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Sexual harassment a bane to the garment industry

Mark Tilly / Khmer Times Share:
Workers in a garment factory near Phnom Penh. CARE’ research states nearly one third of female garment factory workers have been sexually harassed in the last 12 months. KT/Mai Vireak

Chanthavy* moved to Phnom Penh from the provinces two years ago, securing a job at a garment factory with the help of her cousins.
 
The 24-year-old said she and the other women who live in the area face constant sexual harassment, both in and out of the workplace.
 
“Many women change jobs because of [these problems], like one woman who was attacked by a gang outside work. They hurt her and stole her money. She was frightened, so she moved to [another factory],” she said.
 
“This happens to many women, but we don’t report it to the factory. Before, we used to report it, but they didn’t do anything.”
 
Chanthavy was one of the 1,089 women across 52 garment factories interviewed by CARE, an international poverty reduction NGO, as part of their research.
 
Their findings, released yesterday, showed rampant levels of sexual harassment in the industry and the broader social and economic impact sexual harassment has in the garment industry.
 
As Cambodia’s garment industry is now almost reaching a value of $5 billion, there are calls to address sexual harassment in the sector which now represents almost a third of the country’s GDP.
 
CARE’s research took place over 15 months between December 2015 and March 2017, and estimated sexual harassment cost the industry around $89 million per annum in the form of productivity loss, with one in three women reporting they have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace over the last 12 months.
 
CARE International advisor Adriana Siddle, said it was important to note the economic costs to garment factory owners, in an industry of which 85 percent of its workforce was made up of women.  
 
“We wanted to be able to speak to garment factories on their own terms to stop sexual harassment, not just from a moral and legal stand point but productivity perspective as well,” she said.
 
“In the garment sector, there’s a lot of focus on the pay, and there should be and on workplace health and safety, but given the gendered nature of the industry, sexual harassment needs to be considered.”
 
CARE’s research, which was done in collaboration with Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia, found that the majority of female garment workers were younger with limited education, unmarried from regional areas and living alone or with relatives.
 
As a result, they are much more likely to experience sexual harassment on their way to and from work compared to their non-migrant peers.
 
This is exacerbated by the onus being on women, rather than men, to prevent sexual harassment from occurring, which leads to women going out as little as possible to avoid instances of harassment occurring, the research finds.
 
This notably reflected on productivity according to CARE’s research, 1.7 percent of workers moving factories because of sexual assault, while 13.5 percent of workers saying their work was affected.
 
Siddle said CARE has begun working with 10 garment factories’ human resources departments, to merge workplace policies on sexual harassment to improve their response to cases of harassment, in the hope that women will in turn report incidents more often.
 
CARE’s report also calls for better legal protections against sexual harassment, and for further investment in support programs, laws and policies in support of gender equality.
 
Siddle will present a summary of CARE’s findings to a talk about the sexual harassment in the workplace tonight, as part of Fashion Revolution Week, a campaign that aims to spread awareness to some of issues the fashion industry faces.
 
The talk will also feature a screening of “A True Cost,” a documentary that explores the impact the fashion industry has on the world today.
 
A True Cost and Care International’s talk will be held at tonight at 7pm at Cloud, #32 Street 9. Admission is free.
 
*Chanthavy’s name has been changed to protect her identity.

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