A string of male managers in the fabric and garment industry in Lesotho have been coercing many women into sexual relationships with the deceitful promise of job security and better working conditions, according to a new report.
The painstaking investigation was conducted in the fall of 2017, the summer of 2018 and in early 2019.
All three factories scrutinized are owned by a Taiwanese company named Nien Hsing Textile.
The report found that managers and supervisors were encouraging sexual harassment of women within their departments, deepening a horrible culture of fear among their female co-workers.
One woman told the organization : “We are demanded to lie on behalf of the company… The people that buy the product of the company were on the site, and we were threatened that if some tell the truth of what really happens on the site, it might jeopardize their jobs.” This was also the case when external auditors visited the factories.
Another who worked at Nen Hsings Global Garment factory said: “A male supervisor was proposing [sex] to me, [and] he told me [that he would not] give up until he sleeps with me…He makes the workplace very difficult for me […]Those who have slept with him get overtime and other benefits, [but] [i]f things go sour [between the supervisor and one of these workers], he makes the lives of these workers difficult to the point of dismissal.”
Employing more than 35,000 workers, over 80 per cent of whom are women, the garment and textile sector in Lesotho is an important player in the economy and the second largest employer after the government.
Responding to the WRC findings, Nien Hsig denied any cases of sexual harassment or abuse in the 24 months prior to the findings and said no manager in the three companies had been disciplined for sexual harassment since 2005.
But according to the women interviewed they felt a negligence in the handling of harassment reports which often left male colleagues feeling they too could engage in the harassment and not face consequences.
Despite their denial of any sexual harassment or abuse cases Nien Hsing acknowledged the need for improving policies and practices to protect their workers.
WRC published recommendations within their report which they believe would help reduce the number of women who fear reporting the incidents. Among the list of recommendations was the following:
•Have cases implemented by an independent complaint-handling and fact-finding body that would receive and investigate complaints, determine the remedial measures that are necessary. Consequences should include the dismissal of managers who have harassed or coerced employees;
•Educating factory workers, supervisors and managers through a programme focused on training on sexual harassment directed by an independent complaint – handling and fact finding body.
The organisation asked Nien Hsing to change its violations of workers’ right to organise and give the three unions the ability to represent workers and members at the factory.
Update: Since WRC approached the company they have since signed an agreement allowing the three unions (the Independent Democratic Union of Lesotho (IDUL), the United Textile Employees (UNITE), and the National Clothing Textile and Allied Workers Union (NACTWU)) the ability to represent and advice workers in the factory.
Update: Whilst all workers within the garment industry had remained underpaid, women were among those receiving the lowest pay – it was only recently the government of Lesotho agreed to a minimum wage of LSL2,000 (£113.94) for all factory workers.