Epidemic of sexual violence in factories in India

In India, the death of a young worker at an H&M manufacturing plant has been marked as a sign of the fight against the torture suffered by an entire community.

Image credit: Better work

In Dindigul, a small, secluded town in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, the death of Jaysri Kathiravl sounded like an alarm bell. This seamstress from local factory Natchi Apparels, a subcontractor for H&M and other major fast fashion brands, was found dead on January 5, 2021 by farmers a few kilometers from her village. Thanks to almost 93 euros a month, the 20-year-old has provided her family with a stable income that allows them to live. After the tragedy, the young woman’s Musharraf, a man mentioned by Indian media, V Thangadurai, was arrested and believed to be behind the murder. During the months leading up to Kathiravl’s death, her relatives continually denounced the sexual harassment she had been subjected to from her supervisor. “She was saying this man was torturing her, but she didn’t know what to do because she was afraid of losing her job”tells the victim’s mother, Muthuakshmi Kathiravel, to The Guardian.

In an interview with The Observer, partner of The Sentinel, workers at the Natchi Apparels plant claimed that Thangadurai acted as a sexual predator within the enterprise. Fear of retaliation and losing his job would have prevented the victim from denouncing his boss’s actions, one of his colleagues said.


Suppress menstruation to go faster

“Their imprints are on the clothes that people wear in rich countries, but their suffering is silent.” Thevia Rakini, chairwoman of the Tamil Nadu Textile and Co-Working Union (TTCU), a local women-led union representing women workers in the factory, said. In the weeks following Kathiravl’s murder, dozens of female workers from the same warehouse reported being harassed and assaulted in Nachi. This freedom of expression reverberates like the revolt of the 3,000 factory workers who are now exposing the verbal and sexual violence associated with the fast fashion sectors. This wave of harassment has become almost systematic due to the desperation of these women who want to keep their jobs at all costs.

Thevia Rakini, President of TTCU, in discussion with workers at the Natchi plant – Image credit: The Guardian

“I’ve been in this industry for over 20 years and I’ve seen horrific things happen in these factories – rapes, suicides, even murders”, she told researchers from the international labor rights group AFWA (Asia Floor Wage Alliance), a woman who works in a factory in India that produces clothing for foreign and especially British brands. Some workers were reportedly forced to take pills to delay their periods in order to meet production targets. Their male colleagues also allegedly used extortion, forcing some to have sex in exchange for repairing their sewing machines. “We are silent for fear of losing our jobs… The stress has reached a breaking point – I felt like suicide”A woman working in a factory in Pakistan told AFWA.

Faced with revelations about these violations, the leaders of the Natchi Apparels ended up speaking out, opening up a potential space for dialogue. “We have listened very carefully to our female workers and will work to ensure that no woman ever feels unsafe anywhere in our workplace again,” Said, for example, Subash Tiwari, managing director of Eastman Exports. The group also denied that the young woman’s death occurred in the vicinity of the Natchi Apparels.

Several worker advocacy groups insisted that the recent testimonies of abuse should not be associated with isolated cases but rather a reflection of the great danger present in these factories and the way in which these abusive behaviors have been entrenched. in production systems related to fast fashion. “We are facing an epidemic of gender-based violence in the global fashion industry, but as it affects poor women who work thousands of miles from home, it is not seen as a huge human rights scandal.”said Rola Abi Morshed, Deputy Director of Investigations and Gender Equality at the World Radiocommunication Conference.


H&M’s response

After the numerous accidents inside the Natchi Apparels factory, H&M made the decision to cancel its orders. An initiative that sounds like bad news for those workers whose survival depends on their work. “When reporting problems in the workplace causes brands to withdraw their orders, female workers must choose between sexual harassment and unemployment.”said Jennifer Rosenbaum of GLJ-ILRF. “Our goal and hope is that the agreement reached will contribute to creating lasting and viable change for the industry as a whole, beyond a single individual company.”The ready-to-wear giant said, which has vowed to monitor the abuses linked to its activities on Indian soil.

Here are eight facts that will keep you away from fast fashion and brands like SHEIN, PLT or Boohoo.

June 9, 2022

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