Human trafficking thrives in an environment of worker exploitation and engenders forced labor, debt bondage and other egregious labor abuse. The most effective way to address this scourge, says Neha Misra, Solidarity Center senior specialist on migration and human trafficking, is by empowering workers to have a voice in their workplace and supporting their right to organize and join unions.
A deadly fire in a Bangladesh garment factory that killed at least 112 workers has been linked to Walmart. Photos from the scene of the fire show Faded Glory-brand clothing, an exclusive Walmart label it sells in stores. Walmart said in a statement the Tazreen Fashions Ltd. factory was no longer authorized to produce merchandise for them at the time of the fire, but that a supplier subcontracted work to it "in direct violation of our policies." The biggest retailer in the United States said they have terminated their relationship with the supplier.
At a Turkish-owned textile plant in the Democratic Republic of Georgia a few years ago, female employers were repeatedly forced to remain on the job without pay for hours a day. When they ultimately demanded to be released, the factory manager responded by yelling and throwing a heavy load of unfinished dresses at one woman. The blow knocked her unconscious. The factory manager returned to Turkey to avoid prosecution—but likely would not have faced charges even if he had stayed, says Bob Fielding, Solidarity Center country program director in Georgia, who described the incident.
This is a cross-post from the AFL-CIO Solidarity Center, by Tula Connell.
Nicaragua this week became the third country to ratify the International Labor Organization (ILO) convention on domestic workers. An ILO “convention” sets international labor standards, and the “Decent Work for Domestic Workers” convention addresses issues such as working conditions, wages, benefits and child labor while requiring nations to take measures making decent work a reality for domestic workers.
When Emeterio Nach suffered a shoulder injury at his job, he asked his supervisor at the Ternium aluminum processing plant in Villa Nueva, Guatemala, for time off to see his doctor. After the supervisor denied his request, Nach asked again. The supervisor continued to refuse, finally telling Nach he would be fired if he kept asking—and if he were sick, he'd be fired as well because the factory needed healthy workers.
Being employed in “decent work” sounds basic. But for millions of people around the world, it’s not a reality. When workers are jobless—or, at the other end of the spectrum, forced to toil under dangerous job conditions or for pay so low they cannot support themselves or their families, decent work is out of reach.
Each Oct. 7, World Day for Decent Work reminds all of us about the plight of these workers. The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) launched Decent Work Day in 2008, and each year, the Solidarity Center and its partners in the global labor movement observe that day to bring attention to the need for decent work. As the ITUC states: “Decent work must be at the center of government actions to bring back economic growth and build a new global economy that puts people first.”
The murder earlier this year of a Bangladeshi union organizer is part of an escalation of attacks on the nation’s 4 million garment workers who seek to change abusive working conditions, says Kalpona Akter, executive director of the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity (BCWS).
Akter, who just ended a visit to the United States sponsored by Vanderbilt University and the International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF), worked closely with her BCWS colleague and factory union organizer, Aminul Islam, who was murdered earlier this year, his body found beaten and tortured. Islam also was a leader of Bangladesh Garment and Industrial Workers Federation (BGIWF), As recently as mid-September, Bangladesh police fired rubber bullets and tear gas at tens of thousands of garment workers rallying outside factories in an industrial area near Dhaka.
Around the globe, 215 million children are engaged in child labor, including an estimated 6 million in forced labor. Annual reports, released this week by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of International Labor Affairs (ILAB), tracks the progress and lack of progress in combating child labor. The reports, said Labor Secretary Hilda Solis:
Remind us of what happens to the most vulnerable members of society when poverty and labor exploitation unite.
Facing death threats for her work as a Mexican labor rights activist, Blanca Velásquez left the country earlier this month and suspended her two-year legal battle with the Mexican government over ongoing harassment and threats against workers in Puebla, Mexico.
In May, human rights defender José Enrique Morales Montaño, who worked with Velásquez at the Center of Support for Workers (CAT), was kidnapped by four masked men and physically tortured for 16 hours before being released. Other employees at CAT have received death threats, and the organization’s e-mail has been hacked in a cycle of harassment that began in December 2010. That month, Velasquez found a threatening message scrawled across her office wall: “No saben con quien metes” (“You don’t know who you’re messing with”).