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Vietnam: Women Workers in Factories Face Sexual Abuse

Female factory workers producing clothing and shoes in Vietnam many probably for the major US and European brands face systemic sexual harassment and violence at work. According to a study by the Fair Wear Foundation and Care International out on Monday, nearly half (43.1%) of 763 women interviewed in factories in three Vietnamese provinces said they had suffered at least one form of violence and/or harassment in the previous year.

About 2 million people are employed in Vietnam’s garment sector, more than 80% of them women. But women suffer disproportionately, the study found. A large majority of those interviewed (87.7%) had experienced unwelcome verbal abuse and harassment in the past year, defined as inappropriate or offensive comments about their or someone else’s body, sexual jokes or activities; half (49.5%) had experienced violence or harassment travelling to and from work; a third (34.3%) had experienced physical harassment, such as kissing or touching, hitting, punching, or leaning; and a third (28.9%) had experienced non-verbal harassment such as obscene gestures, sounds or stares, or offensive emails, texts or behaviour that impacted on their safety, such as being followed home. The abuse which ranged from groping and slapping to rape and threats of contract termination sheds a light on working conditions endured by women in some Vietnamese factories with as many as 20,000 employees, said Dr Jane Pillinger, a gender-based violence expert and author of the study.

The research is the first to correlate violence and sexual harassment in garment factories with workplace factors endemic to the “fast fashion” industry. These include excessive overtime, low pay, long working hours and unrealistic production targets, imposed by often well-known brands, said Annabel Meurs, Vietnam country manager for the Fair Wear Foundation, a non-profit organisation with 130 global members. Employees also described working up to 90 hours’ overtime a month during busy periods, on top of their 12- to 13-hour days. Nearly half of all the women had worked more than 60 hours’ overtime a month, but many claimed the overtime was unpaid.

> Alma Siddiqua


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