Study: Gender Violence Rife in Brazil Garment Factories

Study: Gender Violence Rife in Brazil Garment Factories

The vast majority of women in Brazil’s textile and shoe factories who took part in a recent study say they have experienced some form of violence at work, often gender-based violence and harassment—to the extent that “for many women, work is synonymous with suffering,” according to a new report, “Promoting Human Rights and Strengthening Trade Union Action and Equality in the Brazilian Clothing Sector.”

Francisca Trajan, president of Brazil garment worker union, Solidarity Center

CNTRV President Francisca Trajano says the extent of violence against women in garment factories is shocking, Credit: CUT

“The most revealing thing this study uncovered is the extent of violence in the workplace,” says National Confederation of Apparel Workers (CNTRV) President Francisca Trajano, speaking through a translator. “I am especially surprised by the extent of sexual harassment by supervisors.”

Some 246 women workers took part in either regional workshops or guided discussions between March and June as part of an Instituto Observatorio Social study of textile and shoe workers in six cities: Colatina, Fortaleza, Ipirá, Pouso Alegre, Sapiranga, Sorocaba, and Sao Paulo. (The report is available in Portuguese.)

The study found the most frequent form of violence is bullying, with supervisors screaming and cursing at workers, threatening them if they do not produce at the required pace and harassing them for using the bathroom.

Bullying often is directed toward union leaders, the report finds, with female union leaders closely watched by supervisors, who also harass and even fire workers who talk with them.

Collective Agreements Improve Working Conditions

Brazil gender-based violence study in garment factories, Solidarity Center

Instituto Observatorio Social researcher Mariana Castro presents the study’s findings at a meeting of garment worker union leaders. Credit: CUT

Sexual harassment, which is a form of gender-based violence, is widespread and sometimes subtle, according to the report. “But regardless of the form, sexual harassment is a constant situation,” say the report’s authors. Women often fear reporting sexual harassment or assault, and with good reason: “In some cases when they bring the complaint to superiors, women are ridiculed. In other cases they have no one to whom to bring the complaint because the supervisor is also a stalker,” the report states.

The study also looked at the intersections of gender violence and harassment against LGBTQI+ workers and workers of color. “When admitted, black women are usually assigned to the worst services, such as working with shoe glue or working in noisy and uncomfortable machines,” according to the report.

In general, the report finds that clothing companies are organized from a rigid social and sexual division of labor, in which women generally occupy the least qualified and worst paid positions.

The women workers who took part in the study stressed the importance of collective agreements to improve working conditions, and the report recommends unions negotiate clauses to combat bullying and sexual harassment in the workplace. The study also recommends unions hold workshops and discussion sessions to make workers aware of their right to a violence-free workplace. Many women interviewed were unaware of the laws and other options to combat violence at work.

Report Raises Union Leaders’ Awareness of GBVH at Work

One key goal of the report, funded by the Brazilian branch of the C&A Foundation, is to start a dialogue with employers to seek remedies for gender-based violence at work, says Jana Silverman, Solidarity Center Brazil country director. Further, the study, which solely examines union workplaces, should “raise awareness about the prevalence of gender-based violence in the workplace, raise awareness among union leadership, especially male leadership, about how prevalent this is in their rank-and-file membership,” she says.

In fact, says Trajano, union leaders at the local and national levels who were not directly involved in the project have shown keen interest in its findings. “They are reflecting on how to think through how unions can be a place where women who are victims of the violence can turn to to get help,” she says.

The report already has created concrete change. Union members at garment factories in Pouso Alegre negotiated a contract clause in which employers committed to hold biannual trainings for managers to combat gender-based violence in the workplace.

Unions evaluated the study’s findings last week and plan to take the report to their executive committees and create the conditions to prevent and end GBVH through collective bargaining or social dialogue with employers. Trajano says CNTRV, which represents 69 unions and three state regional federations, is pressing unions to negotiate contract language protecting against gender-based violence and harassment. Many of the union contracts come up for negotiation in January.

CNTRV is well-placed to lead the campaign addressing gender-based violence at work. In April, delegates to CNTRV’s 11th Congress voted for gender parity in leadership and adopted a pro-women’s rights agenda. In partnership with the Solidarity Center, CNTRV in recent years ran a nationwide women’s leadership project, preparing women workers to assume leadership positions.

“Obviously it was very shocking to us when we received the results of the report to understand the extent of violence at the workplace,” says Trajano, who also is an executive committee member of the Central Union of Workers in Brazil (CUT). “At the same time it’s a wake up call to do something about it.”

Study: Gender Violence Rife in Brazil Garment Factories

Study: Gender Violence Rife in Brazil Garment Factories

The vast majority of women in Brazil’s textile and shoe factories who took part in a recent study say they have experienced some form of violence at work, often gender-based violence and harassment—to the extent that “for many women, work is synonymous with suffering,” according to a new report, “Promoting Human Rights and Strengthening Trade Union Action and Equality in the Brazilian Clothing Sector.”

Francisca Trajan, president of Brazil garment worker union, Solidarity Center
CNTRV President Francisca Trajano says the extent of violence against women in garment factories is shocking, Credit: CUT

“The most revealing thing this study uncovered is the extent of violence in the workplace,” says National Confederation of Apparel Workers (CNTRV) President Francisca Trajano, speaking through a translator. “I am especially surprised by the extent of sexual harassment by supervisors.”

Some 246 women workers took part in either regional workshops or guided discussions between March and June as part of an Instituto Observatorio Social study of textile and shoe workers in six cities: Colatina, Fortaleza, Ipirá, Pouso Alegre, Sapiranga, Sorocaba, and Sao Paulo. (The report is available in Portuguese.)

The study found the most frequent form of violence is bullying, with supervisors screaming and cursing at workers, threatening them if they do not produce at the required pace and harassing them for using the bathroom.

Bullying often is directed toward union leaders, the report finds, with female union leaders closely watched by supervisors, who also harass and even fire workers who talk with them.

Collective Agreements Improve Working Conditions

Brazil gender-based violence study in garment factories, Solidarity Center
Instituto Observatorio Social researcher Mariana Castro presents the study’s findings at a meeting of garment worker union leaders. Credit: CUT

Sexual harassment, which is a form of gender-based violence, is widespread and sometimes subtle, according to the report. “But regardless of the form, sexual harassment is a constant situation,” say the report’s authors. Women often fear reporting sexual harassment or assault, and with good reason: “In some cases when they bring the complaint to superiors, women are ridiculed. In other cases they have no one to whom to bring the complaint because the supervisor is also a stalker,” the report states.

The study also looked at the intersections of gender violence and harassment against LGBTQI+ workers and workers of color. “When admitted, black women are usually assigned to the worst services, such as working with shoe glue or working in noisy and uncomfortable machines,” according to the report.

In general, the report finds that clothing companies are organized from a rigid social and sexual division of labor, in which women generally occupy the least qualified and worst paid positions.

The women workers who took part in the study stressed the importance of collective agreements to improve working conditions, and the report recommends unions negotiate clauses to combat bullying and sexual harassment in the workplace. The study also recommends unions hold workshops and discussion sessions to make workers aware of their right to a violence-free workplace. Many women interviewed were unaware of the laws and other options to combat violence at work.

Report Raises Union Leaders’ Awareness of GBVH at Work

One key goal of the report, funded by the Brazilian branch of the C&A Foundation, is to start a dialogue with employers to seek remedies for gender-based violence at work, says Jana Silverman, Solidarity Center Brazil country director. Further, the study, which solely examines union workplaces, should “raise awareness about the prevalence of gender-based violence in the workplace, raise awareness among union leadership, especially male leadership, about how prevalent this is in their rank-and-file membership,” she says.

In fact, says Trajano, union leaders at the local and national levels who were not directly involved in the project have shown keen interest in its findings. “They are reflecting on how to think through how unions can be a place where women who are victims of the violence can turn to to get help,” she says.

The report already has created concrete change. Union members at garment factories in Pouso Alegre negotiated a contract clause in which employers committed to hold biannual trainings for managers to combat gender-based violence in the workplace.

Unions evaluated the study’s findings last week and plan to take the report to their executive committees and create the conditions to prevent and end GBVH through collective bargaining or social dialogue with employers. Trajano says CNTRV, which represents 69 unions and three state regional federations, is pressing unions to negotiate contract language protecting against gender-based violence and harassment. Many of the union contracts come up for negotiation in January.

CNTRV is well-placed to lead the campaign addressing gender-based violence at work. In April, delegates to CNTRV’s 11th Congress voted for gender parity in leadership and adopted a pro-women’s rights agenda. In partnership with the Solidarity Center, CNTRV in recent years ran a nationwide women’s leadership project, preparing women workers to assume leadership positions.

“Obviously it was very shocking to us when we received the results of the report to understand the extent of violence at the workplace,” says Trajano, who also is an executive committee member of the Central Union of Workers in Brazil (CUT). “At the same time it’s a wake up call to do something about it.”

Brazil Garment Workers’ Union Adopts Women’s Agenda

Brazil Garment Workers’ Union Adopts Women’s Agenda

In a historic achievement, delegates to the 11th Congress of Brazil’s garment worker union federation, CNTRV (National Confederation of Clothing Workers) last week voted for gender parity in leadership and adopted a pro-women’s rights agenda.

The union achieved parity not only in the overall number of women and men in leadership, but also in its top executive positions.

“Women are empowered at the highest levels in the organization,” said CNTRV President Cida Trajano.

In partnership with the Solidarity Center, CNTRV in recent years ran a nationwide women’s leadership project, preparing women workers to assume leadership positions, according to Trajano.

“This is proof that the effort to form and organize feminist activism is worth it,” she said.

Over the next four years, CNTRV will focus on a pro-women’s rights agenda, including developing programs to combat gender-based violence at work and empower women workers; allow greater space for feminist agendas in communications; consult with women leaders and activists when developing recommendations for public policies affecting women; and expand women’s participation in collective bargaining and wage negotiations.

The Solidarity Center supports women workers seeking greater voice at the workplace across a range of employment sectors in Brazil, including the chemical, garment and hospitality industries, and domestic work. Together with the CNQ (National Confederation of Chemical Workers) CNTRV and CONTRACS (National Confederation of Service and Retail Workers), the Solidarity Center conducts trainings and campaigns to equip women to advocate for safer working conditions and more equitable salaries on the job, and to assume more active leadership roles in their unions.

Brazil Unions Challenge Attacks on Worker, Human Rights

Brazil Unions Challenge Attacks on Worker, Human Rights

Following the deadly mining dam collapse in January that buried alive 186 workers and residents of the town of Brumadinho, Brazil, and concurrent legislative attacks on worker rights, unions representing members across Brazil are requesting the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) investigate and address both issues.

The Vale-owned dam, which sat above Brumadinho, was held back by little more than walls of sand and silt, and is among 87 similarly constructed mining dams in the country. More than 131 people have not been found, and the “tidal wave of waste and mud that engulfed homes, businesses and residents” also wreaked enormous damage to the environment. The United Nations has said the disaster “must be investigated as a crime.”

The Brumadinho collapse, one of the worst mining disasters in the country’s history, follows a 2015 iron-ore dam collapse at another Vale mine that killed 19 people. Both catastrophes are the direct result of the privatization of Brazilian companies, a process that often results in precarious and dangerous working conditions, says Maximiliano Nagl Garcez, an attorney representing the unions.

Privatization in Brazil’s strategic sectors “means disrespect for international treaties, a threat to the country’s national and energy sovereignty and, above all, an enormous risk to the health and safety of thousands of workers at risk with negligence to their condition, to the detriment of an ever-increasing profit in the interests of large multinationals,” he says. Garcez will present the unions’ requests for investigations during the IACHR meeting in Jamaica in May.

Attacks on Worker Rights, Environment Connected

The mining collapse took place in an environment of stepped-up legislative attacks on land, community and worker rights, including the abolition of Brazil’s Labor Ministry and the transfer of oversight of indigenous lands and the forestry service to the Agriculture Ministry.

Most recently, the government enacted a “temporary law,” a measure typically reserved for emergencies, that changes the process of union dues collection. The impact of the new law is clear, says Garcez: It will destroy the financial viability of trade unions, undercutting their ability to effectively oppose the anti-worker government. These and other measures are a direct threat to workers’ right to freedom to form unions, he says.

The Central Union of Workers in Brazil (CUT) and other unions and organizations are requesting the IACHR address the attacks on worker rights, and Garcez requested hearings during upcoming IACHR investigations.

The Brazilian Bar Association this week challenged the measure to change union dues collection, and the country’s supreme court will hold a hearing on its constitutionality next week.

Brazil Ratifies Domestic Worker Convention

Brazil Ratifies Domestic Worker Convention

Following years of campaigning by domestic workers and their allies across Brazil, the government in recent days ratified the International Labor Organization Domestic Workers Convention (No. 189), a binding standard in which domestic workers are entitled to full labor rights, including those covering work hours, overtime pay, safety and health standards and paid leave. Brazil is the twenty-fifth country to ratify Convention 189 and the fourteenth in the Americas region.

Since the ILO passed the convention in 2011, the National Federation of Domestic Workers (FENATRAD), the National Confederation of Retail and Service Workers (CONTRACS) and the Central Union of Workers (CUT) were among unions pushing for its ratification, ultimately securing 1.2 million signatures urging the government to ratify the measure.

In a statement celebrating ratification, FENATRAD also vows to continue in the “daily struggle for dignity, valorization and recognition of domestic work, work that moves and creates conditions for other workers to dedicate themselves to productive activities.”

Brazil Economy Slumps as Labor Rights Attacked

The majority of the 7 million domestic workers in Brazil are women, primarily indigenous people and Afro-Brazilians. Brazil’s slumping economy has seen a sharp increase of workers in the informal-sector jobs, with 121,000 domestic worker jobs created between December 2014 and April 2017. At the same time, more than 3.2 million jobs were lost in the formal private sector and some 600,000 jobs lost in the public sector, according to the Department of Statistics and Socioeconomic Studies in Brazil (DIEESE).

Further, more than 9 million people have been pushed below the poverty line since 2015 and 800,000 Brazilians entered the ranks of the unemployed between January and August 2017.

Although workers are celebrating passage of the Domestic Workers Convention, they say a labor reform law passed last year severely weakens their fundamental rights on the job. The law in part dismantles provisions on overtime pay and working hours; creates new forms of precarious contracting, such as “zero-hour” contracts that do not guarantee a minimum wage; and permits pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers to work in unhealthy environments.

The law also disproportionately impacts historically disadvantaged workers, such as women and Afro-Brazilians, who earn less and are much more likely to be unemployed or underemployed than their white male counterparts.

“The convention is to guarantee decent work, unlike the new law that removes basic rights of the worker and the worker,” says Myllena Calazans, a lawyer with FENATRAD.

With Solidarity Center support, FENATRAD recently registered as a national federation, became a member of the International Domestic Workers Federation (IDWF) and is connecting with regional domestic worker organizations.

The Solidarity Center is also assisting the federation in education and outreach, including creation of a crossword puzzle magazine that informs Brazilian domestic workers about their rights. Many domestic workers spend numerous hours on public transportation commuting to and from work and do crossword puzzles during their commutes.

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