In South and Southeast Asia, the Center helps empower women who work in special export processing zones.
In Asia's export processing zones, sometimes called "factory cities," thousands of workers, 95 percent of them young women, manufacture clothing, shoes, electronic equipment, and other products for shipment to other countries. Often, they are lured from their distant homes by false promises of good wages and benefits. This practice of transporting workers and deceiving them into a life of forced labor in sweatshop conditions is called trafficking. It is a grievous human rights abuse.
The women's workday can be as long as 12 hours, with forced unpaid overtime that brings their actual earnings well below the poverty level. They may be forced to live in squalid barracks right on the factory premises. Sexual harassment from managers is all too common. So is harsh and arbitrary discipline. Workers who try to form unions are routinely fired and blacklisted.
- The Solidarity Center is working to help women in EPZs gain power and a voice in the workplace.
- In Sri Lanka, women leaders from 17 unions are participating in a Center-sponsored trade union forum that aims to help workers in EPZs gain a voice on the job, earn decent wages and benefits, and fight social and economic policies that discriminate against women.
- In the Philippines, thanks to Center-supported union membership drives among women workers in EPZs, more than 5,000 women became union members in a single year.
- Women migrant workers from Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Thailand, Sri Lanka, and the Philippines learned about labor laws and worker rights in their host countries through a regional Solidarity Center program. By promoting standardized work conditions between "sending" and "receiving" countries, the Center is helping to end corrupt recruiting practices that often lead to trafficking.