Briefing 3.2 - Why verbal, physical and sexual harassment is so pervasive in global production

2. Gender-based violence in global supply chains

Despite an increase in international attention to working conditions in the lower tiers of global supply chains, sexual harassment is largely invisible and unreported. It is rarely included in the policies and codes of conduct of lead companies, or at the level of the factory or farm. National legislation on gender-based violence exists in most global production countries. However, laws are weakly implemented in the workplace.

Examples of sexual harassment in the world of work

Indonesian women employees report that: “girls in the factory are harassed by male managers. They come on to the girls, call them into their offices, whisper into their ears, touch them, bribe them with money and threaten them with firing if they don’t have sex with them.” (Clean Clothes Campaign:

Men’s behaviour in Bangladesh garment industry: Offensive and sexually explicit language, hitting, suggestions to become a prostitute, slapping on heads, pulling of hair; these are examples of abusive behaviour reported by garment workers. Millions of women have experienced this type of treatment because they made a mistake, failed to meet a production target, asked for leave, worked slower because of illness, or arrived late. Many women have also experienced unwanted sexual advances in the workplace, stalking, or worse, from male colleagues or supervisors.” (Fair Wear Foundation 2013, cited in DFID 2015a)

Gender-based violence in global supply chains: some evidence

  • A baseline survey by Better Work Indonesia found that 85 percent of female employees reported that they were concerned with sexual harassment. Better Work argues that this “…may be due to a variety of reasons, such as the presence of large numbers of young, inexperienced, rural migrant female workers under the supervision of few men, high levels of production pressure and abusive disciplinary practices.” (Better Work Indonesia)
  • In Ecuador’s export-oriented floriculture industry, over 55 per cent of flower workers have been victims of sexual harassment – rising to 70 per cent of 20-24 year olds. Nearly one-fifth of flower workers had been forced to have sex with a coworker or superior and ten per cent had been sexually attacked. Women working in low-skilled jobs, such as cultivation and post-harvest work, were the most common victims of sexual harassment. Women in higher-skilled jobs (supervisors, administrators) experienced very little harassment. Adolescents of 14-15 years of age were the most common victims of sexual harassment. (Mena and Proan?o, 2005)
  • According to Banana Link sexual harassment is commonplace and justified by some banana producers as ‘part of their culture’. The Latin American Banana Workers’ Unions (COLSIBA) has campaigned to end sexual harassment and calls on all fruit companies to accept their responsibility to challenge discrimination and sexual harassment.
  • Fair Wear Foundation found that at least 60 per cent of Indian and Bangladeshi garment factory workers report harassment at work; anecdotal evidence and worker group discussions suggest the real proportion is much higher and that for most female workers verbal or physical abuse is a ‘daily experience’ on the production line. (FWF, unpublished)
  • In Kenya, sexual harassment is widespread in the horticulture industry. It takes the form of sexist jokes, bullying (reported by 60 per cent of women) and sex which is demanded for a job or other favours, such as allocation of housing. There are also some cases of male harassment. The research was carried out in 2012 in 15 flower farms. Source: YouTube: Sexual harassment rife in the horticulture industry NTV television station.
  • Women Working Worldwide (2014) research found that the vast majority of the women interviewed (86 per cent) in 20 farms in the Kenyan horticultural sector had witnessed one or more incidents of sexual harassment and violence. These involved offensive jokes and/or comments on physical appearance (verbally, by email or text message); unwelcome touching; being pestered for dates; threats of reprisal for refusal to comply with a sexual request – including refusal of promotion, non-renewal of contract, non-issuance of permanent contract; and sexual assault. Men were also targeted and affected by sexually harassing behaviour. Sexual harassment occurred in both working and living spaces - in the greenhouses and fields, housing areas, eating areas, on transport to the farms and in surrounding town areas.