Gender Violence Practices in the Modern Fashion Industry

Workers in the modern fashion industry experience gender violence, from being threatened, sent sexual- messages to being asked out on dates. Beyond that, they are pulled by their BH straps and held back from taking maternity leave. And other forms of physical violence include being beaten, kicked, and grabbed. This condition is mostly hidden in factories where most of the workers are women.

A study conducted by the Sedane Labor Information Institute (LIPS), DPP National Workers Union (SPN) and the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC) in 2020-2021 reveals the issue of gender-based violence in the fashion industry.

The research launched in July 2022 also found that only 12% of workers have the courage to fight back. Most workers are silent about acts of violence or harassment because they are afraid of their superiors.

Events in Semarang

Look at how the company treats its workers; these workers are insulted as if they are not human.

“If the superiors call us these types of animals, especially when they are angry in Korean, we consider it normal. The boss can be local or foreign, can be male or female. But it hurts the most if you are called ‘picèk matamu!’!’ (You’re blind, red.). It really hurts. Can’t do anything, just crying.”

This statement was made by Y, one of the women workers who manufacture clothing brands Fanatics, Adidas, H&M, Colombia Sport, Nike, V.F and HEMA in Semarang, Central Java, in March 2021.

Events in Subang

Another poor treatment occurred to workers in Subang, West Java. Some were kicked out, and several workers were asked to pay Rp. 1 billion compensation.

This incident began in early March 2021 when a video of a worker being kicked was circulated. In the video, a man can be seen standing with his hands on his hips and a mouth that does not stop cursing, then throws a kick at the crowd of workers sitting. This incident occurred at PT Taekwang Industrial Indonesia, Subang, West Java, which manufactures Nike brand shoes (, March 9, 2021).

The case ended with the dismissal of workers from South Korea. However, the Senior Manager of PT Taekwang Epi Slamet argued that the incident occurred because workers violated health protocols and the prohibition on eating and drinking inside the factory (, March 6 2021). Meanwhile, the Yeni Nuraeni District Manpower Office condemned the acts of violence at the factory (, March 6, 2021).

Still from Subang, West Java. At the end of 2021, the management of PT Pungkook One Indonesia, a company that manufactures bags under the brand name The North Face, is suing seven workers’ union officials. Management feels disadvantaged by the mass deployment of workers, which impacts production activities.

The management of PT Pungkook One Indonesia Subang withdrew the lawsuit against the workers after the FSPMI (Federation of Indonesian Metal Worker Unions) threatened to counter-sue PT Pungkook for IDR 100 billion, call for a strike and will report PT Pungkook to the Freedom of Association Committee of the International Labor Organization (ILO). (Holopiscom, January 6, 2022).

Even though it ended peacefully, through its legal counsel, the management of PT Pungkook Subang emphasized that the lawsuit against workers was because the union violated an agreement not to mobilize more workers when carrying out demonstrations demanding an increase in the minimum wage (, January 12 2022).

Patterns Used by Companies

The last two examples above show the same pattern of factory management when dealing with gender-based violence and harassment; namely, companies only blame the workers.

Despite dismissing the perpetrators of violence in the second case and dropping the lawsuit in the third case, the factory managers made excuses that their actions were justifiable. The events themselves are considered partial events separate from the social structure.

The three cases above show the practice of violence and harassment against workers in the workplace, namely in Semarang Regency, Central Java and Subang Regency, West Java. Two areas that represent new industries.

From January 2020 to January 2021, the DPP SPN (Central Leadership Council of National Trade Unions) and the WRC (Worker Rights Consortium) and LIPS (Sedane Labor Information Institute) studied, documented and compared the practices of gender-based violence and harassment in supplying apparel factories. International brands in the old and new territories. The new areas are the destination for factory relocation and expansion from the old sites, which began to be formed in 2010.

Gender Violence in Old Areas: Jakarta, Bogor, Yogyakarta, Serang and Semarang

The old area is an area that was formed in the 1980s to early 2000s. Its main characteristic is that the industrial site is financed by the state or the establishment of a factory with bonded zone status. Meanwhile, new regions were formed in the 2010s.

The main characteristic of industrial estates is that they are formed by the private sector or that the central or regional government cooperates with the private sector or makes private industrial estates a vital national object.

In the second period, state administrators invited, facilitated and directed apparel factories to new areas. State administration provides various licensing facilities and tax deductions and ensures the availability of skilled workers in industrial areas.

The apparel factories in this study operate in the Nusantara Bonded Office / KBN Cakung Jakarta, Bogor West Java, Sleman Yogyakarta, Serang Banten and Semarang Regency, as old areas. The factories operating in the new site are located in Subang and Majalengka, West Java, and Brebes and Grobogan, Central Java.

The apparel factories in this study work on orders marketed to the United States, Europe and Japan. They are also sold in Indonesia. The brands produced include; Adidas, which is made in five factories; Nike, Reebok, H&M, TNF, Under Armor, Mizuno, and Fanatics, each built in two factories. Other brands, such as GAP, and Eastpack, are made in one factory.

By conducting in-depth surveys and interviews with 141 non-unionized workers, union member workers and trade union officials, this research is complemented by document studies, engaged observation and focused discussions. Other data were obtained through mass media clippings, official statements from the government, entrepreneurs, brand owners and research that had been conducted by other institutions.

Three Types and Forms of Violence and Harassment

Of the 141 respondents, 86 percent provided information about experiences and testimonies of gender-based violence and harassment. On average, workers experience three types of violence, namely verbal violence (78 percent), physical violence (58 percent) and other types of violence (32 percent).

For one type of violence, workers can experience or witness three forms of violence at once. In short, while working, workers are thrown at materials accompanied by insults and forced to complete targets beyond regular working hours without being paid overtime.

Forms of verbal violence include shouting, rude calls, threats, and sending sexually suggestive messages via social media or cell phones asking for a date. While records of physical violence include being beaten, kicked, grabbed, thrown, and pointed with fingers. Other forms of violence include touching, hugging, peeking at, patting the buttocks and snapping/pulling bra straps, being sentenced to line up, sunbathing, increasing production targets or working hours, and withholding maternity and menstruation leave. In a disorganized and disorganized manner, this research also captures forms of sexual exploitation of women workers so that they are accepted to work, or the contract is not terminated. Female applicants are asked to waddle around like a model when there is a recruitment interview for prospective workers. Women workers are asked to ‘approach’ their superiors when the work contract is about to end.

The practice of gender-based violence and harassment in the workplace shows a specific pattern, which occurs at a particular time, place and perpetrator.

Of the 81 percent of workers, 50 percent said the incident occurred during working hours, 9 percent said when they came to work, and 8 percent said the target was not met. If the target is not met, there will be threats of additional production targets, threats of dismissal or transfer. If the target is reached, no bonus will be given. Only workers in the leadership section and above get different opinions when they succeed in achieving the target.

As many as 73 percent said that the location of the violence occurred in the work area, and 4 percent occurred in the work area and parking lot. Respondents said that, on average, violence was perpetrated by supervisors (29 percent), colleagues (12 percent), direct superiors (10 percent), personnel and security officers (6 percent).

This research also reveals that the perpetrators of violence can be carried out by men or women. Likewise, survivors of violence and harassment can be experienced by women or men. Because apparel factories employ more women, the majority of survivors are women.

In the old and new areas, companies supplying international brand apparel have the same characteristics, depending on global raw materials and types of products based on international orders and the quality of goods. This is coupled with the increasingly specific division of labor in the supply chain. So, there is a similarity in how to work, namely demanding the fulfillment of targets by avoiding production failures as little as possible. The character of this industry requires close supervision daily. Therefore, to achieve the target and production quality, workers at the operator level experience daily violence and harassment. The perpetrators of violence and harassment are supervisors and superiors in the production structure or occupy a higher position in the social system, represented by the male sex. So that the practice of gender-based violence and harassment is related to maintaining unequal power relations and multiplying the accumulation of benefits.

In the old area, the average age of the operator’s workers was 27 to 46 years, in the new site, the factory employed workers between the ages of 21 to 24 years. If in the old area, the operator workers came from Central Java and Sumatra, in the new area, the workers came from around the factory.

Yet the senior level from the previous factory had been dealing with fast-paced workers for years.

Workers in new areas are often considered slow to work because they cannot achieve production targets like in old places. In their daily narration, company representatives usually express the difficulty of getting skilled workers in the language ‘Javanese work slowly’.

Relocation expands and increases forms of violence and abuse

Types and forms of gender-based violence in new areas are higher than in old areas. The comparison is 42.22 percent in the old area and 37.50 percent in the new area.

In the old area, more violence occurred in the work area (67.71 percent). In the new area, violence occurred in the work area (84.44 percent). The forms and types of violence in the old and new areas occurred during working hours. 41.67 percent and 68 percent, respectively.

By looking at this comparison, it can be interpreted; that in the old area, workers experienced continuous violence to comply with production target discipline, while in the new area, workers experienced violence to achieve production targets. The disciplinary mechanism is related to maintaining the quantity and quality of products to remain the same or even better than the old area. As an illustration, if workers in the old area can achieve the production target of 3,000 pieces of t-shirts per day, then workers in the new area will be forced to achieve the same target.

Violence in the Age of Covid-19

During the Covid-19 pandemic, another form of violence occurred: the deprivation of the right to health and safety at work. When Covid-19, the respondents continued to work normally without adequate protection, reaching 51.16 percent, only 12 percent of the responsibility for the Covid-19 reaction test was borne by the company. Because most apparel industries employ women, women are the primary victims of the Covid-19 policy.

Thus, the program to prevent transmission of Covid-19, in fact, was ignored by the factory owners. Factory owners care more about and secure the amount of profit than workers’ health.

If workers get a shift program, are laid off or temporarily stop production, it’s not because it’s to protect workers’ health but because orders for goods have decreased, or there is difficulty with raw materials, or they have received a government reprimand. When experiencing reduced working hours or being affected by shift work, labor wages are 50 percent of the city minimum wage (UMK). And reductions in attendance and annual leave allowances, 45 percent are sent home with paid wages in installments, 62 percent of wages are not paid in full, 33 percent of Idul Fitri holiday bonus (THR) not on time, and 26 percent experience termination contracts. 33 percent of workers who broke the agreement were not paid the remainder of the contract, and 14 percent experienced termination of employment with compensation not according to the rules (20 percent). These responses were not discussed with trade unions or workers (11 percent). In fact, 20 percent said they knew nothing about the policy.

Ineffective Gender-Based Violence and Harassment Prevention Regulations in the Workplace

Brand owners’ codes of conduct require suppliers to ensure no violence and sexual harassment in the workplace and comply with national laws.

The code of ethics also states that suppliers must respect and protect the rights and dignity of workers. Under Armor, Adidas, Converse, Reeboks, TNF (FV), Eastpak, Nike, GAP, Polo Lauren, Volcom, Champion, ASICs, New Balance, OshKosh, Carter’s, ZARA (Inditex), Uniqlo (Fast Retailing), Timberland, Tommy Hilfiger (PVH), Calvin Klein (PVH), Kohl’s, O’Neill have a code of ethics that is announced on their website in English. Brands such as GAP, Adidas and Nike provide an Indonesian language code of conduct. The code of ethics is posted on the announcement wall at the factory. Other brands, such as Polo and TNF, do not translate their codes of conduct, let alone post them on supplier manufacturers. To monitor the implementation of the code of ethics, a complaint box, a complaint hotline, and a complaint field representing a particular brand are provided.

Of the 12 factories, 7 have a Collective Labor Agreement (PKB), and 5 use PP (Company Regulations). Out of all CLAs, five factories did not have specific policies prohibiting gender-based violence and harassment in the workplace. The PKB and PP are then disseminated to the workers.

On average, the content of PKB and PP defines the prevention and prohibition of gender-based violence along with the types of sanctions. However, it does not provide adequate complaint mechanisms, such as guarantees of security, confidentiality and rehabilitation for reporters.

In detail, it is illustrated that the definition of preventing gender-based violence and harassment refers to the Criminal Code (KUHP) and reappears in the Article of Serious Misconduct in the Labor Law Number 13 of 2003. The ‘Severe Mistakes Article’ violates the principle of proof, the presumption of innocence and equal rights before the law. This article has had its legal force revoked by the Constitutional Court (, February 5 2020). The Criminal Code and the Serious Misconduct are articles aimed at disciplining and dismissing workers without going through a court process rather than guaranteeing job security.

Gender-based violence and harassment occur in a specific space and time, in the production line, during working hours. Regulations for the prevention of gender-based violence and harassment in the workplace in the form of CoC, PKB, PP signs ‘sexual harassment-free areas’ cannot reduce the level of violence because they fail to ‘protect the safety and strengthen survivors’ instead of experiencing a conceptual and practical cripple.

Technically, the regulation on violence prevention in the workplace confronts survivors with perpetrators: “The victim reports to the superior, and the superior is the perpetrator of the violence”. Furthermore, efforts to prevent violence and sexual harassment do not involve operator workers as parties who face violence and harassment daily.

What is Labor’s Resistance to Gender-Based Violence and Harassment?

When violence befalls workers, as many as 43 percent remain silent, and 40 percent do not answer. However, as many as 12 percent of workers stated daily forms of defensive resistance.

Various forms of resistance were shown by shouting back, pretending to sing or reporting to the labor union. The average said was acts of physical and verbal violence. Progress reports sometimes have no completion, or if resolved by deliberation and the problem is resolved, the perpetrator gets a sanction of 58 percent of the total reported. 18 percent of respondents felt they did not know the sanctions against the perpetrators of violence, and 10 percent of the perpetrators received sanctions as being expelled from work.

The reasons for workers being silent about acts of violence or harassment are being quiet or not reporting, or not resisting because they are afraid. The type of fear is because it is related to work or because it is faced by his boss. Then, as many as 9 percent considered acts of violence as natural occurrences. It was useless to resist or was perceived as ‘joking’. Silence is part of the job retention mechanism. However, acts of gender-based violence and harassment will become a conversation among workers on a production line. This mechanism will isolate perpetrators of violence from social circles.

This research marks the importance of making ‘links’ between the daily resistance of operator workers with trade unions as legitimate institutions and having experience in dealing with problems in the workplace. However, there is a strong impression that labour union officials consider incidents of violence and harassment as personal and regular events that have nothing to do with the interests of accumulating profits and upholding patriarchal supremacy. Violent events will be resolved when deemed ‘too much’. The definition of ‘outrageous’ is if there is physical activity in the form of beatings. So that it is necessary to increase the capacity of trade unions to be able to respond to issues of violence at the level of the production line.

Observations show that 90 percent of factory-level union officials are men, do not have a special women’s program and have difficulty reaching and involving members in organizational activities. Several options can be taken: strengthening women’s peer groups in the production line and increasing media that can connect women with labour unions. Including the possibility of anonymously reporting gender-based violence and sexual harassment, forming a team to investigate gender-based violence and harassment, increasing discussion space or increasing women administrators and the involvement of women members more broadly in formulating PKB clauses.

If state administrators at the central and regional levels are willing to promise investors an abundant, young and skilled workforce, it makes sense to provide a legal framework to prevent gender-based violence and harassment.

Ultimately, the prevention of gender-based violence and harassment requires a standard legal norm, namely the ratification of the ILO Convention 190 on the Elimination of Violence and Harassment in the World of Work.

(This article summarizes a research report entitled, Kick, Saekkia (새끼), Pick Your Eyes!: Research on Gender-Based Violence and Harassment in Apparel Factories in Old and New Industrial Areas (Jakarta, Banten, West Java and Central Java) 2020 -2021. The research was carried out by LIPS, DPP SPN and WRC. The full report can be downloaded on the following page)

(Translated by Marina Nasution)

Syarif Arifin

Peneliti LIPS, Lembaga Informasi dan Perburuhan Sedane.

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