A two-year investigation led by the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC) has uncovered extensive abuse and harassment within Nien Hsing Textile, a manufacturer that manufactures jeans for Levi Strauss & Co., The Children’s Place and Kontoor Brands.
According to the WRC report published Thursday, the organization documented a pattern of abuse—including forcing employees within the manufacturer’s Lesotho facilities to sleep with their managers to keep their jobs or gain promotions. It also found that management failed to take disciplinary actions and blocked employees’ attempts at unionizing.
In response, the brands worked with the WRC and other civil groups leading up to the report’s publishing on an appropriate plan of action. The result will be a pilot program to combat gender-based violence and harassment and protect the manufacturer’s 10,000 employees from future incidents. The program involves calling on an independent organization to manage complaints of harassment and abuse, identify violations and enforce standards in accordance with the Lesotho law. It also calls for extensive worker-to-worker and management training, education and related activities.
“This is a global issue, an industry-wide issue, and we have every intention of continuing to be leaders in efforts to insure a safe and productive working environment across our entire supply chain,” Levi’s said on its corporate site.
To help combat the global issue of worker abuse, the pilot program developed in response to the WRC investigation in Lesotho was designed as a model program others can replicate and improve upon. The U.S. brands are funding the two-year pilot, in collaboration with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to initiate change.
“We remain committed to ensuring our contracted supply chain partners are operating safe, respectful and secure workplaces and to implementing positive, protective measures so that all workers, especially female workers, feel safe, valued and empowered,” said Scott Deitz, Kontoor Brands vice president of investor and corporate relations.
Last year, similar reports of abuse and harassment occurred within Gap and H&M facilities in Asia. The brands pledged to investigate the reports and take action against the abusers. In April 2019, H&M became the first major retailer to provide supplier details—the production country, supplier and factory names and addresses, and more—on its website to educate consumers on where their clothes are coming from, and whether those facilities have a history of abuse—though some workers’ rights groups have dubbed their actions to date insufficient.