When the #MeToo movement hit the fashion world, it exposed a scourge of sexual abuse tainting the runways and red carpet. But while change may be coming to the houses, the fashion world has yet to grapple with the gender-based violence faced by the women who keep the garment-supply chains running.
Now human-rights advocates have mapped the global garment workforce to show how gender-based violence hurts women across the supply chain. The survey of workers in fashion-brand-supplier factories in Asia—published by the Asia Floor Wage Alliance, CENTRAL Cambodia, and Global Labor Justice—explores the reach of the global manufacturing network and how it ensnares workers daily in a system of economic exploitation.
The reports, which focus on fast-fashion retailers Walmart, H&M, and The Gap, were designed to coincide with a global summit on supply-chain labor conditions held by the International Labour Organization. To inform ongoing political dialogues on women’s labor in the Global South, the report highlights how, in places like Bangladesh, Cambodia, and Indonesia, women’s experiences follow similar patterns of coercive and dehumanizing conditions, limited access to legal justice against abusers, and barriers to freedom of assembly and democratic representation in the workplace.
The documented experiences of women workers sheds light on how the #MeToo moment could reverberate in the Global South. While the #MeToo conversation in the United States has begun turning toward women workers’ rights, it could also become, the coalition says, a chance to “create a strong framework guided by the leadership of trade unions and worker organizations that will provide employers, multinational enterprises, and governments a blueprint for eliminating gender based violence in the workplace.”
The roots of the problem are glaringly obvious, woven into the basic infrastructure of global production networks. To maximize profits, the coalition argues, Western multinationals capitalize on transnational trade networks to “shift market relationships between firms from trade relationships to quasi-production relationships without the risks of ownership.” Through the dispersal of production, companies effectively farm out (and outsource responsibility) for labor oversight, benefits, and other overhead costs.