Gender Based Abuse in the Fashion Industry

Fast Fashion production cycles impact work conditions for women in the garment industry. Each fast fashion factory relies on unrelenting systematic gender-based violence and harassment, and the rate at which these grievances occur make it a normal situation for the workers. 

Manufacturing and factory occupations have been male-dominated areas of work, so when women enter the field, they are considered outsiders, therefore becoming victims of harassment. 

From January to May 2018, the Asia Floor Wage Alliance and Global Labor Justice  researchers documented gender based violence reported by female garment workers in 5 countries; Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka. The data was placed in five categories of violence: 

  1. Sexual harm and stigma
  2. Gendered industrial discipline practices
  3. Physically extractive labor practices—a practice termed mining of the body 
  4. Unsafe workplaces
  5. Production of insecurity through the reliance on contract labor 
    1. Threats of termination
    2. Barriers to freedom of association
    3. Retaliation for reporting

Fast fashion, production targets, and gender-based violence in Asian garment supply chains

Proven by the research, “over 540 workers alleged abusive incidents and reportedly blamed their employers for imposing lightning-quick turnarounds and minimal overhead costs” (Hundreds of H&M and Gap Factory Workers Abused Daily: Report).

Gender based violence is almost predictable in the environment created by the relentless fast fashion industry. Through impossible supply demand and release of new products daily, workers are worked to the bone in order to keep up with pressures and order. The low-wage occupations push the women to reach production targets with clear repercussions if they fail. 

The reports include many workplace malpractices, including GBV and general mistreatment. Rape, slapping, bullying and misuse of power to pursue inappropriate and forced relationships were very common amongst female workers. (GBV in GAP Garment Supply Chain).

In a report filed against an H&M factory in Bangalore states that the batch supervisor came in and physically assaulted one of the female workers for not reaching her target quota. The report describes the situation and following the assault, the worker, Radhika, filed a complaint. The supervisor was told to stop harassing her, but the situation never got better. 

When women in the manufacturing branch of fast fashion industries complain about harassment, their cries are overlooked. “In an Indian factory, Roja R., a married woman in her 30s, worked in the cutting division. She described how her supervisor stalked and repeatedly called her cell phone after work hours asking for sexual favors, promising that he would give her a lighter workload and sanction time-off whenever she wanted. When she complained to the factory’s administration, they said that he was a supervisor who had high productivity and told her such harassment was “normal” and that she needed to take it in stride.” (Combating Sexual Harassment in Garment Industry). 

Generally, one in six women are faced with gender based assault. In factories and workplaces, 50% of women have stepped out and complained about gender based violence, but the number of women who are assaulted and forced to keep quiet create a much larger ratio. 

“Of the 763 women interviewed in factories, in three Vietnamese provinces, 43.1% said they had suffered at  least one form of violence and/or harassment in the previous year. A large majority of those interviewed said they had experienced unwelcome verbal abuse and harassment in the past year. A third had experienced physical harassment such as kissing, touching, hitting, punching, or leaning.” (Sexual Abuse Fast Fashion ). 

Advocation for women’s rights and action plans against gender based inequalities have been addressing these issues for years now. However, until these allegations are taken seriously in the light of the public, the harassment and abuse will continue. Lives are ruined every day, and they will continue to unless people begin to take action and understand the distinctness of GBV and its effects. 

Read 6 Ways to End Gender Based Violence for a rundown of the issue.  

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