A new program combatting gender-based violence and harassment (GBVH) has just launched in Lesotho, with Levi Strauss, The Children’s Place and Kontoor Brands among the companies funding the initiative.
The program serves 10,000 workers at four garment factories in the Southern African nation, and aims to empower local unions, as well as human and women’s rights groups through GBVH awareness trainings, a confidential reporting system and enforcement processes led by Workers’ Rights Watch, an independent Lesotho-based nonprofit. Through the program, employees are able to contact a confidential, toll-free information line to make understanding and reporting instances of abuse more accessible.
The program was established in response to reports of abuse within Nien Hsing Textile, a manufacturer that produces jeans for Levi Strauss & Co., The Children’s Place and Kontoor Brands. In 2019, the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC) published a report documenting instances in which managers demanded sexual favors in exchange for workers keeping their jobs or gaining promotions. According to the report, management also failed to take disciplinary actions and blocked employees’ attempts at unionizing.
“We are really grateful for this program because before it has even [officially] started, we can see that there are already existing successes,” said Nien Hsing shopfloor union representative ‘Mamoleboheng Mopooane.
The program launched at the beginning of the month and gained the attention of workers through social media promotions, text alerts, Lesotho-based media coverage and a video announcement from signatories of the agreements established in 2019.
Partnering organizations include 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; international rights organizations Solidarity Center, Worker Rights Consortium (WRC) and Workers United.
The garment industry is Lesotho’s largest formal sector employer in the country, employing more than 38,000 people and producing 90 million knitwear garments and 26 million pairs of jeans annually. Recently, labor activists condemned a local garment factory for allegedly firing 253 “striking” workers and then rehiring them with new probationary contracts at significantly lower wages. Reports claim these actions were taken in order to withhold employees’ accrued benefits.