The Justice for Jeyasre Speaking Tour Stops in New York City
November 3rd, 2021
“I came to this work at the age of 14”, shared Sara Ziff, the Founder and Executive Director of the Model Alliance, “and experienced the pitfalls of an unregulated industry”. Sara has worked as a model for over two decades and has dedicated her career to regulating an industry that too often prioritizes profit over people.
In her introduction of Thivya at the New York City Justice for Jeyasre Speaking Tour stop, Sara noted that “The runways of New York and factories of Tamil Nadu couldn’t look farther apart and yet we’re all working in the same industry, the fashion industry, which is a trillion dollar business where the work is overwhelmingly performed by young women and girls”.
New York City is a global fashion capital. According to the City of New York, the fashion industry employs 180,000 workers and generates $10.9 billion in wages in New York City. At the same time, New York City’s fashion industry also records nearly $100 billion in sales between retail, wholesale, and manufacturing sales. Even in New York City, workers still only receive 10% of the revenue.
It may look different, but up and down the supply chain, from Tamil Nadu to New York City, global fashion brands exploit their workers. It’s this understanding of global worker solidarity that brought people from myriad unions and organizations to the New York City speaking tour stop. Workers and organizers from the Model Alliance, ALIGN, RWDSU, Retail Action Project, the Cornell Workers’ Institute and more came to hear Thivya share Jeyrasre’s legacy and support the #JusticeForJeyasre campaign.
Attendees also shared strategies and tactics for holding fashion brands accountable for their workplace conditions. Thivya told attendees how the Tamil Nadu Textile and Common Labor Union has built global alliances to gain concessions from brands based in the United States and in Europe, like pushing their supplier to sign a non-retaliation agreement or helping Jeyasre’s family get a mutually agreed upon financial settlement. The Model Alliance uses a similar model in their RESPECT program, which calls for companies to sign a legally binding agreement to follow a code of conduct and receive training to prevent abuses. As Sara put it, “Model Alliance is seeking to create an environment of accountability in an industry that profits from the rampant abuse and exploitation of young people across the value chain.”
Models from the Model Alliance, retail workers from the Retail Action Project, and garment workers from the Tamil Nadu Textile and Common Labor Union, all attended this speaking tour stop, uniting workers from the beginning to the end of the fashion industry’s supply chain. Together, all of these workers are demanding Justice for Jeyasre and brand accountability.
In addition to support from fellow workers in the fashion industry, organizations dedicated to women’s safety in the workplace also expressed their support. Ardra Manasi from the Global 16 Days Campaign, an annual campaign focused on raising awareness about violence against women, shared this statement:
“We, at the Global 16 Days Campaign, stand in solidarity with the Tamil Nadu Textile and Common Labour Union (TTCU), GLJ-ILRF, and other members of the Justice for Jeyasre Campaign. The speaking tour in New York and other parts of the U.S. presents an immense opportunity for labor rights and women’s rights movements to hold governments and global fashion brands accountable and develop joint strategies to address violence and harassment in the world of work, as reaffirmed by ILO Convention 190. Jeyasre Kathiravel bravely fought for a safe workplace. Her life and legacy remind us about the many challenges as well as the possibilities of collective action to end gender-based violence in the world of work. We remain in great debt to Jeyasre’s life and we are committed to carrying her struggles forward.”
For both the Model Alliance and the TTCU, it will require solidarity from workers up and down the supply chain, from women’s rights organizations, and caste justice groups, to hold fashion brands accountable for gender based violence and harassment in their workplaces.
“We believe that there is power in numbers,” shared Sara at the end of her introduction, “and we are honored to have this opportunity to collaborate on this campaign with such inspiring leaders.”