The apparel supply chain has long been accused of ‘shady and secretive’ deals by fashion giants. This proved too true when a 20-year-old female worker’s body – she worked at H&M supplier’s factory in the Tamil Nadu state of India – was found near her home on January 5.
The fashion retailer giant H&M afterword said that it would investigate reports of sexual harassment followed by the death of a female employee and the arrest of a male co-worker on suspicion of her killing.
A local labor rights group said, over two dozen workers at the plant have spoken about harassment since the incident. While H&M vowed ‘an independent third-party investigation’.
Workers say there were verbal complaints made to supervisors in this factory that were not taken seriously or forwarded to the internal complaints committee.
In a statement, H&M further stated, “Any future relationship with this supplier will entirely depend on the result of that investigation. And H&M is in touch with the factory and did not tolerate harassment of any kind.
Police said a man who worked at the plant had been arrested on suspicion of murder in the case.
India’s multi-billion-dollar textile and garment industry, which employs at least 12 million people, has often faced scrutiny for labor rights abuses and sexual harassment cases affecting its largely female workforce. More worryingly, Activists have logged over 100 deaths in the last 4 years in India’s Tamil Nadu textile and apparel hub.
“Global brands are not even asking tough questions from their suppliers to avoid unnecessary attention from international media. They do not even know all their suppliers let alone the torturous work condition prevalent at their factories.”
Campaigners explicitly found that apparel brands and retailers are dodging responsibility by not asking their readymade garment (RMG) suppliers the tough questions.
Global retail giants, including H&M and Walmart, are being accused of turning a blind eye to the difficulty of apparel workers in India’s ‘textile valley’ after a flood of deaths in RMG factories and hostels blamed on hard and abusive working conditions.
H&M and other fashion retailers such as Primark and C&A have met growing regulatory and consumer pressure to improve the safety of the workers right through to the end of their RMG supply chain.
Brands are accused of subcontracting their guilt by telling them they are not responsible for the working conditions at the spinning mills, with which they do not have direct commercial relationships.
RMG workers in India and other manufacturing countries – where the apparel giants benefit from a cheap workforce – continue to be forced into working long hours at a part of tiniest wages and bear sexual and verbal exploitation.
Union leaders also point to poor application of a 2013 law to combat sexual harassment at work, which necessitates employers with at least 10 workers to set up women-led complaint committees with the authority to fine or fire those found guilty of harassment.
Karrupusamy Raman, Director of READ, a charity that works with textile workers in the region said, “Global brands are not even asking tough questions from their suppliers to avoid unnecessary attention from international media.”
“They do not even know all their suppliers let alone the torturous work condition prevalent at their factories.”
Views expressed here are not from the organization that the authors represent.