Violence against women is one of the world’s most prevalent human rights violations. In India alone, almost 330,000 cases of violence against women were registered in 2015, equal to a reported crime every two minutes.
Violence against women does not stay within communities and homes; it also happens within businesses. Recent reports show that sexual harassment against women workers, including different forms of verbal and physical abuse, is common in the garment industry in India. Not only does this affect women, it also holds back the Indian economy and businesses. According to the Asia-Pacific Economic Corporation (APEC) Healthy Women, Healthy Economies initiative, workplace sexual harassment programs and policies can increase female workers’ productivity, resulting in gains of up to US$186 million in developed APEC economies and US$57 million in developing APEC economies.
Addressing violence against women will require everyone to take action. BSR recently launched HERrespect—an evidence-based workplace program that builds the capacity of management and workers to challenge social norms and identify, prevent, and address violence—in India. HERrespect represents an important stepping stone toward transforming gender norms in an industry that directly employs 8 millon workers. Support from global brands and donors has been fundamental for getting the movement started, however, strategic partnerships with local business and industry associations are essential to achieve a systemic-level shift to end violence against women in the garment industry.
The government of India has called on Indian business to take action by adopting the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act in 2013. The act makes it mandatory for all companies with 10 or more employees to set up an internal complaints committee and improve employee awareness about what constitutes sexual harassment at work. Research shows, however, that almost half of the Indian companies surveyed have yet to train employees and committee members on topics related to sexual harassment at work.
We are proud to announce a new collaboration with the Confederation of Indian Industry’s Centre of Excellence for Sustainable Development (CII-ITC CESD). The aim of the collaboration is to mobilize commitment from Indian business leaders to ensure a safe working environment for female workers in the garment industry. As an industry-led business association with a wide membership across the textile and apparel sector, CII-ITC CESD plays a unique role in engaging with textile and apparel factories to strengthen the role of business leadership in preventing violence against women.
In recent conversations with garment factory managers in Tamil Nadu, we found that local business leaders need practical resources on how to ensure a safe work environment for women. In response to this need, BSR has developed “Women’s Safety in the Workplace,” a HERproject toolkit supporting managers in the garment industry to take action against sexual harassment in the workplace. The toolkit, which we developed in collaboration with CII-ITC CESD and with support from C&A Foundation, includes ready-to-use training materials and step-by-step guides on how to strengthen workplace systems to prevent and address sexual harassment.
Over the next months, BSR and CII-ITC CESD will co-host a series of events across India for business leaders in the garment industry to discuss how to address sexual harassment in the workplace.
We invite you to join the initiative and partner with us to scale HERrespect in India and beyond. Take action today by sharing the toolkit with suppliers in India and support them to promote a safe working environment for women in the supply chain.