Fabletics has suspended operations with Lesotho-based garment factory, Hippo Knitting, as dozens of workers have alleged ongoing sexual and physical abuse.
Fabletics, which actress Kate Hudson co-founded with JustFab in 2013, immediately suspended operations with Hippo Knitting after TIMEpublished an explosive report in which at least 38 workers came forward to say abuse has been rampant for years within the factory (which is based in Maseru, the capital of the landlocked country located within South Africa’s borders).
“The allegations against Hippo Knitting are absolutely horrifying. Immediately after receiving the report, Fabletics suspended all operations with Hippo Knitting. One of our senior leaders is now on the ground in Lesotho and is running a comprehensive investigation in collaboration with an independent investigator,” Fabletics said in a statement shared on social media.
“These workers’ accounts demand strong action and today we’re contacting the organizers of the Lesotho Agreement to discuss the process of joining and expanding the binding, worker-led program that targets gender-based violence and harassment in Lesotho,” the statement continued. “Fabletics’ commitment to the people of this region remains resolute, and we’re paying these workers their full wages while we investigate.”
TIME partnered with The Fuller Project, a global nonprofit newsroom reporting on issues that affect women, to interview dozens of Hippo Knitting employees, including seamstresses, cutters and cleaners, who predominantly supply the apparel for the athletic line.
The article states that 13 of the women anonymously interviewed allege “their underwear and vulvas are often exposed during routine daily searches by supervisors.” Some women claim to be pressured to get into sexual relationships with their supervisors, while others say they are “often humiliated and verbally abused by management.”
The workers must endure daily body searches when they exit the building, which have become increasingly invasive amid the COVID-19 pandemic after different supervisors took over, TIME reports.
“A supervisor pulled my jeans down, pulled my tights elastic toward her and let go … it slapped my [fibroids] operation wound. I was in so much pain,” one female employee told the outlet.
In an emailed statement sent to TIME, a Fabletics spokesperson described the allegations as “incredibly disturbing” and that they “go against everything that we stand for.”
Three workers confirmed that production at Hippo Knitting halted on May 3 after TIME and The Fuller Project raised the allegations. The factory owner is also conducting its own investigation.
The factory employs around 1,000 workers, 90% women, who worry they could lose their jobs if the brand backs out. “We are tired, we need help, we work with bleeding hearts,” a woman who has worked at the factory for a decade told TIME.
A representative for Kate Hudson told TIME she had no knowledge of the reports before the outlet and The Fuller Project reached out.
Hudson’s representative said, “Fabletics management attested to Kate that they maintain the highest ethical and social standards in their factories and workplaces and have commenced a full and comprehensive investigation.”