreters, translators and others on the flights out. The first evacuation flight, an airliner, carried 221 Afghans under the special visa program, including 57 children and 15 infants, according to an internal US government document obtained by The Associated Press.
It touched down in Dulles, Virginia, just outside Washington, D.C., after midnight, according to the FlightAware tracking service.
Friday’s flight was “an important milestone as we continue to fulfill our promise to the thousands of Afghan nationals who served shoulder-to-shoulder with American troops and diplomats over the last 20 years in Afghanistan,” Biden said. He said he wanted to honor the military veterans, diplomats and others in the US who have advocated for the Afghans.
“Most of all,” Biden said in a statement, “I want to thank these brave Afghans for standing with the United States, and today, I am proud to say to them: ‘Welcome home.’“
Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin lauded the Afghans for their work alongside Americans and said their arrival demonstrates the US government’s commitment to them.
Friday’s flight was all about “keeping promises,” said Will Fischer, an Iraq war veteran and an advocate on veteran’s issues.
But a refugee agency said the Biden administration appeared to be still scrambling to work out the resettlement of thousands more of the Afghans, and it urged Biden to bring them quickly to the US or a US territory, such as Guam.
“To date, there is simply no clear plan as to how the vast majority of our allies will be brought to safety,” Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, president of the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service resettlement agency, said of the Afghan interpreters.
“We cannot in good conscience put them at risk in third countries with unreliable human rights records, or where the Taliban may be able to reach them,” the resettlement official said.
The Biden administration calls the effort Operation Allies Refuge. The operation has broad backing from Republican and Democratic lawmakers and from veterans groups. Supporters cite repeated instances of Taliban forces targeting Afghans who worked with Americans or with the Afghan government.
Congress on Thursday overwhelmingly approved legislation that would allow an additional 8,000 visas and $500 million in funding for the Afghan visa program.
The United States has been talking with Qatar and Kuwait about temporarily hosting thousands of other Afghan interpreters who are much further behind in their visa application process than Friday’s arrivals.
But US officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss negotiations, said Friday that no deal had been closed with those two countries. Concerns about housing Afghans who have not completed their security screenings and uncertainty on the American side about finding funding for the massive relocation effort have remained obstacles, the US officials said.
Biden announced earlier this year the US would withdraw all its troops from Afghanistan by Sept. 11, honoring a withdrawal agreement struck by former President Donald Trump. He later said the US military operation would end on Aug. 31, calling it “overdue.” Some administration officials have expressed surprise at the extent and speed of Taliban gains of territory in the countryside since then.
Biden said that although US troops are leaving Afghanistan, the US will keep supporting Afghanistan through security assistance to Afghan forces and humanitarian and development aid to the Afghan people.
The newly arrived Afghan people will join 70,000 others who have resettled in the United States since 2008 under the special visa program.
Subsequent flights are due to bring more of the roughly 700 applicants who are furthest along in the process of getting visas, having already won approval and cleared security screening.
The first arrivals were screened for the coronavirus and received vaccines if they wanted them, said Tracey Jacobson, the US diplomat running the effort. They were expected to stay at a hotel on a base in Fort Lee, Virginia, for about seven days, completing medical exams and other final steps, Jacobson said. Resettlement organizations will help them as they travel to communities around the United States, with some bound for family members already here, she said.


British Muslim MP weeps in dock as she is cleared of fraud charges

Labour MP Apsana Begum, who represents Poplar and Limehouse in East London, faced three charges of dishonestly failing to disclose information relating to a council housing application. (UK Parliament)
Labour MP Apsana Begum, who represents Poplar and Limehouse in East London, faced three charges of dishonestly failing to disclose information relating to a council housing application. (UK Parliament)
Updated 30 July 2021

British Muslim MP weeps in dock as she is cleared of fraud charges

Labour MP Apsana Begum, who represents Poplar and Limehouse in East London, faced three charges of dishonestly failing to disclose information relating to a council housing application. (UK Parliament)
  • Apsana Begum was accused of housing fraud that her local council said had cost it almost £64,000 ($89,000)
  • She said she is a ‘survivor of domestic abuse’ and had faced Islamophobia, sexism and racism as a result of the case

LONDON: A jury in London has cleared a Muslim member of parliament of fraud charges. Labour MP Apsana Begum, who represents Poplar and Limehouse in East London, faced three charges of dishonestly failing to disclose information relating to a council housing application between 2013 and 2016.

Tower Hamlets council accused her of costing it almost £64,000 ($89,000) by failing to notify officials that she was no longer living in overcrowded housing.

Begum, 31, collapsed in the dock and wept when the jurors found her not guilty on all three counts.

During the trial, she said she fled her home in 2013 during an argument in which her brother said she was “possessed,” causing her to fear she would fall victim to honor-based violence.

She moved in with her then-partner, Tower Hamlets Councillor Ehtasham Haque, but said he subsequently became “controlling and coercive” and took over her affairs.

Helen Law, defending, said that the complaint that triggered the investigation into Begum — made in 2019 by Sayed Nahid Uddin, Haque’s brother-in-law, after the couple split — was false.

According to the prosecution, documents submitted by Begum’s mother and aunt revealed that there were four bedrooms in her property and she had failed to inform the council that by January 2013, after her father died and her aunt moved out, only four people were living there.

Begum said that at the time she was struggling to come to terms with her father’s death and her family’s disapproval of her relationship with Haque, who had been married and divorced several times.

After her acquittal, Begum said: “As a survivor of domestic abuse facing these vexatious charges, the last 18 months of false accusations, online sexist, racist and Islamophobic abuse, and threats to my safety have been exceedingly difficult.

“I would like to say a sincere thank you to all my legal team and all those who have shown me solidarity, support and kindness.

“I will be consulting and considering how to follow up so that something like this doesn’t happen again to anyone else.”