February 17, 2011—The Solidarity Center congratulates the Firestone Agricultural Workers Union of Liberia (FAWUL) for being named the 2011 recipient of the Iqbal Masih Award by the U.S. Department of Labor.
||FAWUL's efforts have improved education opportunities for rubber workers' children.
The annual award recognizes efforts to reduce the worst forms of child labor. It is named for Iqbal Masih, a Pakistani carpet weaver who escaped child servitude and became an outspoken advocate against child labor and child slavery.
The award was presented February 16 to FAWUL leaders at the U.S. embassy in Monrovia by U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield.
Since 2007, FAWUL has consistently spoken out against child labor. And it has addressed the core problems driving overextended, desperate workers at the Firestone Natural Rubber Co. (part of Bridgestone Corp.) plantation in Harbel, Liberia, to enlist child labor in the first place.
Most of the workers at the plantation collect raw liquid latex sap from trees in the same way they have done for decades: diagonally cutting trees and setting up equipment to collect the slow-dripping liquid latex sap. The latex from hundreds of trees has to be collected, cup-by-cup, and then walked to a collection point, some well over a mile away.
For years, accusations of child labor on Firestone’s facility stemmed from the high number of trees workers were required to tap to meet a daily quota, along with the time-consuming, back-breaking requirement to then walk the latex in two 75-pound buckets to distant collection stations. Working for only dollars a day, and desperate to meet their quotas, workers often enlisted family members, including their, children to help.
FAWUL’s 2008 contract with Firestone increased wages by 24 percent, reduced tree-tapping quotas by 20 percent and solidified corporate promises to improve educational facilities for workers’ children. In its 2010 collective agreement with the company, FAWUL made more gains on workers’ pay, and this time included an explicit ban on all child labor. Importantly, FAWUL pressed the argument that making workers carry 150 lbs of latex for miles was not just outdated and objectively cruel, it was economically inefficient. In response, Firestone is now testing a system whereby buckets are picked up and transported by vehicles to weigh stations.
Since 2005, the Solidarity Center has teamed with the United Steelworkers (USW) to provide capacity-building assistance, technical training, and research help to FAWUL and the workers at Firestone Liberia. FAWUL was the recipient of the AFL-CIO’s 2007 George Meany-Lane Kirkland Human Rights Award for its efforts to create an independent union at Firestone.
USW Congratulates Rubber Workers at Firestone in Liberia on Effort to End Child Labor
, Mike Zielinski, USW News
, February 16, 2011
Labor Rights Advocates Congratulate Bridgestone/Firestone Workers in Liberia on Award from U.S. Dept. of Labor
, press release, International Labor Rights Forum, February 16, 2011