With the three-year anniversary of the Rana Plaza building collapse in Bangladesh approaching, the apparel industry is reassessing progress made since. Some things have improved, others haven’t—and gender-based violence remains a point of concern.
Women overwhelmingly populate the foreign factories that make what the world wears, and two congresswomen are working to ensure they have adequate rights and protections.
U.S. House Representative Jackie Speier (D-California) and Representative Jan Schakowsky (D-Illinois) introduced a resolution Thursday stipulating that the United States should support and protect, “the right of women working in developing countries to safe workplaces, free from gender-based violence, reprisals and intimidation.”
“All women should have the right to work in a safe environment, without the threat of violence, discrimination, or other abuses,” Sen. Patty Murray (D-Washington), said. “This is particularly urgent for women in developing countries who too often face sexual harassment and unsafe working conditions while trying to earn a living for themselves and their families. I’m proud to support this resolution that would make clear that we stand with working women everywhere and support their rights.”
In conjunction with the briefing, the International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF) launched a new report, “Our Voices, Our Safety: Bangladeshi Garment Workers Speak Out,” which was part of the inspiration for Thursday’s resolution.
The report unveils stories of intimidation and violence spanning factories, apparel companies, government agencies and law enforcement, from more than 70 workers. In talking with the workers, ILRF heard stories of staff being silenced—sometimes violently and brutally—in matters of their own safety. At times, workers said, production quotas were so high and wages so low that they were more or less locked into abusive conditions, even sexual harassment, which the victims end up being blamed for.
“The women working in these factories abroad sew the clothes we wear, cut the flowers we buy, and assemble the electronics we use. The least we can do is support these women when they speak out against violence and dire workplace conditions,” Speier said. “The Rana Plaza tragedy awoke us all to the horrible conditions that workers—who are predominantly female—experience in export industries. Almost three years later, however, many of the factories that produce clothing for Western retailers remain hostile workplaces, and in many cases, deathtraps and tragedies waiting to happen. As a nation, we must stand with women who are fighting for their rights to a safe workplace, free from sexual harassment and violence.”