How one factory initiative to keep women safe inspired industry-wide standards

by 07th Jun 2021
Sorya is a garment worker in Cambodia who used to see colleagues sexually harassing others. Sorya is a garment worker in Cambodia who used to see colleagues sexually harassing others. CARE Cambodia

For many years, efforts to promote gender equality in factories—including those specifically focused on preventing gender-based violence and harassment—have largely taken the form of CSR-style projects centered on training within factories. However, approaching the issue factory by factory means progress remains slow and does not always account for the broader context within which the harassment takes place – both in terms of the workplace itself and its position within a complex global supply chain.

This is the story of how CARE’s efforts to address workplace violence and harassment in factories have evolved from simple worker training to the creation of standardised guidelines for all levels of the garment supply chain.

In 2014, CARE Cambodia was conducting skills training in a small number of garment factories as part of a worker well-being project and began to integrate sexual harassment prevention messages into this. The team quickly saw that training alone would not be enough to make women feel safer—even with greater confidence and understanding, the existing workplace norms, inadequate policies and lack of engagement from leadership often meant reports of violence and harassment were not dealt with effectively. Research into the prevalence and productivity cost of harassment to business supported the view that this was an issue the garment industry should take seriously.

From worker empowerment to workplace structures

From focusing on behaviour change through improved worker awareness and understanding, CARE’s efforts shifted to concentrate on the role of internal structures and procedures in promoting harassment-free workplaces, in work that would eventually become known as the STOP project.

In Cambodia, CARE worked with factory HR managers to improve their internal procedures for responding to reports of sexual harassment and raise awareness so workers understand what behaviours are not acceptable. The result was a package of support for factory management focused on strengthening their systems and processes, with tools such as sample policies & forms, reporting mechanisms, and guidance on setting up sexual harassment prevention committees.

From HR issue to organisational priority

Following the success of this initiative in Cambodia, CARE replicated and refined the STOP model in Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam while encouraging other brands and suppliers in Cambodia to adopt this. We have also supported factories in Bangladesh to set up mandated anti-harassment committees, ensuring these function effectively and women have the opportunity to hold leadership positions, with these efforts now expanding to factories in Pakistan.

As the STOP model developed, CARE also conducted a review of the evidence on what works to prevent workplace harassment, which highlighted that any effort aimed at addressing sexual harassment in the workplace must employ a ‘whole of organisation’ approach. CARE increasingly engaged with more senior leaders, working with general managers as well as HR managers to support shifts in workplace norms. Alongside this, we continued to highlight the impacts of workplace violence and harassment on workers and business through meetings with brands, engagement with industry associations and participation in global conferences and networks, including with investors.

From workplace policy to industry practice

Our evidence shows our focus on clear procedures and organizational leadership was having an impact. In Laos, the proportion of women workers who reported experiencing sexual harassment reduced from one in six to one in 20; in Cambodia the proportion who reported observing a worker sexually assaulting someone at the factory dropped from one in six to one in 100. It is also evident that clear messaging and strong leadership on this issue has an impact on how reports are addressed: the proportion of managers in Myanmar who didn’t take sexual harassment seriously halved once their factories started engaging with CARE’s program.

This approach was proving effective in factories in numerous countries, but how could we take this further? We saw encouraging results at factory level but expanding factory-by-factory—even across borders—was only ever going to lead to change for thousands of workers, not the millions of women around the world employed in garment production.

CARE teamed up with Better Work to explore how we could take this from the factory floor all the way up the supply chain. We wanted to influence how the garment industry as a whole approaches this issue. This includes recognising how factors such as purchasing practices can have an impact on the factory environment, including creating conditions where harassment is more likely to take place.

Together we hosted the Business of Women at Work event, which brought together multiple perspectives from across the supply chain to look at practical solutions to gender-based violence and harassment in the workplace. We then worked with a number of brands and industry stakeholders to develop standardised guidance for businesses to address this in their own operations and in their supply chains, based on International Labour Standards and best practices.

The new Guidelines for Addressing Gender-Based Violence and Harassment in the Textile, Clothing and Footwear Manufacturing Industry contain procedures for different parts of the supply chain, with guidance for areas including client management and procurement, purchasing, and sourcing, as well as for HR. CARE and Better Factories Cambodia are encouraging those working at any level within the supply chain to use this free, open-source tool to review and benchmark existing policies, systems or processes and identify areas to take action.

Industry alignment around common standards

The Guidelines for Addressing Gender-Based Violence and Harassment in the Textile, Clothing and Footwear Manufacturing Industry were developed following the new global standard on gender-based violence in the world of work—ILO Convention 190. As more countries ratify this, there is a growing need for a consistent response across garment supply chains. These new guidelines offer an opportunity for the industry as a whole to align around common standards and take action, ensuring the potential for safe workplaces shown through individual factory initiatives is realised for the millions of workers in the industry.

 

Learn more about the Guidelines for Addressing Gender-Based Violence and Harassment in the Textile, Clothing and Footwear Manufacturing Industry at care.org/GBVHguidelines.

Learn more about CARE’s broader efforts to influence industry practice in Made by Women’s Learning Series.

Learn more about ILO Convention 190.

 

CARE and Better Factories Cambodia acknowledge the role of the Australian Government in the development of the Guidelines for Addressing Gender-Based Violence and Harassment in the Textile, Clothing and Footwear Manufacturing Industry through their support of the Enhancing Women’s Voice to STOP Sexual Harassment (STOP) project and the Business of Women at Work event. 

Jenny Conrad

I coordinate communications for CARE's Made by Women strategy, which promotes dignified work for women in the garment industry. I joined CARE in 2013 as Communications Advisor for the Cambodia office. During my time with CARE I have supported CARE Cambodia’s private sector engagement with a focus on the garment industry and led strategic communications for CARE Australia's International Programmes team.

Having started my career in marketing, prior to joining CARE I was leading communications for a global philanthropy publication. I hold a BA in English from the University of Bristol.

Email: jenny.conrad@careint.org

Twitter: @jennyeconrad