In Africa, the Solidarity Center strives to help build the labor movement and promote worker rights by organizing workers and strengthening their voice at the bargaining table; protecting their rights on the job and ending the scourge of child labor, forced labor and human trafficking.
Although many countries in sub-Saharan Africa are seeing tremendous economic growth through oil and mineral exports, the emergence of a textile sector and expanding foreign investment, workers and their families are not sharing in the prosperity.
Instead, 75 percent of the world’s poorest countries are located in Africa, and of the 1.2 billion people living below the poverty level in 2010, 48 percent were in Africa. Approximately one in three people living in sub-Saharan Africa are undernourished. Although most regions around the world forecast that fewer than 6 percent of their population will live below the poverty line in 2015, the rate in Africa is projected to be 42.3 percent.
With few formal, full-time jobs available, increasing numbers of workers are turning to the informal economy to support their families. Trade unions across the continent are reaching out to street vendors, domestic workers, agricultural employees and others in the informal economy to provide a collective voice for achieving social benefits, higher wages and job stability. Their efforts recognize that sustainable development and inclusive economic growth are only possible when gender inequity, a key human rights component, is integrated throughout the process.
In 2000, the United States passed the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), which gives eligible sub-Saharan countries duty-free access to the U.S. market for a variety of products. To qualify, countries must take measures that promote good governance and a fair economic system. These include fundamental labor rights; the rule of law and political pluralism; a system to combat corruption; and economic policies that reduce poverty, increase access to health care and education and expand physical infrastructure.
In June 2014, Swaziland lost eligibility for benefits under the AGOA because the Swazi government had not demonstrated progress on the protection of internationally recognized worker rights, in particular, protecting freedom of association and the right to form unions.
In the 15 years AGOA has been in effect, it has increased exports from sub-Saharan Africa but has not spurred broader development or fostered a robust and equitable economic system. AGOA is due for reauthorization in September 2015. Reauthorization represents an opportunity to promote a coherent regional policy that benefits African workers and communities and addresses the challenges of a changing global economy.
Swazi Union Leader Backs AGOA; Country Must Meet Benchmarks. August 15, 2014—U.S. trade benefits for Africa—known as the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA)—provide key economic support for countries such as Swaziland, according to Vincent Ncongwane, secretary general of the Trade Union Confederation of Swaziland (TUCOSWA).
Millions of Working Africans Heard in U.S.-Africa Summit. August 12, 2014—The U.S.-Africa Summit in Washington, D.C., last week stood apart from similar trade and investment meetings held by China or by the European Union because African union leaders, representing millions of working people, made their voices heard, said Imani Countess, Solidarity Center regional program director for Africa.
African Union Leader: Africa Rising Only for the 1 Percent. August 11, 2014—“Africa rising” was the catchphrase buzzing around Washington, D.C., last week, as African heads of state met for a three-day summit with U.S. government and private business.
Mugalla: Trade Agreements Must Ensure Worker Rights. August 8, 2014—Meeting in Washington, D.C., this week, 40 African trade union leaders highlighted creation of good jobs, social protections and freedom to form unions as essential for Africa’s development
Decent Work Means Employment and Rights on the Job. August 8, 2014—During this week’s U.S.-Africa Summit with heads of state in Washington, D.C., more than 40 African trade union leaders took part in parallel meetings to call on U.S. and African leaders to adopt a decent work agenda for trade and economic growth.
Swazi Government Threatens Worker, Human Rights Leaders. August 7, 2014—The Solidarity Center joins the global labor movement and human rights community in condemning the death threat made by the Swazi prime minister against two worker and human rights leaders who traveled to the U.S.-Africa summit this week.
U.S.-Africa Summit: African Unions Say Prioritize Good Jobs, Worker Rights. August 5, 2014—African trade union leaders from across the continent called on U.S. and African leaders to adopt a decent work agenda for trade and economic growth where the creation of good jobs that respect worker rights and provide social protections will lead to greater shared prosperity.
Decent Work High on Agenda for Africa Union Leader' U.S. Meeting. August 1, 2014—Nearly 30 trade union leaders from Africa are meeting in Washington, D.C., over coming days for a series of events to highlight the concerns and needs of working people throughout sub-Saharan Africa.
Survey Reveals Abusive Workplace Conditions for Swazi Textile Workers. July 30, 2014—A recent survey by the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA) of more than 400 textile workers in Manzini, Swaziland, reveals that workers in the textile sector are subject to harsh and sometimes abusive conditions, many of the country’s labor laws are routinely violated by employers, and union activists are targeted by employers for punishment.
African Trade Unions and Africa’s Future: Strategic Choices. July 15, 2014—The rapid economic growth of many African countries is not translating into good jobs or worker rights, especially for women, and worker organizations, governments and business must be more proactive in expanding employment and improving wages and social protections, according to a new Solidarity Center report.
Women-Led Coalition Empowers Women Across the Niger Delta. July 15, 2014—Women Initiative for Transparency and Social Justice (WITSOJ), a coalition of union and community groups, formed in 2007, after a Solidarity Center workshop in Delta State and has since trained more than 5,000 women and young people.
Liberian Workers Seek to Close Wage Gap with Expats. July 1, 2014—Contract negotiations between the United Workers Union of Liberia Local 4 and ArcelorMittal have stalled, with management refusing to agree to the wage increase the workers’ are seeking.
Kenya: Court Rules Domestic Workers Covered by Employment Law. May 6, 2013—Employers in Kenya now must abide by the verbal contracts they make with domestic workers, following a landmark ruling by the nation’s high court that also effectively places domestic workers under Kenya’s employment law.
Kenya: Presidential Candidates Talk Jobs at First-Ever Forum. February 22, 2013— In the largest gathering of presidential candidates organized by civil society in Kenya in the current election, five of eight presidential candidates took part this week in a forum sponsored by the labor movement.
Oretha Tarnue: Mobilizing, Empowering Liberian Domestic Workers. March 6, 2014—Oretha Tarnue, vice president of the United Workers Union of Liberia (UWUL) and a former domestic worker, is spearheading a drive in her country to organize domestic workers who,like their counterparts elsewhere, are routinely exploited by their employers.
Kenya: A Commitment to Unionize Informal-Sector Workers. January 29, 2013— In Kenya, where the informal sector accounts for 80 percent of employment and contributes 25 percent to the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP), union outreach is helping give these workers a voice on the job.
Regional Journalists Union Leadership Conference Opens in Nairobi. May 25, 2012—A two-day regional conference focused on strengthening union leadership within the media industry in Eastern Africa opened in Nairobi, Kenya, yesterday with a clarion call to journalists in the region to overcome their apathy toward advocating for their worker rights.
South African Fights for a New Generation of Domestic Workers. December 12, 2012—Gladys Mnyengeza has been a domestic worker in Cape Town, South Africa, for about 40 years—and knows full well the problems and rewards that come with a job traditionally undervalued and performed by workers at the margins of society.
South Africa Domestic Workers Hold First-Ever National Meeting. December 7, 2012—Dozens of leaders of the South African Domestic Service and Allied Workers Union (SADSAWU) gathered recently in Cape Town in a first-ever national conference to plan organizing and advocacy goals.
Reaching Workers on the Job Key to HIV/AIDS Prevention. November 30, 2012—Roseline Mosibudi Nkgapele, a member of the National Union of Metal Workers of South Africa (NUMSA), has made it her mission to educate workers about HIV/AIDS.
Liberian Union Signs Agreement with Mining Multinational. September 12, 2012—On August 31, the United Workers Union of Liberia (UWUL) signed an historic collective bargaining agreement with the largest mining multinational in Liberia.
AIDS: Workplace Partnerships Have Impact. July 24, 2012—Partners in the global south, particularly in southern Africa, have produced a body of successful workplace interventions and we should not forget the partnerships that work. Op-ed by Solidarity Center Regional Program Director for Africa, Imani Countess.
Liberia: Decent Work in Law and Practice Key to Worker Rights, Says Union Leader. June 21, 2012—In Liberia, unions are working to ensure worker rights are preserved and protected in the country’s rubber industry and beyond.
Labor Delegation Meets with Union Federation in South Sudan. May 11, 2012—A group of international labor representatives visited South Sudan last week to assess worker issues and trade union developments in Africa’s newest country and to identify areas of support and collaboration.