‘To survive, I must appear fearless’: the former nun helping India’s garment workers fight sexual violence

Sexual harassment and assault are rife in the factories that supply some of the world’s leading fashion brands. In Tamil Nadu, union leader Thiyva Rakini is trying to change that

Many years ago, when Thivya Rakini was working as a domestic violence activist helping women to escape abusive husbands across the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, she took a pair of scissors and cut her long black hair back to the nape of her neck.

“Without my hair, I suddenly looked very frightening to a lot of people who couldn’t believe a woman would cut away her femininity like that,” she says. “I was sending a signal that that those men shouldn’t try to mess with me. Inside, I am really a very tender-hearted person but to survive I have learned that I must appear fearless.”

Continue reading...
Murder, rape and abuse in Asia’s factories: the true price of fast fashion

Jeyasre Kathiravel’s death exposed the epidemic of violence facing workers making clothes for the UK high street. Will a groundbreaking agreement improve their lot?

  • Photographs by Sivaram V

Jeyasre Kathiravel had always dreamed of a life beyond the garment factories of Dindigul, a remote corner of the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu.

Despite the meagre wages she was earning – about £80 a month – Kathiravel knew she was lucky to have a job at Natchi Apparels, a local factory making clothes for H&M and other international brands.

Continue reading...
H&M pledges to end shopfloor sexual violence in India after worker killed

Landmark agreement to protect garment workers from violence follows last year’s murder of Jeyasre Kathiravel, a Dalit woman

H&M has signed a legally binding agreement with one of its largest Indian clothing suppliers that pledges to end sexual violence and harassment against women on the factory floor after the murder of a young garment worker by her supervisor last year.

In January 2021, Jeyasre Kathiravel, a 20-year-old Dalit woman, was found dead on farmland near her family home after finishing a shift at Natchi Apparel, a factory making clothes for H&M in Kaithian Kottai, Tamil Nadu.

Continue reading...
Afghan journalist Zahra Joya among Time’s women of the year

Now a refugee in the UK, Joya and the Rukhshana Media agency defied threats to report on life for women under the Taliban

The Afghan journalist Zahra Joya has been named as one of Time’s women of the year 2022 for her reporting of women’s lives in Afghanistan through her news agency, Rukhshana Media.

Now living as a refugee in the UK, Joya continues to run Rukhshana Media from exile, publishing the reporting of her team of female journalists across Afghanistan on life for women under Taliban rule.

Continue reading...
Indian supplier to UK fashion brands agrees to pay £3m in unpaid wages

Shahi Exports, which makes clothes for the UK high street, has agreed to pay staff minimum wage and arrears

India’s largest garment company has paid out an estimated £3m in unpaid wages to tens of thousands of workers, after two years of refusing to pay the legal minimum wage.

Last month Shahi Exports, which supplies dozens of international brands, agreed to pay nine months of back pay to about 80,000 workers, with further payments expected in the coming months that will increase the total paid back to workers to £7m.

Continue reading...
Increased repression and violence a sign of weakness, says Human Rights Watch

Watchdog’s latest report argues autocrats around the world are getting desperate as opponents form coalitions to challenge them

Increasingly repressive and violent acts against civilian protests by autocratic leaders and military regimes around the world are signs of their desperation and weakening grip on power, Human Rights Watch says in its annual assessment of human rights across the globe.

In its world report 2022, the human rights organisation said autocratic leaders faced a significant backlash in 2021, with millions of people risking their lives to take to the streets to challenge regimes’ authority and demand democracy.

Continue reading...
‘Worst fashion wage theft’: workers go hungry as Indian suppliers to top UK brands refuse to pay minimum wage

Shortfall of 16p a day leaves children living on just rice as suppliers to Nike, Zara and H&M in Karnataka underpay by estimated £41m

Garment workers making clothes for international brands in Karnataka, a major clothing production hub in India, say their children are going hungry as factories refuse to pay the legal minimum wage in what is claimed to be the biggest wage theft to ever hit the fashion industry.

More than 400,000 garment workers in Karnataka have not been paid the state’s legal minimum wage since April 2020, according to an international labour rights organisation that monitors working conditions in factories.

Continue reading...
Zahra Joya: the Afghan reporter who fled the Taliban – and kept telling the truth about women

As a child in Afghanistan, she pretended to be a boy in order to get an education, before starting her own women’s news agency. Now living in Britain, her fight continues

Just over a month ago, Zahra Joya left her house in Kabul to walk to her office, as she had been doing every day. From this small office, Joya, a journalist, ran Rukhshana Media, the news agency she founded last year to report on the stories of women and girls across Afghanistan. By the time she returned home in the afternoon, however, men with guns were on street corners and her sisters were shut inside their house, shaking with fear. In just a few hours, normal life had been obliterated.

“Right to the end, on that afternoon of 15 August, I couldn’t believe what was happening,” she says. “It was like a bad dream. Even on that day, it just seemed impossible that the Taliban could come to power so quickly, wipe away 20 years and drag us all back to the past.”

Continue reading...
Top fashion brands face legal challenge over garment workers’ rights in Asia

Pan-Asian labour rights group launches groundbreaking attempt to hold global labels accountable for alleged rights violations during pandemic

Legal complaints are being filed against some of the world’s largest fashion brands in major garment-producing countries across Asia in a groundbreaking attempt to hold the global fashion industry legally accountable for human rights violations in the countries where their clothing is made.

The Asia Floor Wage Alliance (AFWA), a pan-Asian labour rights group, says it is using legal challenges to argue that global clothing brands should be considered joint employers, along with their suppliers, under national laws and be held accountable for alleged wage violations during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Continue reading...
Female workers at H&M supplier in India allege widespread sexual violence

Multiple women at Natchi Apparels have reported abuse weeks after 21-year-old worker was allegedly killed by her supervisor

Women in India making children’s clothes for H&M have spoken out about widespread sexual violence they claim to have faced at one of the company’s suppliers in India.

The allegations come just weeks after the body of Jeyasre Kathiravel, a 21-year-old Dalit garment worker, was found in a field close to her family home after she failed to return from her shift at the Natchi Apparels factory in Tamil Nadu.

Continue reading...
Worker at H&M supply factory was killed after months of harassment, claims family

Fashion brand to investigate the death of 20-year-old Jeyasre Kathiravel, reportedly killed by supervisor at Natchi Apparels

The family of a young garment worker at an H&M supplier factory in Tamil Nadu who was allegedly murdered by her supervisor said she had suffered months of sexual harassment and intimidation on the factory floor in the months before her death, but felt powerless to prevent the abuse from continuing.

H&M said it is launching an independent investigation into the killing of Jeyasre Kathiravel, a 20-year-old Dalit garment worker at an H&M supplier Natchi Apparels in Kaithian Kottai, Tamil Nadu, who was found dead on 5 January in farmland near her home.

Continue reading...
‘My life became a disaster movie’: the Bangladesh garment factory on the brink

One factory owner tells how coronavirus cancellations by UK brands have seen him struggle to pay wages

As high streets across England opened this week and hundreds of people jostled through the doors of clothing shops, thousands of miles away in Chittagong, Bangladesh, Mostafiz Uddin is worrying about how to pay his workers’ wages.

At Denim Expert Ltd, the sustainable clothing company he founded in 2009 as a sustainable apparels clothing company, hundreds of boxes of jeans are crammed against walls and packed to the ceiling. These boxes contain 38,000 pairs of Burton jeans, worth more than £200,000 that were ready for shipment in early March. But as the UK went into lockdown that month, an email pinged into his inbox that tore his life apart.

Continue reading...
‘These women aren’t victims’: director turns the spotlight on garment workers

Based on true stories, Rubaiyat Hossain’s Made in Bangladesh challenges stereotypes while revealing the relentless pressure of fashion’s supply chain

Rubaiyat Hossain’s latest film, Made in Bangladesh, opens with a scene of pure, visceral panic: young garment workers trapped in a burning factory. Alarms blare, women scream and smoke fills the stairwells.

“A fire or a building collapse is every garment worker’s greatest fear,” says Hossain. When filming the scene, the women seen desperately running for their lives didn’t need much direction. 

Continue reading...
Arcadia Group cancels ‘over £100m’ of orders as garment industry faces ruin

As owner of brands including Topshop and Dorothy Perkins cancels unshipped orders, thousands will be left without income, warn rights groups

The Arcadia Group, which owns brands including Topshop, Dorothy Perkins and Miss Selfridge, is estimated to have cancelled in excess of £100m of existing clothing orders worldwide from suppliers in some of the world’s poorest countries as the global garment sector faces ruin.

According to data from the Bangladesh Garments and Manufacturing Association (BGMEA), the Arcadia Group has cancelled £9m of orders in Bangladesh alone.

Continue reading...
Primark announces wage fund for garment workers

Pledge comes in response to claims that order cancellations to minimise Covid-19 losses have hurt millions of workers in the developing world

Primark, one of the UK’s most popular retailers, has announced it will create a fund to help pay the wages of the millions of garment workers affected by its decision to cancel tens of millions of pounds worth of clothing orders from factories in developing countries across the world.

The pledge followed sustained criticism of the fashion retailer after data from the Bangladeshi and Garment Exporters Association (BGMEA) revealed it had cancelled all orders already placed with suppliers.

Continue reading...