Majority or 75 per cent of the surveyed garment workers in Bangladesh have faced gender-based violence and sexual harassment regularly, according to a recent study.
It also revealed that the main reason for violence in textile factories is the pressure caused by fast fashion and exploitative purchasing practices of the buying fashion companies.
The Bangladesh Center for Workers Solidarity (BCWS) and FEMNET conducted the study titled 'Wages and Gender Based Violence', exploring the connections between economic exploitation and violence against women workers.
Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC) published the report, based on research covering 600 garment workers from Bangladesh factories that also highlighted the alarming extent of harassment and violence.
"Around 75 per cent of the 642 interviewed workers (484 female, 158 male) reported that they regularly experience gender-based violence (GBV) in the factories, and around 75 per cent of them regularly become victims of sexual harassment," the report reads.
The study also found that hardly any woman worker would talk to external investigators sent by the employer about sexual assaults in the workplace, which in turn, is one of the central factors preventing the issue from showing up in factory audits.
It identified the pressure caused by fast fashion and exploitative purchasing practices of the buying fashion companies as the main reason for violence in textile factories.
About 64 per cent of the respondents report that they are under enormous production pressure, and a third have been threatened or beaten by superiors due to production pressure.
"Women workers are silenced, through violence or threats. In the factories, we are subjected to sexual harassment by superiors and if we resist, we are threatened or dismissed. That's why only few dare to talk about their experiences," the report quoted BCWS executive director Kalpona Akter.
The CCC called on companies and politicians to implement appropriate measures to prevent and mitigate violence at work.
Necessary steps include the abolition of exploitative purchasing practices that force women workers into economic dependency and the access to complaints mechanisms for victims, it said.
The CCC statement quoted Renate Künast, member of German parliament, as saying: "Women and girls are exposed to particularly high risks in international supply chains. The ILO Convention 190 provides, among other things, rules on preventing gender-based violence and providing support to victims."
The Council of the EU must take the initiative now to enable member states to ratify the ILO Convention as soon as possible, Renate Künast said, adding that global supply chains must not be carried out on the backs of women and girls.
Gender-based violence and harassment affecting women and girls around the world and has increased tremendously with the onset of the Covid-crisis, the rights group said.
Women are particularly at risk, especially in informal and low-wage sectors such as the garment and textile industry, it said, adding that there are concrete solutions to counteract this.
"Violence against women and girls has to stop now," said Sina Marx from FEMNET and the German CCC.
When contacted, Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) president Dr Rubana Huq strongly disagreed with the study findings and said they need the details of the report, including the questions asked, the responses received and the locations of the factories.
"The responses of only 642 workers do not define the whole industry," she said, adding that generic statement or general sweeping comments need to be stopped.
The BGMEA leader also requested the CCC and the BCWS to come forward with details of the study to address the concerns, if any.