Vanessa Cordoba, a goalkeeper on Colombia’s women’s national soccer team, is familiar with tough challenges. But when she debated whether to join some of her teammates’ high-profile campaign to end gender discrimination in the women’s soccer league, she had to confront a barrier many women in her position face: fear of losing her job.
“There is a point in life where you choose,” she said in a recent interview at the Solidarity Center. “And I decided I’m going to do it.”
Cordoba and other women soccer players are now pursuing an industry-wide collective bargaining agreement that includes the men’s teams.
“That’s the only way we can change things in soccer, says Cordoba. “We have more power if we bargain for the entire sector.”
Training Equipment: Two Medicine Balls and Beat-up Boxes
Colombia’s Atlético Huila women’s soccer players were forced to sleep on the airport floor following their championship win. Credit: Fare.net
Colombia’s professional female soccer team, launched in 1998, played in the 2011 and 2015 World Cup as well as at the Olympic Games in the same years. The professional women’s league was created in 2017, and in the following year, Colombia’s Atlético Huila won the Copa Libertadores, South America’s most important club-level tournament.
Yet women players are paid less than the men and only get three-month contracts, while men play on multiyear contracts. The men train in state-of-the-art gyms; women players’ equipment consists of two medicine balls and beat-up boxes to practice jumping. The Colombia Football Federation (FCF) even eliminated their $20 a day training stipend. A video on social media in December shows the Atlético Huila women’s soccer players forced to sleep on the airport floor following their championship win.
Their marginalization was compounded, says Cordoba, when Adidas used star player James Rodríguez to represent the men’s team for unveiling new jerseys, but recruited a former Miss Universe, Paulina Vega Dieppa, to promote the women’s jerseys. Cordoba expressed her displeasure about the move on social media.
“I understand that for publicity’s sake, they preferred to give the jersey to Paulina Vega, but in terms of respect and merit, THE PLAYERS count as well,” she Tweeted, a message the media quickly twisted into a Soccer Player v. Miss Universe narrative. Reflecting on her comments today she says, “If we are talking about marketing, development of the women’s league is a big part of the overall goal.”
‘We’re Not Afraid Anymore. We’re Here to Speak Up’
The longstanding gender discrimination against women players burst into the public in February, when former professional soccer players and Colombia national team players Isabella Echeverri and Melissa Ortiz released a video to highlight the disparities with their male counterparts, stating, “We’re not afraid anymore. We’re here to speak up.”
The video went viral, setting off a national dialogue at a time when the top-ranked U.S. women’s soccer team filed a lawsuit against U.S. Soccer alleging discrimination, and Latin America’s #NiUnaMenos (Not One More) movement campaigned for an end to sexual harassment and gender-based violence.
A handful of women soccer players gathered for a press conference in March to publicly back up Ortiz and Echeverri. Cordoba was among them.
“I figured my career would end after the press conference,” she said.
For Vanessa Cordoba, a goalkeeper for Colombia women’s national soccer, tackling gender discrimination was one of her biggest challenges. Photo from Cordoba Twitter
Members of the all-male FCF Executive Committee refused for months to meet with the women represented by the National Association of Professional Soccer Players union, ACOLFUTPRO, about their demands for equal treatment, but have since come to the table. The Solidarity Center is supporting the women players in their efforts and is assisting ACOLFUTPRO in preparing a proposal for negotiations with the Colombian Soccer Federation, and another to establish a sectorwide bargaining policy with the labor ministry.
Additionally, the Solidarity Center helped the union engage the national Ombudsman’s Office, which filed a constitutional complaint for gender discrimination against the employers of the individual soccer clubs and the federation. The Solidarity Center documented players’ testimonies and contributed legal arguments that form the basis of the complaint. In August 2019, Colombia’s Constitutional Court ruled in favor of the women players, ordering both the employers and ACOLFUTPRO to present plans for gender equality.
Cordoba, who graduated from Ohio University with a degree in communications, also works at Caracol, one of Bogatá’s top radio stations. Her father, Oscar Cordoba, a former star soccer player, at first sought to protect her from the controversy, but ultimately supports her efforts.
“I’m very passionate about gender equality,” she says. “Women’s soccer was able to open the door to change soccer in Colombia.”
“We have to look to our future, beyond winning this convention, to what it means to implement it in our countries and protect workers’ lives, human rights and dignity,” says Touriya Lahrech, a women union leader of the Democratic Labor Confederation (CDT) in Morocco and delegate to the final negotiations of Convention 190 (C190) at the International Labor Conference (ILC) in June 2019.
As with all international conventions, C190 must be ratified by individual governments before it becomes effective. The ILO requires that two countries ratify the convention before it becomes binding on all member states. In campaigning for ratification, union women leaders are advocating for changes in law and policy to address and prevent gender-based violence and harassment (GBVH).
Women Trade Union Leaders Mobilize Across Africa
Less than two months after the ILO adopted C190, women union leaders in South Africa, together with the country’s Employment and Labor Office and ILO representatives, successfully advocated for inclusion of C190’s ratification in Parliament’s policy agenda. South African union leaders are aiming for South Africa to be the first country to ratify the convention—by December 2019—a target set by Brenda Modise, social justice officer at the Federation of Unions of South Africa (FEDUSA).
“It will happen by December 2019 because of all the work we have done,” she says.
The rapid pace with which lawmakers agreed to debate the proposal reflects years of strategic, unwavering work by FEDUSA and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) and their dozens of affiliates to address gender-based violence and harassment at the workplace, in their unions and through legislation.
In July, a coalition that included COSATU, FEDUSA and the National Council of Trade Unions (NACTU) created an advocacy roadmap, identifying government offices with which to hold discussions around the importance of ratifying C190. Women union leaders are working closely with women’s rights groups and other allies, who have joined the legislative push and broadened public outreach.
Over the last year, women across South Africa have waged protests and marches to demand the government take action to address gender-based violence, including through the #TotalShutdown campaign, a nationwide grassroots effort in which women labor leaders played a key role.
Much of the focus in South Africa, as elsewhere, is centered on domestic violence, and women union leaders are educating lawmakers and the public on the impact of domestic violence on the workplace, and the responsibility of employers and governments to address it, in line with C190.
In addition, they have been working in coalition to increase awareness of the prevalence of GBVH at work and the need for policy and legislative responses that include the “world of work,” such as when workers are commuting for work or attending work-related functions outside the workplace.
The Nigeria Labor Congress, which ensured its ILC delegation included an equal percentage of women and men, and a woman in C190 negotiations, has prioritized working with the Nigerian government and its allies to ensure ratification, says NLC President Ayuba Wabba, who also serves as president of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC).
In September, the Central Organization of Trade Unions-Kenya (COTU-K) hosted members of the Organization of African Trade Union Unity (OATUU) and representatives from the Federation of Kenya Employers and the Kenya Ministry of Labor to discuss the convention and plans for moving toward ratification in OATUU’s 18 member countries. Employer and government representatives also heard from women workers who described how they have been harassed and assaulted at work because of their gender, and why governments need to ratify ILO 190 to remedy and prevent the abuse.
Uruguay Moves for Ratification
The South Africans will have some competition to be first to ratify. Uruguay’s executive branch this week sent a request to the General Assembly that it ratify both C190 and the International Labor Recommendation on violence and harassment (No. 206). The Uruguayan Ministers of Labor and Social Development signed a commitment to C190 on Friday.
Unions in Bahrain and Palestine Rally for Ratification
One month after the ILO passed C190, Palestinian union members organized a broad coalition to ensure government adoption. Credit: PGFTU
In Bahrain and Palestine, the countries’ major union federations have thrown their full support behind achieving government ratification.
In July 2019, one month after the ILC, the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU) launched a campaign in coalition with the union of Palestinian women and labor ministries to ensure C190’s adoption. At a packed union press conference in Ramallah, the minister of women and the labor ministry representative indicated their intent to draft legislation to move ratification.
PGFTU Secretary General Shaher Saad said that in addition to campaigning for ratification, the federation will pursue efforts to amend Palestinian labor law to achieve equality for everyone in the workplace and noted its team of inspectors also enforce the Palestinian labor law, including combating and preventing harassment and violence in the workplace.
The General Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions (GBFTU) hails the government’s recent initiative to amend the country’s labor code, with penalties for harassment at the workplace, (which doubles if the perpetrator is the workers’ supervisor), and is urging the government to build on the move by ratifying Convention 190. The federation also is connecting the campaign for passage of C190 with its efforts to urge the government to sign ILO conventions covering freedom of association (Convention 87) and the right to form unions and bargain collectively with employers (Convention 98).
Standing Up to Fierce Employer Opposition in Central America
In Central America and the Caribbean, where employer groups from Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama have combined forces to oppose C190, union activists condemned the move and remain committed to advocating for ratification by their governments. In Honduras, the Anti-Union Violence Network already has presented petitions signed by union leaders and members to the Honduran government and Ministry of Labor advocating for ratification, and in coalition with unions, will campaign for its passage.
The FEASIES federation of El Salvador, representing maquila and domestic workers, has joined forces with women’s rights and LGBTQI organizations to condemn employers’ opposition to ending violence and harassment at work and to advocate for ratification of C190. Four major unions in Guatemala—FESTRAS, CUSG, CGTG and UNSITRAGUA—are advocating for the adoption of the convention, after the Network in Defense of Labor Rights in Guatemala engaged the unions in the campaign to end gender-based violence at work. The network also is building alliances with LGBTQI and women’s rights organizations to further strengthen the campaign for passage.
The domestic workers’ union federation FETRADOMOV in Nicaragua is lobbying the government and holding member trainings around the convention along with its affiliate, SITRADOTRANS, a union of transgender domestic workers that has helped elevate the specific vulnerabilities to gender-based violence and harassment faced by transgender and gender non-conforming workers in the informal economy.
Documenting GBV to Support Ratification of Convention 190
In Indonesia, where a recent report found 71 percent of 75 women workers said they had been subjected to gender-based violence at work, unions are building on their education and awareness raising about gender-based violence at work to advocate for ratification of C190.
The National Union of Workers (SPN), which partnered with some 50 organizations and unions in a nationwide campaign seeking government support for ILO adoption of the convention in 2017 and 2019, has shifted its energy to campaigning for ratification, says Izzah Inzamliyah, Solidarity Center program officer in Indonesia.
In May 2019, women trade union leaders in Indonesia and Cambodia released reports documenting sexual harassment, including sexual violence and verbal abuse based on gender as well as other forms of GVBH against women in garment factories. The women led the studies and wrote the reports after taking part in awareness-raising and information-sharing workshops hosted by the Solidarity Center. They will use the information and recommendations to educate lawmakers and others about the need to adopt laws and policies to prevent and address gender-based violence and harassment at work, including C190 ratification.
Union women leaders and their allies around the world who have launched campaigns advocating for ratification of Convention 190 recognize it offers the best opportunity for changing structural systems that feed sexual harassment and other forms of gender-based violence in the world of work.
Says Rose Omamo, general secretary of the Amalgamated Union of Kenya Metal Workers who was a key worker representative throughout discussions on the convention:
“Gender-based violence is a disease that cannot be treated without an international standard that sets rules and regulations for making sure countries can adopt laws on gender-based violence in the world of work.”
With Solidarity Center support, trade union women leaders from Brazil, Cambodia, Georgia, Guatemala, Honduras, Indonesia, Kenya, Mexico, Morocco, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Palestine, South Africa, Swaziland, Tunisia and Zimbabwe participated in the ILC. Several took lead roles in the negotiations as part of the workers’ group to ensure the experiences of women workers remained central to the negotiations, along with the need for gender-specific, structural responses to address the impact of violence and harassment.
The adoption of Convention 190 culminated a decade of tireless leadership and advocacy by women trade union leaders around the world who raised awareness about the scope and incidences of gender-based violence and harassment at work and its impact as one of the most prevalent and oppressive forms of abuse.
Through cross-movement coalition building with anti-gender-based violence organizations and participatory research on the experiences of women workers in diverse workplaces, women union activists led the successful campaign that incorporated their experiences in developing definitions of key terms, such as gender-based violence and harassment, and ensuring that the convention covers all workers and the entire world of work, including informal workers, the majority of whom are women.
Dynamic women worker rights leaders from across the globe offered a vision for hope, resilience and movement toward an economy and society that works for people and the planet yesterday at the event, “Building Power: Women’s Leadership in the Fight for Justice, Democracy and Fair Work” in New York City.
“Collective power is the way to build justice.”—AFL-CIO International Director Cathy Feingold. Credit: Solidarity Center/Tula Connell
“We are bringing women labor leaders together today who are at the forefront of movement building. They all know one thing—collective power is the way to build justice. Collective power is the way to democracy,” said AFL-CIO International Director Cathy Feingold, opening the gathering, a side event to the United Nations General Assembly meetings happening this month. (Watch the event here.)
In a statement issued before the event, the philanthropies committed to supporting labor organizations and worker groups in their portfolios, backing ratification and implementation of International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention 190 to eliminate gender-based violence and harassment at work, and boost advocacy to support civic space.
The philanthropies were inspired by the women who fought for passage of Convention 190, said Laine Romero-Alston, team manager for the Fair Work Program/International Migration Initiative at OSF. “Out of that inspiration we are committing to you all to support the work moving forward.”
‘Dignity and Rights of Working People, Not Exploitation’
The future of work must be about “dignity and the rights of working people and not exploitation”—ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow. Credit: Solidarity Center/Tula Connell
Discussing a global movement for economic justice, democracy and fair work, women union leaders featured on the first of two panels agreed there is a worldwide jobs crisis—and women endure the lowest pay and worst working conditions.
“Look at the inequalities in workplaces, who is most affected? Women are most affected,” said Rose Omamo, general secretary of Amalgamated Union of Kenya Metal Workers and the national chair of the Central Organization of Trade Unions-Kenya (COTU-K) Women’s Committee.
“We need to work in solidarity together, have alliances, build alliances,” said Omamo who, as an elected member of the Organization of African Trade Union Unity and a member of ITUC–Africa Women’s Committee, is building cross-continent partnerships.
AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler urges unions to reach out to young workers. Credit: Solidarity Center/Tula Connell
“Sixty percent of the world’s workers are in the informal economy with no minimum wage, no rule of law, no social protections,” International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) General Secretary Sharan Burrow said to the packed crowd. “The employment model is broken down and the future of work must be about dignity and the rights of working people, not exploitation,” she said.
Moderated by Patrick Gaspard, OSF president and former U.S. ambassador to South Africa, the panel also explored solutions for ensuring a future of work rooted in a global economy that works for everyone.
One solution starts with unions themselves: “We need to get more women into union leadership,” said AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler. “We cannot be afraid to fail and experiment and connect with young people by making the labor movement relevant to what they see in their lives.”
‘Elimination of Gender-Based Violence Key to Accessing Other Rights’
Solidarity Center Executive Director Shawna Bader-Blau: “Labor rights are core to all our democratic rights.” Credit: Solidarity Center/Tula Connell
Moderated by Solidarity Center Shawna Bader-Blau, the second panel included Libakiso Matlho, national director at Women and Law in Southern Africa Research and Education Trust–Lesotho (WLSA). Matlho discussed the recent landmark agreement agreement WLSA participated in negotiating that will address the rampant gender-based violence and harassment denying thousands of women garment workers a safe and dignified workplace in Lesotho.
Lesotho-based unions and women’s rights groups, major fashion brands and international worker rights organizations, including the Solidarity Center, negotiated the worker-centered program in August with factory owner Nien Hsing Textiles.
One element that sets the agreement apart from most corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives, she said, is the inclusion of freedom of association. With unions at the table, she said, employers can be held accountable to keeping their commitments.
Worker rights leaders Maricarmen Molina and Anannya Bhattacharjee discussed the structural underpinnings of gender-based violence at work and the ramifications for women workers who suffer such abuse.
“Violence and harassment are part of a continuum of behaviors in many of the systems where we work”—Mariecaremen Molina Credit: Solidarity Center/Tula Connell
“Violence and harassment are part of a continuum of behaviors in many of the systems where we work,” said Molina, the first woman secretary general of a national union confederation in Central America, the CSTS (Confederación Sindical de Trabajadores y Trabajadoras de El Salvador). The CSTS, working with the national federations CONFUERSA and FEASIES, recently won significant minimum wage increases for workers in service, industrial and agricultural sectors.
“We have found that gender-based violence at the workplace is the most corrosive element that works against everything,” said Bhattacharjee, international coordinator for the Asia Floor Wage Alliance.
“It is really difficult for women in those situations to attempt to form unions,” which would enable them to join together to improve their working conditions.
With Global Labor Justice, Asia Floor Wage Alliance this year launched a global campaign, #GarmentMeToo, a movement led by women union leaders to contribute to new international labor standards.
Elimination of gender-based violence is the necessary condition for accessing other labor rights, such as the right to a living wage, such as the right to freedom of association,” said Bhattacharjee. “It is part of a global supply chain where the brands are the main drivers. Their purchasing practices are what causes the gender-based violence. Anything we do, they have to build held accountable in any agreement that works.”
Unions and collective action are key to holding employers accountable and to ensuring workers can exercise their fundamental rights on the job, the panelists agreed. And “labor rights are core to democracies, they are core to making all our other democratic rights real,” said Bader-Blau, closing the event. “These rights are under attack in every single one of our countries right now. And it is on all of us to stand up for worker rights.
“For every woman trade unionist who has ever received a death threat for daring to lead… for every new activist young and old entering the labor movement right now who doesn’t know if she has a place because our institutions have for so long been so male dominated, we see you,” she said.
“We respect and honor what you are trying to do to make our democracies stronger and more just. You are the future and we all of us in this room have your back because this is what democracy looks like!”
The CUNY School of Labor and Urban Studies hosted the event, with Dean Gregory Mantsios welcoming the group.
A new worker-centered, precedent-setting program will comprehensively address the rampant gender-based violence and harassment denying thousands of women garment workers a safe and dignified workplace in Lesotho.
The agreement was reached after WRC documented how the mostly female garment workers were regularly coerced into sexual activity with supervisors to keep their jobs. Credit: Solidarity Center/Shawna Bader-Blau
The parties came to the table after U.S.-based Worker Rights Consortium (WRC) documented how the mostly female workforce at three Nien Hsing textile factories was regularly coerced into sexual activity with supervisors as a condition of gaining or retaining employment or promotions, and were persistently sexually harassed, verbally and physically.
The Lesothoan unions and women’s rights groups, all with proven histories of fighting to advance the rights of workers and women throughout the country, are: the Federation of Women Lawyers in Lesotho (FIDA), the Independent Democratic Union of Lesotho (IDUL), the National Clothing Textile and Allied Workers Union, Lesotho (NACTWU), the United Textile Employees (UNITE) and Women and Law in Southern Africa Research and Education Trust (WLSA)-Lesotho. They will administer the agreement and will serve on the oversight committee.
The Solidarity Center, WRC and Workers United joined these groups to negotiate the two agreements with Levi Strauss, The Children’s Place, Kontoor Brands and Nien Hsing Textiles.
“This is the first initiative in Lesotho that brings together workers, unions, women’s organizations and employers to work towards one common goal of improving the socioeconomic rights of women in the workplace,” Thusoana Ntlama, FIDA programs coordinator and Libakiso Matlho, WLSA national director, said in a joint statement.
Agreements Follow Report Documenting Abuse at Lesotho Factories
Nearly two-thirds of the garment workers WRC interviewed reported “having experienced sexual harassment or abuse” or having knowledge of harassment or abuse suffered by co-workers, according to the report. Women workers from all three factories identified GBVH as a central concern for themselves and other female employees.
“Many supervisors demand sexual favors and bribes from prospective employees,” one worker told WRC investigators. “They promise jobs to the workers who are still on probationary contracts. […] All of the women in my department have slept with the supervisor. For the women, this is about survival and nothing else. […] If you say no, you won’t get the job, or your contract will not be renewed.”
All the Elements to Prevent, Eliminate GBVH at Work
While sexual harassment and other forms of gender-based violence may happen at any workplace, GBVH is rampant in the global garment and textile industry. Globally, some 85 percent of garment workers are women. They are especially vulnerable to abuse and violence at work because of imbalanced power structures, high poverty and unemployment.
The Lesotho plan “has all the elements needed to prevent and eliminate gender-based violence at work,” says Solidarity Center Executive Director Shawna Bader-Blau. “First, there’s real accountability. It is binding and enforceable on all parties. And the global brands and the employer have guaranteed their commitment to enforcing and upholding the code of conduct by signing fully executed, binding and enforceable contracts.”
Establish an independent organization to investigate issues, fully empowered to determine remedies
Create a clear code of conduct on unacceptable behaviors and a system for reporting abuse—with garment workers as full participants in creating, implementing and monitoring it
Establish an education and awareness program that goes beyond the typical harassment and gender violence training. It will be comprehensive and get at the root causes of gender discrimination and violence against women.
And because the freedom to form unions and collectively bargain has proven essential to addressing gender-based violence and harassment at work and in creating the space for workers to shape a future of work that is fair and democratic, it’s especially key that these agreements also protect workers’ rights to freely form unions, says Bader-Blau.
Nien Hsing, which manufactures apparel for global brands in several countries, signed one agreement with trade unions and women’s rights organizations in Lesotho to establish the GBVH program, and has committed to take recommended action when violations of the program’s code of conduct have been established.
The global brands entered into a parallel agreement in which, should Nien Hsing commit a material breach of its agreement with the unions and NGOs, it will take action, including a potential reduction in orders.
In the past, as one worker told WRC, “The [supervisors accused of harassment] are usually rotated to other departments,” arrangements the plan seeks to eradicate.
Putting the Plan into Action
Lesotho-based women’s rights organizations, unions, the Solidarity Center and WRC will jointly design the education and awareness program and curriculum, with input from the newly created independent investigative organization.
They also will carry out the two-day training, in which all workers and managers will take part. Workers will be paid regular wages during the training.
And importantly, says Bader-Blau, “Empowered workers with a negotiated stake in the agreements can identify and report violence and harassment. And because they have established the terms with the employer as equals, they can be sure that retaliation for reporting abuse and the impunity of abusers will end. Unlike corporate social responsibility programs, the Lesotho program is a contractual agreement with the employer, the brands and the unions, which means everyone is accountable to the code of conduct–with workers able to enforce it as an equal party.”
The program is partially modeled after the Fair Food Program, a set of binding agreements between leading food brands, like McDonald’s and Whole Foods, and the Coalition of Immokalee Workers. Using the type of independent complaint mechanism that will be established by the Lesotho agreements, the Fair Food Program has largely eliminated what had been rampant sexual harassment and coercion in the tomato fields of Florida.
The agreements also build on the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety, in which unions were key participants, and recognizes the fundamental role of collective bargaining in negotiating an agreement that is binding on employers and international brands and in bringing accountability to the global supply chain by ensuring the agreement is implemented and enforced.
Funding for the two-year program will come primarily from the three brands, in collaboration with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID, and the program will kick off in fall 2019.
Leading apparel brands, trade unions and women’s rights organizations sign binding agreements to combat gender-based violence and harassment at key supplier’s factories in Lesotho
With support from U.S. labor organizations, collaborative program creates independent mechanism to investigate complaints and enforce remedies
Maseru, Lesotho; Washington, D.C. (August 15, 2019): Civil society groups, an international apparel manufacturer, and three global brands have agreed to launch a comprehensive pilot program intended to prevent gender-based violence and harassment (GBVH) in garment factories in Lesotho employing more than 10,000 workers.
Five Lesotho-based trade unions and women’s rights organizations, as well as U.S.-based Worker Rights Consortium, Solidarity Center and Workers United, have signed a set of unprecedented agreements with Nien Hsing Textile and Levi Strauss & Co., The Children’s Place, and Kontoor Brands to address GBVH at five factories owned and operated by Nien Hsing Textile in Lesotho.
Garment workers in Lesotho make jeans for global export, including to the United States. Credit: Solidarity Center/Shawna Bader-Blau
The unions and women’s rights organizations are Independent Democratic Union of Lesotho (IDUL), United Textile Employees (UNITE), the National Clothing Textile and Allied Workers Union (NACTWU), the Federation of Women Lawyers in Lesotho (FIDA) and Women and Law in Southern African Research and Education Trust-Lesotho (WLSA). Each brand agreement will operate in tandem with a separate agreement among Nien Hsing Textile and the trade unions and women’s rights organizations to establish an independent investigative organization to receive complaints of GBVH from workers, carry out investigations and assessments, identify violations of a jointly developed code of conduct and direct and enforce remedies in accordance with the Lesotho law. The program will also involve extensive worker-to-worker and management training, education, and related activities.
The Solidarity Center, the Worker Rights Consortium, and Workers United will provide technical and administrative assistance and support for the program.
“We are grateful to everyone for their input and ideas over the past several months, which allowed us to reach an agreement that should benefit and protect people – and women in particular – who are so important to the work we and our brand customers do,” said Richard Chen, the Chairman of Nien Hsing. “We strive to ensure a safe and secure workplace for all workers in our factories and are therefore fully committed to implementing this agreement immediately, comprehensively, and with measurable success.”
Attendant to the agreements, the brands and the local organizations agreed to appoint representatives to serve on an Oversight Committee for the program, with equal voting power. Nien Hsing Textile and the Worker Rights Consortium will each have observer status on the Oversight Committee.
Funding for the two-year program will come primarily from the three brands, in collaboration with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) in an inspiring and innovative public-private partnership.
Levi Strauss & Co., The Children’s Place and Kontoor Brands jointly stated, “We are committed to working to protect workers’ rights and foster well-being at third party supplier factories, so that all workers at these facilities, especially female workers, feel safe, valued and empowered. We are pleased to be collaborating with Nien Hsing Textile, the Worker Rights Consortium, the Solidarity Center, and local trade unions and women’s advocacy groups in Lesotho on a comprehensive program intended to prevent and combat gender-based violence and harassment in the workplace. We believe this multi-faceted program can create lasting change and better working environments at these factories, making a significant positive impact on the entire workforce.”
Nien Hsing Textile has committed to work with the Solidarity Center and partner organizations to ensure that effective policies and systems to address GBVH are established at its facilities. In addition, Nien Hsing Textile will provide access to its factories for reporting purposes and direct its managers to refrain from any retaliation against workers bringing complaints or otherwise participating in the program. Should there be any material breach by Nien Hsing Textile of its agreements with the trade unions and women’s rights organizations, each brand has committed to reduce production orders until Nien Hsing returns to compliance.
“FIDA and WLSA are pleased and thankful for the support extended to the NGOs and trade unions by the three brands, Levi Strauss & Co., The Children’s Place, and Kontoor Brands, for the program to prevent and eliminate gender-based violence and harassment directed at women employees in the textile sector in Lesotho,” Thusoana Ntlama and Libakiso Matlho, of FIDA and WLSA, respectively, said. “This is the first initiative in Lesotho that brings together workers, unions, women’s organizations and employers to work towards one common goal of improving the socio-economic rights of women in the workplace.”
“These breakthrough agreements set an example for the rest of the apparel industry on how to address harassment and abuse in apparel supply chains,” said Rola Abimourched, Senior Program Director at the Worker Rights Consortium. “The parties worked together to develop a series of binding agreements between Nien Hsing, its brand customers, and unions and women’s organizations, that guarantee protection for workers and punishment for harassers. Hopefully this is something others will see and build on, so we can collectively make an impact far beyond any single country.”
Background on unions and NGOs involved (with contact information)
About the Federation of Women Lawyers in Lesotho (FIDA)
The Federation of Women Lawyers-Lesotho is a nongovernmental, non-profit-making organization founded and registered in 1988 by women lawyers in Lesotho. The Federation advocates for the promotion and protection of women’s and children’s rights. Over the years, its mandate has expanded to accommodate all legal issues within the public domain that affect the Basotho nation, because an empowered civil society is a crucial component of any democratic system. By articulating citizens’ concerns, FIDA is active in the public arena engaging in initiatives to further participatory democracy and development in Lesotho. There has been significant progress over the last couple of years as a result of legislative changes that have empowered women and children, moving them closer to social justice, among them the: Sexual Offences Act, 2003; Legal Capacity of Married Persons Act, 2006; Land Act, 2010; Child Protection and Welfare Act, 2011.
About the Independent Democratic Union of Lesotho (IDUL)
The Independent Democratic Union of Lesotho was formed in 2015 after three unions—Factory Workers Union (FAWUL), National Union of Textile Workers (NUTEX) and Lesotho Clothing and Allied Workers Union (LECAWU)—merged. The union holds the majority in the textile sector and also represents workers in other sectors, including mining, construction, hospitality, retail and other manufacturing.
About the National Clothing Textile and Allied Workers Union, Lesotho (NACTWU)
The National Clothing Textile and Allied Workers Union is a trade union established on November 14, 2014. Its mandate is to represent employees at the workplace on all work-related issues. It began by representing textile employees only, but with time and due to the large number of employees in need of the union’s services, it expanded its scope to cover every employee in Lesotho. NACTWU also trains its members about their rights and employer rights at work, and about local and regional labor laws and international labor standards. The union helps its members understand union administration and union structures so that, in the future, they can become leaders at the workplace and within society at large. NACTWU protects employees at work by improving working conditions, wages, health and safety, and by ensuring that their employers comply with labor laws and international labor standards.
The Solidarity Center is the largest U.S.-based international worker rights organization helping workers attain safe and healthy workplaces, family-supporting wages, dignity on the job and greater equity at work and in their community. Allied with the AFL-CIO and U.S. labor movement, the Solidarity Center assists workers across the globe as, together, they fight discrimination, exploitation and the systems that entrench poverty—to achieve shared prosperity in the global economy. Founded in 1997, the Solidarity Center works with unions, worker associations and community groups to provide a wide range of education, training, research, legal support and other resources to help build strong and effective trade unions and more just and equitable societies. Its programs—in more than 60 countries—focus on human and worker rights awareness, union skills, occupational safety and health, economic literacy, human trafficking, women’s empowerment and bolstering workers in an increasingly informal economy.
United Textile Employees is a registered trade union formed by textile workers in 2008 as a class-oriented trade union. Its mandate is to protect worker rights and promote the decent work agenda, which includes rights, social protection, social dialogue and sustainable employment; to fight precarious work that turns workers into slaves; to empower women to stand against patriarchal workplace issues and intergrate gender issues into all union programs; and to build capacity within trade union leadership and women’s structures.
Contacts: Daniel Maraisane, Deputy General Secretary
About Women and Law in Southern Africa Research and Education Trust (WLSA)-Lesotho
Women and Law in Southern Africa Research and Education Trust (WLSA)-Lesotho is a local NGO registered in 2000 under the Lesotho Society Act (1967). It is part of WLSA’s regional network, which operates in Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe and Lesotho. WLSA is a nongovernmental organization pursuing women’s human rights in a legal context. Its mission is to contribute to the socioeconomic, political and legal advancement of women and children in Lesotho. Since 1989, WLSA has been the anchor and lead organization in Lesotho on issues of women’s rights, strategic litigation on women’s rights, empowerment of women and gender equality and has also played a key role in mentoring and providing backstopping for other women’s groups in the country as well as government departments.
Contacts: Advocate Libakiso Matlho, National Director
Founded in 2000, the Worker Rights Consortium is an independent labor rights monitoring organization whose mission is to promote, and help enforce, strong labor right protections in global manufacturing supply chains. The WRC conducts factory investigations, documents violations and seeks comprehensive remedies. The WRC has more than 175 university and college affiliates in the United States and Canada and also works with government entities seeking to enforce human rights standards.
Contact: Rola Abimourched, Senior Program Director
Workers United, an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), is an American and Canadian union that represents 90,000 workers in the apparel-textile, commercial laundry, distribution and other related industries. Workers United is the successor to UNITE, which was formed in 1995 by the merger of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union (ILGWU) and the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers’ Union (ACTWU), unions that were an important part of the formation of the U.S. and Canadian labor movement in the early 20th century. Workers United, like its predecessor unions, is a social movement union, engaging its members in social justice struggles throughout their industries and communities, and in addition acting in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in other countries.
Contacts: David Melman, Executive Vice President
T: +1 215 219 1416
Jeff Hermanson, International Affairs Representative
T: +1 213 305 0400
Lesotho is a landlocked country, surrounded by South Africa, that has a population of about two million and a per capita gross domestic product (GDP) of $1,318. Lesotho is classified as a lower-middle-income country.
The garment manufacturing sector has expanded significantly in Lesotho over the past 30 years and is now the largest formal sector employer in the country, employing around 40,000. Lesotho has taken advantage of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) to become one of the largest exporters of garments to the United States from sub-Saharan Africa. Beyond the U.S. market, Lesotho’s products enjoy duty free access to Southern African Customs Union and Southern African Development Community countries, which have a total population of 277 million.
Lesotho garment firms specialize in the production of denim garments. It is estimated that Lesotho’s 42 apparel firms make some 90 million knitted garments annually. With the growth of the apparel industry, companies have begun manufacturing other labor-intensive products in Lesotho, such as car seat covers, clean cookstoves, and circuit breaker switches.
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