Protesters gathered today in front of the St. Regis Hotel in New York City to call on Ralph Lauren to sign onto the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh to improve workplace safety for garment workers. The protest preceded Ralph Lauren’s annual shareholder meeting where the AFL-CIO Reserve Fund (its investments) had a proposal on the ballot related to human rights reporting.
As Brazil prepares to take the global stage as host of the World Cup, media attention has focused on the last-minute preparations and the expenditures accompanying the event. Amid the focus on sports, São Paulo’s subway workers delivered an important message about the need for increasing wages as a cornerstone of the country’s commitment to social equality.
Even before a 7.0 magnitude earthquake decimated much of the country in 2010, many Haitians struggled to earn anything close to a living wage. As the country continues to rebuild, one strategy embraced by the United States and Haitian governments has been the development of export-oriented industries, particularly apparel. The apparel sector has grown by more than 45% since the earthquake. In 2013, the industry represented 9% of Haiti’s GDP and 89% of its export earnings. Unfortunately, these gains are not reaching workers.
Samuel Rosales Rio came to the United States from Mexico under an H-2B visa to work at a food stand in a traveling carnival. When he arrived, he and his co-workers, most of whom also entered the country under the H-2B program, wound up working 16 to 17 hours a day in the sweltering heat for as little as $1 an hour. Workers were only provided a single meal each day and the meager wages made it impossible to supplement. Under the H-2B program, employers are supposed to provide adequate housing, but workers reported sleeping in overcrowded trailers infested with fleas and bedbugs without a place to wash. Rosales wound up in the hospital as a result of dehydration and infections from bug bites.
“I thought I wouldn’t survive,” Aklima Khanam said, as she described how she felt when she was trapped under machinery in the collapsed Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh, one of the most deadly workplace accidents in history. Khanam and Aleya Akter, both garment workers, came to the AFL-CIO on Monday to discuss the ongoing struggle to obtain justice and prevent more needless deaths in the garment industry.
Three years ago today, when the governments of Colombia and the United States signed the Labor Action Plan (LAP), Colombian workers hoped that systemic violence against labor activists and persistent employer abuses would at last come to an end. As Miguel Conde of the union SINTRAINAGRO explains in a new report by the AFL-CIO, palm workers at the Bucarelia plantation initially were hopeful, but the LAP profoundly failed to deliver meaningful change in their lives.