Walmart workers, with assistance from the OUR Walmart campaign, launched the first prolonged strike in the company's history, capping it with a rally on Friday outside the company's shareholder meeting in Bentonville, Ark. Workers began the strike more than a week ago and went on a freedom ride-inspired trek, called the “Ride for Respect,” to Walmart headquarters in Bentonville. The strike is planned to extend until after the shareholder meeting.
Celeste Drake, trade policy specialist for the AFL-CIO, is testifying on labor rights abuses in Bangladesh this morning, during a U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations hearing presided over by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.).
Today. Walmart and Gap announced they would develop their own nonbinding safety code and turned their backs on the accord developed by international and Bangladeshi unions, retailers and other groups—groups with firsthand knowledge of what’s needed for worker safety and of the deadly consequences of inaction.
A coalition of faith organizations, investors and labor groups—including the AFL-CIO—is urging major U.S. retailers, including Walmart, Gap, Sears and others, to sign on to a binding workplace and fire safety plan to prevent tragedies such as the recent building collapse in Bangladesh that killed more than 1,100 garment workers and two 2012 fires that claimed the lives of more than 400 Bangladeshi clothing workers.
The Bangladesh Cabinet approved a change to the nation’s labor laws that it says would enable workers to more freely form unions. The proposal, which must be approved by Parliament, would allow workers to join unions without showing the list of union supporters to factory owners to verify their employment—a practice that effectively makes it impossible for unions to gather sufficient support to register with the government because factory owners often penalize or fire workers who support unionization.
Rana Plaza, the Bangladesh factory that collapsed three weeks ago, killed more than 1,100 workers, many of them young women. This tragedy adds to the more than 1,500 Bangladeshi workers killed in preventable fires and building collapses since 2005. Documents found at the factory show that the workers produced for big names in global retail, revealing the link between poor workers in Bangladesh and major retail brands. Obviously, the government must improve local laws and their enforcement to stop these tragedies, but brands also must take responsibility for their supply chains. They must be held accountable to the tragedy that happened in their supply chain.
Last year, local Bangladeshi and international unions and workers’ rights groups negotiated an agreement to stop these deaths and help Bangladesh’s garment workers claim their rights. Two brands signed the agreement; the other major brands must sign on now!
When Bill Brockmiller, president of the Western Wisconsin AFL-CIO, was asked why he and several dozen union and community members and local officials in La Crosse were taking part in Workers Memorial Day ceremonies Sunday, he told WXOW-TV:
You have a right to go to work and earn your daily bread, support your family and come back home at night. So when that doesn't happen, when you lose your life in the pursuit of a paycheck, I think we owe it to those people, and to their family, those they leave behind, to honor that sacrifice.
After last week's Rana Plaza building collapse in Bangladesh, which killed at least 377 garment workers, United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) started a petition calling on three of the leading users of Bangladeshi garment workers—Walmart, the Gap and H&M—to demand that factories in the country be made safe for workers. The building collapse is already the deadliest garment factory disaster in known history and the death toll is not yet final. USAS says the deaths could have easily been prevented, as cracks appeared in the structure the day before it collapsed. Workers were ordered to work in the building anyway, under threat of losing a month's pay.
UPDATE 04/29/2013: The death toll as of this morning stands at 377 and hundreds of people remain missing, reports The New York Times. CNN reports that authorities have arrested six people: three factory owners, two government engineers and the owner of the building, Sohel Rana—a local-level leader of the ruling Awamil League— who was caught as he tried to flee the country.
More than 300 workers now have been confirmed dead from Wednesday’s building collapse in Bangladesh. Some 2,200 survivors have been pulled from the ruins of what is being called one of the worst manufacturing disasters in history. More than 3,000 garment workers were on the job when upper building floors pancaked on top of each other.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has ordered the arrest of the building’s owner, Mohammed Sohel Rana, a local leader of ruling Awami League's youth front, who told factory operators the building was safe. Hasina also has ordered the arrest of five garment factory owners.