In Asia, the Solidarity Center helps workers build strong unions to defend their fundamental rights at home and abroad, escape abuse and forced labor and hold governments accountable for their economic security.
|Burmese migrant workers at a shift change in Thailand. Photo: Jeanne Hallacy
As the developing Asia-Pacific region (Central Asia, East Asia, South Asia, Southeast Asia and the Pacific) has modernized and transformed into a global manufacturing hub for multinational corporations, the Asian growth model has been promoted as a development paradigm for emerging economies. The region has seen soaring economic growth over the past 20 years, its gross domestic product (GDP) rising by 6.1 percent in 2013. The region also led the global recovery after the 2009 recession.
Yet this model has created a system of vastly unequal outcomes. The workers who have fueled Asia’s extraordinary economic growth through their labor in factories and the informal economy have not shared in economic prosperity—specifically in the form of increased wages, better benefits or secure work.
As a result, the Asian region has seen the world’s largest out-migration of workers, who are driven to leave their homes in desperation to support their families. Millions of workers from South and Southeast Asia travel to countries around the world, most to the Arabian Gulf, for jobs in fishing, construction and domestic service. Few migrant workers have rights on the job or in the countries where they work.
As global consumer brands chase the lowest costs and highest profits around the globe, Southeast Asia has become a haven for export processing zones (EPZs). Millions of workers desperate for decent wages endure long workdays, forced unpaid overtime and sub-poverty wages. Garment workers, fish processors and others toiling in the EPZs for global manufacturing companies have few or no rights on the job and face daunting obstacles to forming unions. Factory-level union activists are fired and blacklisted, unable to find another job.
Workers in Asia also often risk their lives in unsafe and unhealthy workplaces. Exposed to toxic chemicals or deadly asbestos, or toiling in dangerous garment factories or mines, more than 1.1 million people in Asia die each year from workplace hazards or accidents.
Millions more workers are forced to make a living in the informal economy, where as street vendors, domestic workers and taxi drivers, they earn low wages in often unsafe conditions and have little or access to pensions or other social protections.
Bangladesh: Employers, Workers Resolve Issues Together.
August 18, 2014—When 1,300 Bangladeshi garment workers started to organize a trade union at their factory in the Gazipur suburb of Dhaka, the capital, they faced an uphill battle.
24 Bangladesh Union Leaders Complete Fire Training
. July 11, 2014—Twenty-four garment worker union leaders and organizers in Bangladesh have completed a first-of-its-kind, in-depth training course on fire and building safety, conducted by the Solidarity Center and Selim Newaz Bhuiya, former deputy director of Bangladesh Fire Service and Civil Defense.
Human Trafficking Fueled by Migrant Workers’ Vulnerability.
July 10, 2014—Migrant workers’ high vulnerability to human trafficking is one of three main factors involved in labor trafficking in Thailand, Malaysia and Cambodia, said Neha Misra, Solidarity Center senior specialist for Migration and Human Trafficking in testimony on Capitol Hill July 7.
$11,537 Donated to Bangladesh Worker Rights Defense Fund.
July 7, 2014—The Solidarity Center’s Bangladesh Worker Rights Defense Fund has received $11,537 in contributions as of June 30 and donations already have assisted with medical bills for union organizers beaten while talking with garment workers and provided a one-month salary for union leaders assaulted and fired by management.
Bangladesh: New Garment Organizers Build Skills, Enthusiasm at Training
. CHITTAGONG, BANGLADESH, June 26, 2014—At a Solidarity Center training program for two trade union federations, 12 young organizers—most on the job for less than six months—were advancing beyond the basics of organizing and moving up the knowledge ladder fast.
Thailand among Countries Failing to Address Human Trafficking.
June 20, 2014—Thailand was among six countries that failed to comply with the minimum standards to address human trafficking over the past year, according to the State Department in its annual Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP) released today.
Workers Stunned at Thailand’s Vote Against Forced Labor Protocol.
June 13, 2014—Thailand’s State Enterprises Workers’ Relations Confederation (SERC) is expressing shock that the country’s new government was the only nation to vote against a new legally binding treaty requiring punishment of perpetrators of forced labor.
Bangladesh: More Workers Fired after Forming a Union
. June 13, 2014—More than 60 workers at a Bangladesh washing facility have been fired since late April and at least one union leader has been physically assaulted in what their union says is a campaign to end union representation at the plant.
Bangladesh: Attacks on Union Leaders Escalate at Industrial Park.
May 28, 2014—More than a dozen garment factory union leaders in Gazipur, Bangladesh, have been physically attacked or threatened with violence and even death in the past two weeks, according to the Bangladesh Independent Garment Workers Union Federation (BIGUF).
Bangladesh Union President: Empowering Women Through Unions
. May 7, 2014—Nomita Nath gets many calls each day at the union office in Chittagong, Bangladesh, from garment workers seeking immediate assistance.
Trial for Cambodia Garment Workers, Union Leaders, Starts Today
. April 25, 2014—A trial opens today for 23 Cambodian trade union leaders and workers in Phnom Penh Municipal Court for participating in rallies in January calling on the government to increase the minimum wage for Cambodia's ready-made garment workers.
Thousands in Bangladesh Mark Rana Plaza Anniversary.April 24, 2014
—Thousands of Bangladeshis began gathering before dawn at the site of Rana Plaza, the multistory building that collapsed one year ago today, killing more than 1,110 garment workers and injuring at least 2,500.
1 Year After Rana Plaza, Survivors, Families Struggle to Survive
. April 24 2014—One year ago today, as the walls of the multistory Rana Plaza building collapsed around her, Moriom Begum was trapped, injured and unable to move in the dark, surrounded by the lifeless bodies of her co-workers.
Rana Plaza, 1 Year Later: ‘I Cannot Find the Happiness of Life.’
April 23, 2014—On April 24, 2014, Shumi Akter was among the more than 1,100 garment workers who perished in the collapse of the multistory Rana Plaza.
Rana Plaza, 1 Year Later: 'My Husband's Life Was Valuable
.’ April 22, 2014—Rubina and her husband, Abdul Hamid, made enough to support themselves and their two children after they moved five years ago from a village to Dhaka. But their efforts to ensure an even better future for their children ended April 24, 2013.
Rana Plaza—1 Year Later: ‘Everybody Is Scared to Work after the Collapse.'
April 21, 2014—Most of the garment workers who survived the April 24, 2014, collapse of Rana Plaza in Bangladesh say they have been so physically injured and emotionally traumatized, they are unable to ever again work in a garment factory.
Bangladesh: More Firings at Factory Where Workers Seek a Union
. April 18, 2014—Garment workers continue to be fired and harassed at the Taratex BD Ltd. factory in Gazipur, Bangladesh, according to the Bangladesh Independent Garment Workers Union Federation (BIGUF).
Rana Plaza—One Year Later: Living in Constant Pain
. April 18, 2014—When the multistory Rana Plaza building collapsed on April 24, 2014, in Bangladesh, Moriom Begum was trapped for two days in the room where she worked as a sewing operator.
Bangladesh: Workers Say They Were Fired, Attacked after Forming Union
. March 6, 2014—Workers at the Taratex BD Ltd. garment factory in Bangladesh have been targets of violence and mass firings, according to the Bangladesh Independent Garment Workers Union Federation (BIGUF).
With Union, Street Vendors, Bidi Rollers No Longer Invisible in India
. March 6, 2014—India passed a landmark Street Vendors Act this month that, for the first time,recognizes the country’s 40 million street vendors as workers deserving of rights and labor law coverage equal to all other wage earners.
Bangladesh Union Activists Press for Justice in Violent Attack.
March 5, 2014—More than 400 Bangladesh garment workers and trade unionists rallied over the weekend at the National Press Club in Dhaka, the capital, to demand police take action to find perpetrators who beat and badly injured a garment worker leader and four union organizers last week.
Garment Worker, Organizers Beaten in Bangladesh.
February 25, 2014—A Bangladesh garment worker leader and four union organizers, among them two women, were badly injured Saturday when about two dozen people beat, kicked and threw them to the ground as the five were speaking to workers in the dormitory where they live.
Empowering Workers in Bangladesh Export Processing Zone
. February 18, 2014—Garment workers and workers in other industries in Bangladesh’s export-processing zones are subject to a different, much weaker set of labor laws than workers in the rest of the country, and the government must take steps to reform laws so they meet international standards for freedom of association and collective bargaining rights, said A. K. M. Nasim, senior legal counselor at the Solidarity Center’s office in Dhaka, the Bangladesh capital.
AFL-CIO Calls for End of Violence Against Cambodian Workers
. January 7, 2014—In a letter to Cambodia Prime Minister H.E. Hun Sen, the AFL-CIO condemned the Cambodian government's recent and ongoing violence against garment workers.
Send Solidarity Greetings to Bangladeshi Garment Workers!
November 25, 2013—Nearly a year ago, 112 garment workers were killed in a fire at the Tazreen Fashion Ltd. factory—and a thousand others were injured in the scramble to escape a building with no fire escapes and firmly barred windows.
Tazreen Survivor, Tahera: I Am Too Afraid to Sleep.
November 25, 2013—Tahera, 23, has been so ill from the injuries she sustained in the November 24, 2012, Tazreen Fashions factory fire, her husband Roshidul has had to quit his job to take care of her.
Shahanaz, Tazreen survivor: Now My Life Seems Worthless.
November 25, 2013—
The only reason Shahanaz Begum is alive today is because she defied the factory manager who told her she could not leave the burning building.
Nasima, Tazreen Survivor: Day by Day, My Situation Is Getting Worse.
November 25, 2013—Nasima, 25, cannot breathe well nor see clearly. She speaks softly, too weak to raise her voice.
Raoshonara, Tazreen Survivor: No Option but Begging to Survive.
Raoshonara is destitute. “I have no other option but begging to survive,” she said as she burst into tears.
Tazreen Survivor, Morsheda: We Poor Have Lost Everything. Morsheda could not travel to her home village in Bangladesh for the recent Eid holiday because she could not afford the trip.
Abdul: I Could Not Find My Wife’s Body. November 22, 2013—Mahfuza Khatun, 22, was a sewing machine operator on the fourth floor of the Tazreen Fashions garment factory when the multistory building went up in flames just outside Dhaka.
Tazreen Survivor, Anjuma: Days Pass by without Food. November 22, 2013—When someone knocks on her door, Anjuma knows a debt collector is probably on the other side.
Tazreen Survivor, Anjuara: Too Injured to Hold Her Child. November 22, 2013—Anjuara suffers from constant pain. She is too injured to work and unable to pay the rent.
Aferza, Tazreen Survivor: I Starve with My Kids. November 21, 2013——Aferza, 25, left her village in 2010 for Dhaka, the Bangladesh capital, to escape poverty. She planned to help support her family and educate her children with the money she earned.
Sri Lanka: 800 Factory Workers Wage Long Strike for Union. Update, November 21, 2013—Hundreds of striking workers at Ansell Lanka marched to the Australian High Commission office yesterday, the 40th day of the strike at the manufacturing plant.
Tazreen Factory Fire: A Year Later, Survivors Feel Forgotten. November 19, 2013—A year after the deadly factory fire that killed 112 garment workers at Tazreen Fashions Ltd. in Bangladesh, survivors and the families of those killed and injured say they have been forgotten by the factory owner, international buyers and the government.
Indonesia: Workers Set for Second Nationwide Strike. November 4, 2013—Indonesian workers are planning a second round of nationwide protests for better wages, likely beginning November 6, according to the Jakarta Labor Forum.
Indonesian Unions Conduct Two-Day National Strike. October 31, 2013--Hundreds of thousands of Indonesian workers started a two-day national strike today demanding the government institute a fair minimum wage, end rampant employer violations of labor outsourcing and speed up implementation of a universal health care law.
Six Months after Rana Plaza, Workers Struggle for Voice at Work. October 24, 2013—Today marks the six-month anniversary of the Rana Plaza building collapse in Bangladesh, which killed more than 1,200 garment workers, primarily women, and injured 2,500 more.
Thailand Vows to Ratify Two Key Worker Rights Standards. October 9, 2013—The Thai government agreed to ratify two key international worker rights standards this week, following a 3,000-strong rally made up of workers from all national federations, unions, networks of migrant workers and informal workers, and allied organizations.
Experts: Bangladesh Accord Is a Game Changer. Panelists at the AFL-CIO convention workshop, Bangladesh Fire and Safety Accord: A New Standard in Global Framework Agreements? said the accord represented a truly new approach to framework agreements and protecting worker rights.
U.S. Rep. Levin Meets with Bangladesh Factory Survivors. August 26, 2013—Rep. Sander Levin held three meetings with workers and union leaders to hear firsthand from survivors of the Rana Plaza and Tazreen factory disasters and to learn the obstacles garment workers face when seeking to form unions to improve the safety of their workplaces.
Bangladesh Reinstates Garment Worker Rights Group. August 9, 2013—The Bangladesh government has re-registered the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity (BCWS), a move that means the organization can fully function again and pursue its mission of educating workers about their rights.
Bangladesh Union Leader: Global Support Key for Working Women. August 4, 2013—Women around the world work make up the vast majority of workers in dangerous, difficult and low-paid jobs and in Bangladesh, garment workers, the majority of whom are women, often risk their lives for a chance to support themselves and their families. More than 1,100 workers were killed in the most recent garment factory disaster when the eight-story Rana Plaza building collapsed in April.
Bangladesh Media: Charges Dropped Against Worker Activists. July 10, 2013—Newspapers in Bangladesh this week reported that charges against two worker rights advocates will be dropped and that the search for the people who tortured and murdered labor leader Aminul Islam last year will receive new focus.
U.S. Trade Decision Key Step for Bangladesh Worker Rights. June 28, 2013—Workers in Bangladesh—especially millions of poorly paid garment workers who often risk their lives in dangerous factories—won a new tool to advance their rights when the United States suspended preferential trade benefits with the country.
U.S. Rep. Miller Meets with Bangladesh Garment Union Leaders. May 30, 2013—The freedom to form factory-level unions and negotiate job safety, living wages and fundamental social protections is key to any reform of Bangladesh’s labor laws, leaders and members of Bangladesh unions and worker organizations told U.S. Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.).
Pakistan Federations Seek Unification for Stronger Worker Voice. May 28, 2013—Recognizing that “the challenges confronting the working men and women in Pakistan cannot be effectively” addressed without a strong and united workers’ voice, the Pakistan Workers Federation and eight other union federations are seeking to unify their organizations.
Thailand: Founders of Migrant Workers Network Get ILRF Award. May 23, 2013—Secretary General Sawit Kaewwan of the State Enterprises Workers’ Relations Confederation (SERC) and President Aung Kyaw of the Migrant Worker Rights Network (MWRN) received awards yesterday in Washington, D.C., for their work to protect and promote the rights of migrant workers in Thailand.
Cambodia: Owner Admits Negligence in Factory Collapse. May 20, 2013—At least 23 garment workers were injured today when a structure the workers used for rest breaks collapsed in Cambodia. The collapse comes just days after two workers were killed when a ceiling caved in at a Cambodian shoe factory.
Bangladesh Government Moves to Ease Unionization. May 14, 2013—The Bangladesh Cabinet approved a change to the nation’s labor laws that it says would enable workers to more freely form unions.
Bangladesh: Shoddy Construction Behind Building Collapse. May 3 2013—More than 500 people have now been confirmed dead in last week’s building collapse in Bangladesh, the country’s worst industrial disaster on record.
Bangladesh: Deaths Exceed 300, Warrant Out for Building Owner. April 26, 2013—More than 300 workers now have been confirmed dead from Wednesday’s building collapse in Bangladesh.
Bangladesh Fire Survivors Describe Hardships after Tragedy. April 25, 2013—“The factory caught fire about 6 p.m. After the fire, they did not allow us to go out,” says Nazma. “They locked the gate. The workers were screaming together.”
Sumi Describes Surviving the Tazreen Garment Factory Fire. April 25, 2013—The rising death toll from yesterday’s building collapse in Bangladesh and the recent workplace deaths at the fertilizer factory in West, Texas, serve as tragic reminders of how much more needs to be done to ensure the safety and health of workers around the world.
Solidarity Center Mourns for Workers Killed in Bangladesh. April 24, 2013—Another four garment factories in Bangladesh became death traps today, and the Solidarity Center is mourning the senseless loss of life and the grievous injuries that have befallen hundreds of workers who were simply trying to make a living.
Hong Kong Dock Workers Strike against Exploitation and Injustice. April 15, 2013—About 450 Hong Kong dock workers continue their strike against port operator Hong Kong International Terminals (HIT), a subsidiary of billionaire Li Ka-shing’s Hutchison Whampoa, and its subcontractors.
Bangladesh: 1 Year Later, Murderer of Aminul Islam Still Free. April 4, 2013—The Solidarity Center and the international worker rights movement are commemorating Bangladesh union leader Aminul Islam, who was brutally murdered one year ago today. His murderer or murderers remain at large.
Bangladesh: Shrimp Industry to Address Working Conditions. March 27, 2013—In Bangladesh, shrimp industry leaders—at the urging of workers and human rights groups—have taken a step toward improving working conditions for the nearly 1 million shrimp workers who toil during peak season across the supply chain.
Report Examines Garment Factory Fires in Bangladesh, Pakistan. March 15, 2013—A new report examining two massive fires at garment factories in Bangladesh and Pakistan found that the deaths and injuries were “caused or exacerbated by illegal, unsafe buildings, faulty electrics or machinery, poor safety procedures and avoidable hazards such as blocked or inadequate fire exits.”
Bangladesh: Three Months After Tazreen Fire, Little Change. February 20, 2013—Three months after at least 112 workers died in the Tazreen Fashion factory fire, dangerous and deadly working conditions are commonplace for the nearly 2 million Bangladeshi garment workers, who have little recourse than to take jobs that may kill them.
Worker Rights under Attack in the Maldives. February 5, 2013—Even as the Maldivian government further shuts the door on worker rights, union leaders and members of the Maldives Port Workers Union (MPWU) who were fired or suspended from their jobs in 2012 remain strong in their struggle.
India: 2.5 Million Miners Now Have Worker Compensation. January 31, 2013—Some 2.5 million mine workers in Rajasthan, India, will now be covered by worker compensation for job-related illnesses and injuries, a victory that stems from a multiyear campaign by safety and health advocates.
Bangladesh: Seven Women Dead in A Preventable Factory Fire. January 28, 2013—Seven young women, at least two of them teenagers, died over the weekend in a Bangladesh garment factory fire—the 28th fire incident to frighten, injure or kill Bangladeshi garment workers since a deadly blaze at the Tazreen factory killed at least 112 workers in late November, according to Solidarity Center staff in Bangladesh.
Cambodia: Brands Could Help Garment Workers Get Better Nutrition. January 24, 2013—Among the thousands of Cambodian garment workers who have fainted on the job over the past few years, many suffer from malnutrition, anemia and dehydration.
ILO Report: 52 Million Domestic Workers Worldwide. January 9, 2013—The vast number of domestic workers, 21.4 million, are in Asia and the Pacific region, with 19.6 million in Latin America, 5.2 million in Africa and 2.1 million in the Middle East.
Thailand: Police Get Manual to Combat Human Trafficking. January 4, 2012—Thai police will now be equipped with a detailed manual helping them identify and address human trafficking, a growing crime in many countries that involves forced labor or sexual exploitation.
Bangladesh: 17 Garment Fires Since 112 Killed in Tazreen. December 21, 2012—It has been nearly a month since at least 112 Bangladeshi workers died in the horrific fire at Tazreen Fashion Ltd garment factory.
Sri Lanka: A Worker Center Offers a Model for Aiding Migrant Workers. December 18, 2012—With no other option to support her family in her native Sri Lanka, Nalani Samarasinghe, 41, has moved to Qatar three times for jobs ranging from 11 months to three years.
Bangladesh Garment Workers Federation Pledges Action at Factory Level. December 14, 2012—When Kona, a textile worker in Bangladesh, tried to help her co-workers win better conditions on the job, she was harassed to the point where she and her husband were forced into hiding.
Bangladeshi Garment Workers Meet with U.S. Ambassador. December 12, 2012—Bangladeshi garment workers no longer are forced to stay on the job for literally weeks without a break and employers’ physical and verbal abuse has decreased—but significant improvements, especially in factory safety, remain to be made in the country’s important garment industry, several garment union leaders told a high ranking U.S. State Department official last weekend.
Interview: Labor, Business Must Partner for Ethical Investment in Burma. December 3, 2012—Political transformation is happening fast in Burma, but social and cultural change are just beginning—putting the country at a key tipping point for how it ultimately will be structured, says Pyi Thit Nyunt Wai, general secretary of the Federation of Trade Unions-Burma (FTUB).
Paying with Their Lives: The High Cost of Cheap Clothing. November 28, 2012—Last weekend, more than 110 garment workers died in a fire that burned the Tazreen Fashion Ltd. garment factory on the outskirts of Dhaka.
Bangladesh Protests Deaths of More than 100 Garment Workers. November 27, 2012—The Solidarity Center joins the international labor and human rights communities in expressing sorrow over the unnecessary and tragic loss of life at a Bangladesh garment factory over the weekend.
Bangladeshi Garment Workers File for Union at Zilani Apparels. October 22, 2012—Garment workers at Zilani Apparels Ltd., in Rampura, Dhaka, Bangladesh, formed a union in August with the help of the Bangladesh Federation of Workers’ Solidarity (BFWS) and now are waiting for the Labor Department to register it.
Indonesia: Worker Solidarity Gets Results. November 2, 2012—A strike by 2 million blue-collar Indonesian workers over wages and job outsourcing resulted in government promises to improve worker pay and restrict the use of workers subcontracted through labor agencies.
Asia-Pacific: Quality and Quantity of Jobs Dropping. October 24, 2012—The October 2012 Asia-Pacific Labour Market Update says jobs growth in the region has slowed down compared with 2011, although the situation varies greatly among countries.
Solidarity Center Mourns Loss of Thai Union Leader. October 5, 2012—The Solidarity Center mourns the unexpected passing of Charan Komkhumtot, better known as Bualoi.
INTERVIEW: Violence Rises against Bangladeshi Garment Workers. October 3, 2012—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)
Victory for Domestic Workers as Philippines Ratifies ILO Convention 189. August 6, 2012—The Philippines became the second country to ratify International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention 189, Decent Work for Domestic Workers.
Fighting for Agate-Processing Workers in India. August 8, 2012—Agate-processing workers have achieved their first major legislative success in India’s Gujarat state—official recognition that their jobs can kill them.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton Meets with Cambodian Women Unionists, Defends Worker Rights. July 16, 2012—Following a private meeting in Cambodia with union leaders and labor activists, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged greater protection of worker rights, improvement of labor standards and the empowerment of women.
Bangladesh: Group Demands Full Investigation into Murder of Aminul Islam. June 14, 2012—Solidarity Center staff joined family and colleagues of Aminul Islam at a press conference last week to call for justice in Aminul’s murder.
Congressional Hearing Focuses on Worker Rights in Bangladesh. June 20, 2012—A senior Solidarity Center staffer and other regional and rights experts provided testimony in a human rights hearing yesterday on Capitol HillB focused on Bangladesh's longstanding failure to enforce labor laws and increasing violence against labor activists.
Report Aims to Expose Extent of Workplace Death and Disease for Asian Workers. April 26, 2012—Of the 2.2 million people who die each year all over the world as a result of work-related accidents or illness, 1.1 million are Asian, according to a report by the Asia Monitor Resource Centre (AMRC), a Solidarity Center partner.
New Solidarity Center Report Details Hard Life of "Voiceless and Vulnerable" Shrimp Workers in Bangladesh. April 23, 2012—Despite a labor code that addresses pay, working hours and on-the-job conditions, Bangladeshi shrimp-processing workers say they still face inadequate health and safety protections at work and receive less than the minimum wage, according to a new Solidarity Center report.
Kuwait and Bahrain Unions Become First in the Gulf to Forge an Official Trade Union Relationship with Nepal. January 20, 2012—Gulf States are relying on as many as 15 million migrant workers from Asia to grow their economies.
Solidarity Center Launches Pakistani Labor Web News Portal. January 18, 2012—The Solidarity Center has launched its latest online venture, a web portal aimed at disseminating news about issues that affect Pakistani workers to a global audience.
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