“The Biden administration’s announcement today represents the first time the U.S. government has made a holistic commitment to global worker rights. If this new global labor strategy is fully resourced and implemented, the United States has a historic opportunity to play a critical role in reversing corporate- and government-supported exploitation of millions of working people and bolster democratic freedoms around the world.
“It is impossible to overstate the need for this long-awaited commitment to worker rights. In many countries where the United States has diplomatic, trade and economic development influence, workers’ ability to exercise everyday democracy—through the rights to form and join unions, strike and bargain together for fair wages and decent working conditions—is consistently repressed, often violently and sometimes fatally. In just the past two months, police allegedly shot and killed three garment workers and injured many more during protests for a higher minimum wage in Bangladesh; entered a labor union leader’s home in the Philippines, shooting him dead; and assaulted workers in Nigeria protesting over lost wages, seriously injuring the union’s leader. This new strategy to advance global labor rights is a roadmap for the U.S. government to expand its use of diplomatic and trade leverage and multilateral tools and settings to garner additional countries’ support for upholding worker rights.
“The U.S. government should use its direct influence or its convening power with other nations to address labor rights repression in places like Belarus and Myanmar, where unions fighting for democracy have been outlawed by their governments, their leaders and members beaten, jailed, sent into exile or killed.
“This all-of-government labor rights strategy should also focus on influencing labor laws and increasing employer accountability. Today, U.S. companies too often treat sourcing like a game of Whac-A-Mole, jumping from country to country when strengthened and enforced labor laws drive workers’ pay closer to a living wage. And, most of the 2 billion people who work in the informal economy, including agriculture and domestic workers, street vendors and drivers and delivery workers in the growing platform economy, have no access to health care, sick leave or support when they are injured or lose their jobs.
“The Biden administration’s trade approach in Mexico has the potential to be a game-changer for workers and an example of this new labor strategy’s potential impact. The U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement includes a rapid response complaint mechanism unions are using to remedy worker rights abuses. Tying worker rights to U.S. market access and investing in independent union organizing has led to an unprecedented growth of democratic unions that represent workers’ interests and are winning wage hikes and safety improvements in factories that supply the U.S. market. Replicating this kind of approach to worker-centered trade policy should be a priority.
“We are hopeful that this commitment to global labor rights will mean workers are represented in conversations about how to sustain good union jobs in communities worldwide that are most impacted by the transition to a clean energy economy. We look forward to workers’ rights and livelihoods becoming front-and-center in conversations about the evolution of technology in the workplace. And, we look forward to expanded investment and prioritization of a worker rights approach to ending gender-based violence and harassment and other forms of exploitation on the job.”
Solidarity Center’s Executive Director Shawna Bader-Blau issued the following statement in response to President Biden and President Lula’s announcement of the U.S.-Brazil Partnership for Workers’ Rights.
“Today’s landmark announcement—and commitment—from the governments of the United States and Brazil affirms respect for freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining, and the essential role of democratic trade unions in advancing a just and vibrant global economy. If the U.S-Brazil Partnership for Workers’ Rights is robustly funded and vigorously implemented, worker rights and decent jobs will be at the center of critical conversations and action on the transition to a clean energy economy, the role of emerging technologies, corporate accountability in supply chains, ending gender-based violence and harassment at work and other global priorities.
The last decade has been a stark one for working people across the globe with significantly curtailed rights, shrinking wages and hampered ability to improve their workplaces and hold corporations and governments accountable for their actions. We hope theU.S-Brazil Partnership for Workers’ Rights is just the beginning of government commitments to put worker rights front and center, not just in Brazil and the United States, but around the world.”
DECLARAÇÃO: O anúncio do Presidente Biden e do Presidente Lula é um passo positivo para o avanço dos direitos dos trabalhadores em todo o mundo
A Diretora Executiva do Solidarity Center, Shawna Bader-Blau, fez a declaração abaixo sobre o anúncio do Presidente Biden e do Presidente Lula da Parceria EUA-Brasil pelos Direitos dos Trabalhadores.
“O anúncio histórico – e o compromisso – realizado hoje pelos governos dos Estados Unidos e do Brasil afirmam o respeito pela liberdade de associação, o direito à negociação coletiva, e o papel essencial dos sindicatos democráticos na promoção de uma economia global justa e pujante. Se a Parceria EUA-Brasil pelos Direitos dos Trabalhadores for financiada e implementada com vigor, os direitos dos trabalhadores e os empregos decentes estarão no centro das conversas críticas e medidas sobre a transição para uma economia de energia limpa, o papel das tecnologias emergentes, a responsabilidade corporativa nas cadeias de suprimentos, o combate à violência e assédio baseados em gênero no trabalho e outras prioridades globais.
A última década foi cruel para os trabalhadores de todo o mundo, com direitos significativamente reduzidos, salários reduzidos e capacidade dificultada de melhorar os seus locais de trabalho e responsabilizar as empresas e os governos pelas suas ações. Esperamos que a Parceria EUA-Brasil pelos Direitos dos Trabalhadores seja apenas o começo dos compromissos do governo para colocar os direitos dos trabalhadores em primeiro plano, não apenas no Brasil e nos Estados Unidos, mas em todo o mundo.”
An unprecedented, binding, worker-centered program designed to comprehensively address rampant gender-based violence and harassment in several garment factories in Lesotho is succeeding in creating a safe and dignified workplace in Lesotho, attendees of a high-level summit in the southern African country were told last week.
The July 27 summit, “Eradicating Gender-Based Violence and Harassment at Work in Southern Africa,” brought together government, labor and business leaders in Maseru, Lesotho’s capital, to highlight advances in ensuring worker rights and civil-society participation—including the program that arose from groundbreaking, anti-GVBH agreements negotiated collaboratively by local unions and women’s rights groups, multinational brands sourcing from Lesotho, international worker rights groups and a Taiwanese factory group producing clothing for Western markets. The event was co-hosted by the Multilateral Partnership for Organizing, Worker Empowerment and Rights (M-POWER), the Lesotho Federation of Trade Unions and Lesotho Labor Council, and was supported by the Solidarity Center.
“I experienced so much harassment at the factory before the program at Nien Hsing was established,” said garment worker Popoti Ntebe. “Because of the high level of unemployment in our country, workers tend to be harassed because of poverty.”
Before the program launched in 2020, Ntebe said a variety of behaviors by supervisors and managers were common, including bullying, verbal and physical abuse, and sexual harassment. The desperation to have a paying job made workers vulnerable to situations where supervisors would demand sex for letting workers past the factory gate, granting overtime work or not terminating a work contract.
“After you were hired, you were given a 3-month contract. Supervisors threaten to terminate the contract if we don’t agree to have sex with them. And workers desperate for work agree,” she said.
However, since the program of education and awareness raising for workers and managers, “the rate of GBVH has really decreased. This program is so beneficial to workers,” she said.
The program has educated thousands of workers and managers about GBVH and worker rights at Nien Hsing factories in the country. It is the first attempt to end GBVH at work that is binding on the factory to implement the program; enforceable through the economic power of U.S. brands; and grounded in ILO Convention 190 on violence and harassment. And, in another milestone, it established an independent organization, Workers’ Rights Watch, to investigate allegations of violence and harassment, and remediate violations–with workers able to report issues to a newly established toll-free information line.
Other speakers on the panel, “How Workers and Companies are Addressing Gender-Based Violence and Harassment in a Global Supply Chain: Focus on the Lesotho Agreements,” were: Jeffrey Hogue, chief sustainability officer, Levi Strauss & Co. (by video); Samuel Mokhele, secretary general, National Clothing Textile and Allied Workers Union (NACTWU); Matsie Moalosi, education and awareness raising facilitator, NACTWU; Itumeleng Moerane, information line manager, Federation of Women Lawyers Lesotho (FIDA); Motseoa Senyane, lead assessor, Workers’ Rights Watch; and Leeto Makoro, shop steward, Independent Democratic Union of Lesotho (IDUL). Thusoana Ntlama, programs coordinator of FIDA Lesotho, moderated the panel.
Samuel Mokhele emphasized the importance of collaboration in addressing GBVH in Lesotho’s garment factories. “We came together with international organizations we are working with, namely the Solidarity Center, then we asked what we can do to eliminate the challenges that workers are facing at work,” he said. “We learned from other countries what kind of models they had and how we could domesticate that into our country.
“This is where all of us came up with the agreement to have a program on gender-based violence and harassment,” Mokhele added.
Speaking on behalf of educators and facilitators, Matsie Moalosi stressed the importance of addressing the root causes of GBVH and collaboration across cultures in addressing GBVH. “There are root causes to GBVH. So we have to remove them: the abuse of power, disrespect of women’s rights and gender equity. We are from different cultures. So we have to know about gender and how it’s diverse in order to accommodate LGBTQIA+ because they are people who are most vulnerable in the workplace,” Moalosi said.
Itumeleng Moerane and Motseoa Senyane emphasized the importance of the principle of confidentiality throughout the process of gathering workers’ reports of GBVH through the information line, then investigating and making determinations on remedies for valid cases, with the express consent of workers.
To date, Senyane said, Workers’ Rights Watch has issued 108 determinations, and five cases are currently under investigation.
But, more importantly, she said, “This program puts justice in the hands of workers.”
The program’s power to right injustices has elicited calls from workers in other factories and organizations, panelists said. Currently, the work is limited to factories owned by Nien Hsing, a signatory to the agreements. However, the need is great.
“Some of our (union) members are interested in the program but it’s only at Nien Hsing, as a pilot. It would be helpful to extend it to other factories,” said Mokhele.
M-POWER is a historic global initiative focused on ensuring working families thrive in the global economy and elevating the role of trade unions and organized workers as essential to advancing democracy. The government of the United States and the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) co-chair M-POWER, joined by steering committee members: the governments of Argentina, Canada and Spain; the International Domestic Worker Federation; the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU); the AFL-CIO; and Funders Organized for Rights in the Global Economy (FORGE). Additional partners include the governments of Germany and South Africa, Business and Human Rights Resource Centre, Global Labor Justice-International Labor Rights Forum, ProDESC, Solidarity Center and Worker Rights Consortium.
Event partners for this M-POWER summit were: the Congress of South African Trade Unions; Federation of Women Lawyers Lesotho; Independent Democratic Union of Lesotho; International Domestic Workers Federation; International Trade Union Confederation-Africa; International Trade Union Confederation; National Clothing, Textile and Allied Workers Union; Southern Africa Trade Union Coordination Council; United Textile Employees, Lesotho; Women and Law in Southern Africa Research and Education Trust; Worker Rights Consortium and Workers’ Rights Watch.
More than 1,000 workers were impacted by the sudden closure, during vacation, of the U.S.-owned Vald’or factory. They did not receive severance pay, as required by law.
In late December 2021, the factory owner sent a text message to workers asking them to return to work on January 6, 2022. Shortly after, workers received a second message telling them not to return, and the factory remained closed.
A month later, workers who lived near the factory witnessed the owner leaving the building with materials. The workers asked the owner what was happening. They were told that the factory was closing due to bankruptcy and a lack of orders.
Workers began demonstrating at the factory that evening and spent the night there. They called the Haitian Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor (MAST), and the next day, MAST representatives came to the factory along with the factory owner to meet with the workers, where the owner confirmed the factory’s closure.
The workers reached out to leaders of the Association of Textile Workers’ Unions for Re-importation (GOSTTRA), affiliated with the Confederation of Public and Private Sector Workers (CTSP), and Respect for Haitian factory workers (ROHAM), affiliated with Centrale Nationale des Ouvriers Haitians (CNOHA). GOSTTRA called on workers to meet at MAST’s regional headquarters on February 3 to ask that workers receive the severance pay and benefits owed them. Both unions at the factory, with the support of the Solidarity Center and Worker Rights Consortium, worked with Better Work Haiti, the Association of Industries of Haiti (ADIH), MAST and the government’s Textile Ombudsperson’s Office (BMST) to trace and contact workers, calculate what each worker was owed and inform workers about the distribution process.
PVH Corp, the owner of Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein, agreed to cover workers’ severance and pension contributions, totaling $1 million. Severance pay for most workers was the equivalent of a half- or full-year’s wages. A number of women had health insurance claims, which were also covered.
GOSTTRA leadership heralds this victory for the factory workers–and for the entire Haitian labor movement. “What we learned from this experience is that if all the unions could work together, we would be better able to achieve our goals,” they say in a written statement.
The Brazilian Ministry of Labor and Employment (MTE) rescued 39 workers, including children, in February from modern slavery in the state of Santa Catarina. Over half of them were Venezuelan migrants who had moved to the state via the government’s Operation Welcome program.
A construction company enticed the workers through social media posts in Venezuela, offering jobs building warehouses and promising good pay, safe work conditions, free housing and meals for the workers and their families. When workers arrived, however, they discovered that their “housing” lacked beds or bathrooms, and they were forced to build their own accommodations, which all of the workers and their families had to share. Meanwhile, none of the workers were provided signed labor documents, which meant they were neither formally hired nor had they access to work benefits.
Around the world, it is not uncommon for migrant workers to be promised decent work for good wages only to find upon arrival to a new country that they have been tricked. Not unlike the rescued Venezuelas, they often face wage theft, unsafe working conditions, abuse and exploitation.
Since 2018, the Solidarity Center in Brazil has worked to connect migrant workers to unions and strengthen collective action. The migration program raises awareness on the specific struggles of the migrant workers, shares best practices and tools with local union partners to increase migrant affiliation, and promotes social dialogue for the development of local public policies on migration through a labor movement perspective.
In recognition of its unique perspective and relationships with partner unions, the Solidarity Center was invited to join a new working group created by the Brazilian Ministry of Justice to discuss and propose a new national migration policy for adoption by the new government. The group held its first meeting March 3.
In partnership with the Center for Human Rights and Immigrant Citizenship (CDHIC) through the SindicAndo project, the migration program led to the 2022 creation of the National Network of Unions for the Protection of the Migrant Worker, which already has more than 80 members among local unions, national trade union centers, federations, confederations and global union federations. The program also supported the General Workers’ Union (UGT) Amazonas branch in the creation of the Venezuelan Association in Amazonas (ASOVEAM), which became an UGT affiliate. As of today, ASOVEAM is the head of the Committee for Migrant and Refugee Policies of Manaus, the capital of Amazonas.
The Solidarity Center, with Brazilian trade union federation CUT’s affiliate, the National Confederation of Construction and Wood Industry Workers (CONTICOM/CUT), is working to strengthen union action and confront and combat precarious work through national awareness-raising and affiliation campaigns in the Combating Precarious Work in the Construction and Wood Sectors. The project has mapped worker rights issues in the sector. According to CONTICOM, workers’ main challenges in the sector are: informal hiring, construction companies not providing personal protective equipment and/or bathrooms, the lack of government inspections of work sites, wage theft and harassment, including gender-based harassment.
Workshop on Labor and Social Rights for migrant workers in Manaus (Source: SindicAndo/CDHIC)
CONTICOM’s capacity building workshop on communication (Source: CONTI)
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