Garment workers report sexual harassment at Walmart’s Asian suppliers: Report

Women workers at Walmart’s Asian garment supplier factories have reported sexual harassment and violence and industrial malpractices, according to a report.

Published : 30 May 2018, 10:44 AM
Updated : 30 May 2018, 10:44 AM

The report on gender-based violence in factories of three Asian countries was released by a global coalition of trade unions, worker rights and human rights organisations: Asia Floor Wage Alliance or AFWA, CENTRAL Cambodia and Global Labour Justice on Wednesday.

Harassment includes physical violence, verbal abuse, coercion, threats and retaliation, routine deprivations of liberty and forced overtime.

The report was prepared following an investigation of gender-based violence in the factories conducted between Jan 2018 and May 2018 in Bangladesh, Cambodia and Indonesia.

Sultana, a former production-line manager in a Walmart supplier factory in Dhaka, shared her experience with sexual harassment and retaliation, according to the report. 

“He flirted with me, touching me on my shoulder or head. I tried to ignore him thinking he would stop if I showed no interest, which didn’t work. He offered me a salary increase and a promotion if I agreed to his indecent proposal and threatened to fire me when I refused. I was anxious and afraid. I skipped work the next day.”

“The police refused to accept my complaint as I had no proof. A few days later, the general manager called me to his office and asked me to resign immediately. When I approached the Human Resources, I was told that the general manager’s decision was final,” she said.

“After completing my fourth year at the factory, the management reversed their attitude toward me by shouting at me and bullying me. They called me names. The manager raised my production target when I reported this to him. I couldn’t manage to work this way and quit the job and they never paid my gratuity,” said Shahida, a 26-year-old sewing machine operator in a Walmart supplier factory in Dhaka. She gave a vivid description of targeted verbal abuse women workers experience in order to avoid being paid workplace benefits.

“Walmart, the trend-setter for lean supply chain management relies on women workers' gender-based exploitation in their supply chains to maximise their profits.

To eliminate gender-based violence in supply chains, Walmart and other brands must take responsibility on their supply chains. It is also fundamental that Walmart and other brands respect the freedom of association and collective bargaining that allow women workers to be change agents in the global economy.

Jennifer Rosenbaum, US director of Global Labor Justice, said: “The movement for dignity and equity at work for all women is global. Women in the US shouldn’t stop at holding Walmart and US corporations accountable for what happens in their US retail stores and warehouses. We must also demand accountability along their global production networks,” said Anannya Bhattacharjee, secretariat of AFWA.

“Gender-based violence is a daily reality for women garment workers driven to meet unrealistic production targets in Walmart supply chains. Most of these cases are not reported due to fear of retaliation in the workplace,” said Tola Meun, executive director of CENTRAL.

The release of the report comes ahead of a convention to be organised by the International Labour Organisation to set international labour standards on gender-based violence soon.

Trade union leaders from around the world along with governments and business will meet to discuss the historic opportunity to create a global standard protecting women across sectors.