India: Garment worker allegedly raped & murdered by supervisor at H&M supplier Natchi Apparels after months of sexual abuse & harassment; Incl. H&M's response
On 5 January 2021, Jeyasre Kathiravel, a 20-year-old Dalit worker at Natchi Apparels in Tamil Nadu, India, was found dead after allegedly being raped and murdered by her supervisor at the factory. According to public reports, Ms. Kathiravel left her home on 1 January after being called to report to the factory by Thangadurai, her supervisor. Police investigations reveal she was taken by Thangadurai to a friend’s house, before being found dead. Thangadurai has confessed to the rape and murder of Ms. Kathiravel. Seven women workers at the factory have testified that Ms. Kathiravel had been sexually harassed by the supervisor in the factory several times in the months leading up to her death.
Prior to the crime against Ms. Kathiravel, other women workers report multiple instances of sexual harassment, physical acts of sexual assault, unwanted sexual touching or physical contact, unwelcome sexual advances and feeling pressured to engage with supervisors and managers sexually within the factory. Despite filing complaints with management with the help of their union The Tamil Nadu Textile and Common Labour Union (TTCU), workers say Eastman Exports Global – the owner of Natchi Apparels – took no action and maintained an internal complaints committee focused on repressing rather than exposing serious and ongoing violations. When TTCU attempted to raise the non-responsiveness with management, Eastman management refused to engage.
Trade unions and civil society organisations have accused buyers’ internal audit systems of failing to ensure the proper functioning of the Internal Complaints Committee at the factory. They are calling on buyers to sit down with Eastman to negotiate an enforceable agreement that covers monitoring, remediation, and prevention of gender-based violence and barriers to freedom of association in Eastman. This agreement should also include mutually agreed terms for an independent investigation, as well as ensure fair compensation and a fair process of negotiation with the family, and the protection of witnesses and victims who are being threatened into silence.
Business & Human Rights Resource Centre invited H&M and LIDL - listed publicly as buyers from Natchi Apparels - and Eastman Exports to respond to the murder of Ms. Kathiravel, the allegations raised by women workers at Natchi Apparels and the demands made by the local trade union. LIDL said it has not had a business relationship with Natchi Apparels for over two years. H&M said it is in close contact with the local trade union; has communicated a set of immediate and urgent actions for its supplier to demonstrate how they can guarantee a workplace free from harassment; has explicitly demanded that the factory management refrain from contacting the family without engagement with the unions or H&M; and will initiate an independent third-party investigation regarding incidents related to harassment. The full response is included below. Eastman Exports did not respond.
On 1 April 2021, Asia Floorwage Alliance announced that Ms. Kathiravel's family had reached a resolution on compensation with the supplier.