Washington – Global Labor Justice-International Labor Rights Forum (GLJ-ILRF) today welcomed U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) removal of Indian garment maker Natchi Apparel (owned by Eastman Exports) from its list of manufacturers banned from importing into the US for using forced labor. In reaching its determination that forced labor conditions were fully remedied at the factory, CBP relied on evidence submitted by GLJ-ILRF on behalf of labor stakeholders in the Dindigul Agreement to Eliminate Gender-Based Violence and Harassment, a set of enforceable brand agreements signed in April, and driven by an independent union, the Tamil Nadu Textile and Common Labour Union (TTCU), that turned around conditions at the Natchi facility.
“U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s decision today recognizes that the Dindigul Agreement brought about an end to gender-based violence and harassment and other forced labor indicators at the Natchi facility and that its enforceability ensures ongoing accountability,” said Jennifer (JJ) Rosenbaum, Executive Director of GLJ-ILRF. “Brands that are serious about cleaning up their supply chains should adopt this model. Freedom of Association is the real antidote to forced labor and a key foundation of democracy.”
Prohibiting the importation of goods made with forced labor, including through the use of Withhold Release Orders under Section 307 of the Tariff Act, has been a key component of the Biden Administration’s worker-centered trade policy. With this announcement, the U.S. Government recognizes that freedom of association, collective bargaining, and representation by an independent union that enables workers to exercise collective agency to drive meaningful changes at their workplace is crucial to the fight against forced labor. The Dindigul Agreement highlights the important leadership of women workers in eliminating the barriers to workplace democracy created by gender-based violence and harassment.
While there was a documented record of systemic gender-based violence and harassment at Natchi, TTCU, a Dalit and women-led union, supported by GLJ-ILRF, and the Asia Floor Wage Alliance (AFWA), negotiated and won a comprehensive accountability and remediation program with union-led training, an independent grievance mechanism, and real remedies for abuses. The program is made enforceable through commitments by both the supplier and brands. It is the results of this program that remediated forced labor conditions at the factory sufficient to allow CBP to lift the WRO on Natchi Apparel. .
“Collective bargaining agreements are one of the most important tools we have to lift standards, prevent exploitation, and promote workplace democracy around the world and across global supply chains. CBP’s decision to lift the import ban based on the documented impact of the Dindigul bargaining agreement reflects a truly worker-centered trade policy that recognizes the role unions and collective bargaining play in holding employers accountable and enabling workers to make meaningful improvements in their workplaces, ” said Cathy Feingold, AFL-CIO International Director.
“While U.S. trade policy must provide penalties for global suppliers and brands that don’t respect workers rights, forced labor enforcement shouldn’t undermine collective bargaining and other fundamental rights. The Biden Administration has made clear that it is aligning its trade policy with its labor policy to support workers’ rights to organize not just in the U.S. but around the world and especially in global supply chains,” said Allison Gill, Director of Forced Labor Programs at GLJ-ILRF.
“Global supply chains too often create economic pressure that leads to exploitative working conditions up to and including gender-based violence and harassment and forced labor. The Dindigul enforceable brand agreements, which include enforceable commitments from suppliers, buyers and labor stakeholders across the supply chain, offer a concrete model for bringing about meaningful change for workers through roles for unions, suppliers, brands, and global labor allies,” said Sahiba Gill, Senior Staff Attorney at GLJ-ILRF.
Background on the Dindigul Agreement:
In April 2022, Eastman Exports Global Clothing Private Limited, the TTCU, AFWA, and GLJ-ILRF, along with H&M Group, jointly announced the groundbreaking Dindigul Agreement, in the first year reaching 5,000 mostly female workers in spinning mills and garment cut and sew facilities.
Together the stakeholders signed joint legally binding accords commiting to work together from their supply chain role to eradicate discrimination based on gender, caste, or migration status; to increase transparency; and to develop a culture of mutual respect in the garment factory setting.
The agreement draws language from the International Labor Organization’s Convention 190 concerning the elimination of violence and harassment in the workplace and strongly protects freedom of association and the rights of Dalit women workers. Tirupur is known as India’s textile spinning capital and is the largest producer of cotton yarn in India, employing over 280,000 workers total.
Labor stakeholders are also in dialogue with other brands sourcing from Eastman Exports’ Natchi facilities in the past two years. They have urged apparel giants, including Ralph Lauren, Walmart, M&S, Authentic Brands Group (owner of Lucky Brand Jeans, Brooks Brothers, Forever 21, Izod, and others), and Authentic-investor BlackRock to join the agreement, consistent with responsible business practices under the UN Guiding Principles on business and human rights. Together with the labor stakeholders and Eastman, brands and investors who sign on would be contributing towards a new model for the industry.
Recent reporting in the Guardian details how global fashion supply chains are built on widespread gender-based violence and harassment across Asia. The Dindigul Agreement followed the global Justice for Jeyasre campaign. Jeyasre Kathiravel was an Indian Dalit woman garment worker and union member organizing against gender-based violence and harassment at Natchi whose supervisor sexually harassed her for months and murdered her in January 2021.
Global Labor Justice - International Labor Rights Forum (GLJ-ILRF) is a non-governmental organization that works transnationally to advance policies and laws that protect decent work; to strengthen freedom of association and workers’ ability to advocate for their rights; and to hold corporations accountable for labor rights violations in their supply chains.
For more information on the Tamil Nadu Textile and Common Workers Union (TTCU), an independent, Dalit women-led trade union of textile workers organizing to end GBVH, wage theft, and caste-based violence in garment factories, contact: Thivya Rakini info.ttcu [at] gmail.com
For more information on the Asia Floor Wage Alliance (AFWA), an Asian labour-led global labour and social alliance across garment producing countries (such as India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Bangladesh) and consumer regions (USA and Europe) for addressing poverty level wages, gender-based violence, and freedom of association in global garment production networks, contact Nandita Shivakumar nandita.s [at] asia.floorwage.org.