RIO DE JANEIRO (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Women labor leaders in Brazil face harassment and isolation in the grueling textile industry, where they are singled out for their union involvement, according to a report made public this week.
Interviews with about 250 women by the non-profit Instituto Observatorio Social over four months this year found they faced sexual harassment and humiliation in the workplace, with union leaders singled out for abuse.
Brazil has the fourth largest garment production industry in the world, with about 1.5 million workers, most of them women, according to the Brazilian Textile Industry Association (Abit).
The research focused on six cities that produce garments and shoes. It found widespread sexual harassment, as well as bullying and poor working conditions in local factories.
“Workers who are labor leaders reported that not only are they under stronger surveillance, but so is anyone that gets near them,” said the report.
“In one case, even the intention of signing up for an union resulted in the worker’s lay-off.”
One labor leader interviewed in the report said workers had been fired for speaking to her.
“It was not an isolated case,” said Cida Trajano, president of the National Confederation of Apparel Workers, who worked on the research. “It happens all over the country.”
The report was financed by C&A Foundation, which partners with the Thomson Reuters Foundation on its human trafficking coverage.
While conditions in factories can be poor, they are a far cry from the worst the industry has to offer, said Renato Bignami, a labor inspector who coordinated a pact between anti-slavery organizations and textile companies to promote decent labor conditions.
The textile industry in Brazil is fragmented and informal, with thousands of immigrant subcontractors from Bolivia and Paraguay sewing clothes in sweatshops.
Bignami said the worst abuses such as debt servitude mostly occur out of the sight of union leaders.
While factories offer formal employment and mainly use Brazilian workers, sweatshops tend to be smaller, operate informally and use migrants.
“(In factories) the violence women are subjected to is significant,” said Bignami. “(But in sweatshops) you will find the most perverse forms of violence.”
Reporting by Fabio Teixeira; Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst. Please credit Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit www.trust.org
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