Haiti: Workers Still Struggle 10 Years After Earthquake

Haiti: Workers Still Struggle 10 Years After Earthquake

Ten years after a magnitude 7 earthquake destroyed a large swath of Haiti, killing more than 300,000 people and injuring another 1.5 million, workers and their families have not benefited from the billions in international aid that poured into country after the disaster. Nor has the government’s response—expanding low-wage, garment-sector jobs—alleviated poverty. Instead, they struggle to support their families with wages too low to live on even as escalating prices for fuel and other necessities compound the difficulties in their daily effort to survive.

“Workers live day by day,” says Reginald Lafontant, secretary general of the Groupement Syndicat des Travailleurs Textil pour la Reimportacion d’assemblage (GOSTTRA), a garment worker union and Solidarity Center partner.

In response to ongoing mass protests last fall against fuel and food shortages and government corruption, President Jovenel Moïse increased the minimum wage for garment workers and others in the export manufacturing sector from 420 gourdes a day to 500 gourdes ($5.09) a day. The miniscule increase left workers’ wages at less than 2018 levels because of inflation, and the move infuriated workers, who told Solidarity Center staff that the new wage is not enough to pay for food, transportation, housing, children’s school fees  and medical care.

Workers Need $18.30 a Day to Support Themselves

More than 60 percent of Haitians survive on less $2 a day, and more than 2.5 million people fall below the extreme poverty line of $1.23 per day. The Solidarity Center report, “The High Cost of Low Wages in Haiti,” which tracked living expenses for garment workers from September 2018 through March 2019, recommends the government increase the minimum wage to an estimated $18.30 per day and allow workers to select their own representatives to the country’s tripartite minimum wage committee.

The cost of living in Haiti has increased by 74 percent since the Solidarity Center’s first wage assessment in 2014. Based on the current minimum wage, workers must spend more than half (55 percent) of their take-home pay on work-related transportation and a modest lunch, leaving little else to cover other necessities. Some workers say they can only afford to eat once per day.

The country’s inability to provide basic goods and services affects workers’ job security as well. With no propane available for cooking in the city, businesses last fall put their staff on unpaid leave. Hotels are closing and major airlines have cancelled flights to the country because of the economic and political turmoil, increasing unemployment and choking off income from much-needed tourist dollars. Haitians are outraged that the island has received millions of dollars in aid since the 2010 earthquake, but public services and infrastructure are nearly nonfunctional.

Haiti’s economy, which never recovered after the earthquake and the subsequent cholera outbreak that claimed some 10,000 lives, has worsened over the past three years. The Haiti Advocacy Working Group, which includes the Solidarity Center, is calling for policies that focus on an equitable and livable future and “promote the creation of decent employment that enables Haitian workers to adequately care for themselves and their families.”

Unions are in the forefront of calling for action to address the crisis. More than 40 labor organizations joined a call last fall for vast nationwide legal reforms, including free and fair elections and the resignation of Moïse. More recently, three Solidarity Center partner unions in the garment industry—GOSTTRA, Batay Ouvriye and Centrale Nationale des Ouvriers Haitiens (CNOHA)—rallied to call for better working conditions, the proper management of pension and social security funds, a living wage and government accountability for corruption.

The government failed to hold elections in October, and one-third of the Senate, the entire Chamber of Deputies and all local offices are set to expire in January 2020, setting the stage for a potential constitutional crisis and another round of widespread protests.

Union Women Rock 16 Days of Activism Against GBVH

Union Women Rock 16 Days of Activism Against GBVH

During the recent 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, workers and their unions from Honduras to Kyrgyzstan, Morocco, Nigeria and Bangladesh made big gains raising awareness about gender-based violence and harassment at work (GBVH) and demanding that their governments ratify the new global convention adopted by the International Labor Organization (ILO) that includes GBVH.

With Solidarity Center support, more than 23 unions, worker associations, and their allies in more than a dozen countries issued statements urging their governments ratify ILO Convention 190. Adopted by the ILO in June, C190 is a global treaty to prevent and address violence and harassment in the world of work that includes gender-based violence and harassment. C190 will become effective for all ILO members states ILO 12 months after two governments ratify it. On December 17, Uruguay became the first country to ratify C190.

Nigeria, 16 Days of Activism Against Violence Against Women, Solidarity Center

Members of the Nigeria Labor Congress held a series of actions throughout the 16 Days Campaign. Credit: Solidarity Center/Nkechi Odinukwe

Solidarity Center union partners far exceeded the organization’s goal for the 16 Days Campaign: 16 letters or statements of support sent from unions and worker associations to their governments urging ratification of C190 in 16 days.

“Women trade union leaders continue to build on the momentum that led to the votes in support of adoption of C190 by an overwhelming majority of governments at the ILO in June, and now their leadership continues as unions and their allies demand that their governments follow up with their commitment by ratifying C190,” says Robin Runge, co-director of the Solidarity Center Equality and Inclusion Department.

“Only through ratification and implementation can the goals of C190 of preventing and addressing GBVH in the world of work be achieved.”

From Union Hall to Parliament Floor

In campaigning for ratification, union women leaders are explaining the need for unions, employers and governments to adopt the broad definition of GBVH in C190, which reflects the experiences of women and other vulnerable workers.

C190 states that gender-based violence and harassment is directed at people because of their sex or gender, or affecting persons of a particular sex or gender disproportionately, and includes sexual harassment.” C190’s strong language also covers all workers—formal and informal—regardless of their contractual status and how work is performed, and it covers the commute to work, at employer-provided accommodations and in work-related communications, including information and communication technologies.

For the first time in a global binding agreement, C190 recognizes the right to work free from violence and harassment, including GBVH. Union activists and women’s rights and anti-violence allies also are springing off the global repudiation of gender-based violence and harassment at work embodied in C190 to advocate changes in national laws and policies to address and prevent GBVH.

Georgia, 16 Days of Action Against Gender-Based Violence, Solidarity Center

In Ukraine, members of  KPVU, a Solidarity Center partner, developed a campaign against violence and harassment at work and  ratification of Convention 190. Credit: Solidarity Center/Tatiana Solodovnyk

Solidarity Center facilitated action by union partners around the globe throughout the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence (November 25–December 10).

In Bangladesh, for instance, migrant workers joined garment workers to call attention to the connected issues of gender-based violence at work and the rights of domestic workers, rallying together and forming human chains at the Department of Immigration and Passports and other government buildings. Together, they called for the government to ratify Convention 190 and ILO Convention 189 on the rights of domestic workers. Each year, more than 400,000 Bangladeshis migrate for employment to other countries, the vast majority of them for domestic work in private homes, where they are isolated and often subject to harassment and violence with little access to support.

Union leaders from the Democratic Labor Confederation (CDT) and the Moroccan Labor Union (UMT) took their message directly to Parliament. Speaking on the floor of Parliament, Touriya Lahrech, a member of the Moroccan Parliament and CDT leader and Amal Al Amri, a member of the ILO governing body and UMT executive board member, called on the government to ratify ILO Convention 190.

In Kyrgyzstan, where 13 unions signed a joint statement urging the government to ratify C190, a recent survey by the Kyrgyzstan Association of Women Judges found some 80 percent of women workers in the public sector say they have experienced GBVH at the workplace. With support from the Solidarity Center, more than 60 union members and representatives from government agencies, Parliament, unions and employers’ organizations took part in a December 6–7 workshop on gender discrimination (below).

Kyrgyzstan, 16 days of Action on Gender-Based Violence Against Women at work, Solidarity Center

Following the training, the Women MPs Forum, together with MPs, international organizations and NGOs prepared amendments to national legislation covering GBVH at work. The Labor Ministry representative and women MPs agreed that C190 ratification will be an important “umbrella” for further amendments to the national legislation covering the GVBH at work, says Lola Abdukadyrova, Solidarity Center program coordinator in Biskek, the Kygyrz capital.

The National Confederation of Apparel Workers (CNTRV) union in Brazil released a report that found the vast majority of women in Brazil’s textile and shoe factories who took part in the 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.”

“Obviously it was very shocking to us when we received the results of the report to understand the extent of violence at the workplace,” CNTRV President Francisca Trajano. “At the same time it’s a wake up call to do something about it.”

Cartoons, Campaigns and ‘Orange the World’

Here’s a small glimpse of more of the many actions.

Honduras, Ratify Convention 190 poster, Network Against Violence Against Unions, Solidarity Center

The Network Against Anti-Union Violence in Honduras, a Solidarity Center partner, commemorated International Day of Violence Against Women by demanding on Facebook that the National Congress of Honduras ratify Convention 190.

  • SITRADOMSA, a domestic worker union in Guatemala and Solidarity Center partner, held a vigil to commemorate the violent deaths of women. “We also remember women domestic workers who have died violently from employers,” the union said. Despite the fierce opposition of Central American governments to C190 ratification, nearly 10 major union federations and worker associations in the Dominican Republic, Guatemala and Honduras took public actions to denounce GBVH at work and call for C190 ratification.
    .
  • Union activists in Nigeria held a gender equality workshop that included a representative from the Ministry of Women Affairs and Nigerian Labor Congress members and attended a candlelight vigil for women targets of domestic violence.
  • The Tunisian General Labor Union (UGTT) developed a cartoon campaign poster (below) to advocate for C190 ratification and held awareness-raising campaigns in seven regions, reaching union members in one-third of Tunisia.
    Tunisia, gender-based violence at work poster, Solidarity Center, UGTT
  • The Solidarity Center Gender Forum in Georgia held two one-day workshops across the country, aiming to increase the awareness of municipal workers about C190 and gender-based discrimination in labor relations. The Women’s Committee and Legal Committee of the Georgia Trade Union Confederation also held open offices in Tbilisi, Gori and Mtskheta to increase public awareness about C190 and GBVH at work.
  • In Jaffna, Sri Lanka (below), Solidarity Center staff joined the GBV Action Committee of the Jaffna District Secretariat who are becoming trainers on gender-based violence at work issues. Jaffna’s GBV Secretariat is charged with creating awareness about gender-based violence at work and addressing harassment-related complaints.
    Jaffna, Sri Lanka, gender-based violence at work training, Solidarity Center
  • In Thailand, union members staged a public action at a Bangkok train station to raise awareness about the impact of all forms of violence in the world of work as part of their “Stop Violence against Women” campaign. They also urged the government to ratify ILO Convention 190 on Violence and Harassment at work. Train passengers joined the union members in a photo session.
  • Solidarity Center partner Sitradotrans, the Union of Trans Domestic Workers and Various Trades of Nicaragua, marched in Managua, the capital, calling for ratification of Convention 190 and a world without violence.
  • The Federation of Independent Trade Unions in Jordan drafted a letter to the government and collected signatures from their civil society and political parties partners to submit to the government and parliament, and took part in the global media campaign calling for ratification.

Solidarity Center partners see the effort as part of a broad and ongoing campaign to end gender-based violence at work.

“Ratification of C190 is a first step,” says Natalya Levytska, the Confederation of Free Trade Unions of Ukraine (KVPU) deputy chair and Gender Committee leader.

“The GBVH campaign is long-term—it’s about building a movement, changing perception and public awareness around the issue. Through educating and mobilizing union members who will build a grassroots movement, and by working with lawmakers in Parliament, we see a two-pronged strategy for success.”

Union Women Rock 16 Days of Activism Against GBVH

Union Women Rock 16 Days of Activism Against GBVH

During the recent 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, workers and their unions from Honduras to Kyrgyzstan, Morocco, Nigeria and Bangladesh made big gains raising awareness about gender-based violence and harassment at work (GBVH) and demanding that their governments ratify the new global convention adopted by the International Labor Organization (ILO) that includes GBVH.

With Solidarity Center support, more than 23 unions, worker associations, and their allies in more than a dozen countries issued statements urging their governments ratify ILO Convention 190. Adopted by the ILO in June, C190 is a global treaty to prevent and address violence and harassment in the world of work that includes gender-based violence and harassment. C190 will become effective for all ILO members states ILO 12 months after two governments ratify it. On December 17, Uruguay became the first country to ratify C190.

Nigeria, 16 Days of Activism Against Violence Against Women, Solidarity Center
Members of the Nigeria Labor Congress held a series of actions throughout the 16 Days Campaign. Credit: Solidarity Center/Nkechi Odinukwe

Solidarity Center union partners far exceeded the organization’s goal for the 16 Days Campaign: 16 letters or statements of support sent from unions and worker associations to their governments urging ratification of C190 in 16 days.

“Women trade union leaders continue to build on the momentum that led to the votes in support of adoption of C190 by an overwhelming majority of governments at the ILO in June, and now their leadership continues as unions and their allies demand that their governments follow up with their commitment by ratifying C190,” says Robin Runge, co-director of the Solidarity Center Equality and Inclusion Department.

“Only through ratification and implementation can the goals of C190 of preventing and addressing GBVH in the world of work be achieved.”

From Union Hall to Parliament Floor

In campaigning for ratification, union women leaders are explaining the need for unions, employers and governments to adopt the broad definition of GBVH in C190, which reflects the experiences of women and other vulnerable workers.

C190 states that gender-based violence and harassment is directed at people because of their sex or gender, or affecting persons of a particular sex or gender disproportionately, and includes sexual harassment.” C190’s strong language also covers all workers—formal and informal—regardless of their contractual status and how work is performed, and it covers the commute to work, at employer-provided accommodations and in work-related communications, including information and communication technologies.

For the first time in a global binding agreement, C190 recognizes the right to work free from violence and harassment, including GBVH. Union activists and women’s rights and anti-violence allies also are springing off the global repudiation of gender-based violence and harassment at work embodied in C190 to advocate changes in national laws and policies to address and prevent GBVH.

Georgia, 16 Days of Action Against Gender-Based Violence, Solidarity Center
In Ukraine, members of  KPVU, a Solidarity Center partner, developed a campaign against violence and harassment at work and  ratification of Convention 190. Credit: Solidarity Center/Tatiana Solodovnyk

Solidarity Center facilitated action by union partners around the globe throughout the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence (November 25–December 10).

In Bangladesh, for instance, migrant workers joined garment workers to call attention to the connected issues of gender-based violence at work and the rights of domestic workers, rallying together and forming human chains at the Department of Immigration and Passports and other government buildings. Together, they called for the government to ratify Convention 190 and ILO Convention 189 on the rights of domestic workers. Each year, more than 400,000 Bangladeshis migrate for employment to other countries, the vast majority of them for domestic work in private homes, where they are isolated and often subject to harassment and violence with little access to support.

Union leaders from the Democratic Labor Confederation (CDT) and the Moroccan Labor Union (UMT) took their message directly to Parliament. Speaking on the floor of Parliament, Touriya Lahrech, a member of the Moroccan Parliament and CDT leader and Amal Al Amri, a member of the ILO governing body and UMT executive board member, called on the government to ratify ILO Convention 190.

In Kyrgyzstan, where 13 unions signed a joint statement urging the government to ratify C190, a recent survey by the Kyrgyzstan Association of Women Judges found some 80 percent of women workers in the public sector say they have experienced GBVH at the workplace. With support from the Solidarity Center, more than 60 union members and representatives from government agencies, Parliament, unions and employers’ organizations took part in a December 6–7 workshop on gender discrimination (below).

Kyrgyzstan, 16 days of Action on Gender-Based Violence Against Women at work, Solidarity Center

Following the training, the Women MPs Forum, together with MPs, international organizations and NGOs prepared amendments to national legislation covering GBVH at work. The Labor Ministry representative and women MPs agreed that C190 ratification will be an important “umbrella” for further amendments to the national legislation covering the GVBH at work, says Lola Abdukadyrova, Solidarity Center program coordinator in Biskek, the Kygyrz capital.

The National Confederation of Apparel Workers (CNTRV) union in Brazil released a report that found the vast majority of women in Brazil’s textile and shoe factories who took part in the 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.”

“Obviously it was very shocking to us when we received the results of the report to understand the extent of violence at the workplace,” CNTRV President Francisca Trajano. “At the same time it’s a wake up call to do something about it.”

Cartoons, Campaigns and ‘Orange the World’

Here’s a small glimpse of more of the many actions.

Honduras, Ratify Convention 190 poster, Network Against Violence Against Unions, Solidarity Center
The Network Against Anti-Union Violence in Honduras, a Solidarity Center partner, commemorated International Day of Violence Against Women by demanding on Facebook that the National Congress of Honduras ratify Convention 190.
  • SITRADOMSA, a domestic worker union in Guatemala and Solidarity Center partner, held a vigil to commemorate the violent deaths of women. “We also remember women domestic workers who have died violently from employers,” the union said. Despite the fierce opposition of Central American governments to C190 ratification, nearly 10 major union federations and worker associations in the Dominican Republic, Guatemala and Honduras took public actions to denounce GBVH at work and call for C190 ratification.
    .
  • Union activists in Nigeria held a gender equality workshop that included a representative from the Ministry of Women Affairs and Nigerian Labor Congress members and attended a candlelight vigil for women targets of domestic violence.
  • The Tunisian General Labor Union (UGTT) developed a cartoon campaign poster (below) to advocate for C190 ratification and held awareness-raising campaigns in seven regions, reaching union members in one-third of Tunisia.
    Tunisia, gender-based violence at work poster, Solidarity Center, UGTT
  • The Solidarity Center Gender Forum in Georgia held two one-day workshops across the country, aiming to increase the awareness of municipal workers about C190 and gender-based discrimination in labor relations. The Women’s Committee and Legal Committee of the Georgia Trade Union Confederation also held open offices in Tbilisi, Gori and Mtskheta to increase public awareness about C190 and GBVH at work.
  • In Jaffna, Sri Lanka (below), Solidarity Center staff joined the GBV Action Committee of the Jaffna District Secretariat who are becoming trainers on gender-based violence at work issues. Jaffna’s GBV Secretariat is charged with creating awareness about gender-based violence at work and addressing harassment-related complaints.
    Jaffna, Sri Lanka, gender-based violence at work training, Solidarity Center
  • In Thailand, union members staged a public action at a Bangkok train station to raise awareness about the impact of all forms of violence in the world of work as part of their “Stop Violence against Women” campaign. They also urged the government to ratify ILO Convention 190 on Violence and Harassment at work. Train passengers joined the union members in a photo session.
  • Solidarity Center partner Sitradotrans, the Union of Trans Domestic Workers and Various Trades of Nicaragua, marched in Managua, the capital, calling for ratification of Convention 190 and a world without violence.
  • The Federation of Independent Trade Unions in Jordan drafted a letter to the government and collected signatures from their civil society and political parties partners to submit to the government and parliament, and took part in the global media campaign calling for ratification.

Solidarity Center partners see the effort as part of a broad and ongoing campaign to end gender-based violence at work.

“Ratification of C190 is a first step,” says Natalya Levytska, the Confederation of Free Trade Unions of Ukraine (KVPU) deputy chair and Gender Committee leader.

“The GBVH campaign is long-term—it’s about building a movement, changing perception and public awareness around the issue. Through educating and mobilizing union members who will build a grassroots movement, and by working with lawmakers in Parliament, we see a two-pronged strategy for success.”

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.”

Pin It on Pinterest