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.”
Brazilian communities along a river near the Amazon are celebrating the government’s decision to halt a blasting and dredging project that could destroy their livelihoods and severely damage the environment. Earlier this month, the Public Prosecutor’s Office recommended that the Brazilian Institute of the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA) suspend its preliminary license for the Araguaia-Tocantins waterway project in the state of Pará.
In suspending the license, the government cited the absence of prior consultation with residents who would be impacted, especially Indigenous communities and quilombolas, and the lack of information on the effects of the project on the communities.
The victory “has impacts not just for the local community, but also for the state and even further,” says Carmen Foro, speaking through an interpreter. Foro, a rural activist from the area, is former secretary-general of the Unity Worker Center in Brazil (CUT). “I feel that I and other community members are being heard, that we have opened a dialogue that this project can’t happen without our participation.” (Foro described her community’s fight for survival in a Solidarity Center Podcast episode last year.)
The project would have involved heavy dredging of the Tocantins River and require removing miles of the rocky Pedral do Lourenço river bed to increase navigability during the dry season and facilitate commodity export. IBAMA approved the preliminary license to begin the project in October 2022, ignoring several government agency recommendations.
Key to Success: Mobilizing a Diverse Coalition
Members of the Caravan in Defense of the River Tocantins meet with residents of Nova Ipixuna to discuss a proposed waterway project that threatened livelihoods and the environment. Credit: Amazon Community
“This time in world history, it is really important to connect to the diversity around us,” Foro said. The campaign was victorious because “we created a grand alliance between the unions and with other movements, like quilombos, the Catholic Church, young people, women, fishers. And that alliance is what gave us strength.
“It was a collective struggle.”
These diverse groups, with support from the Solidarity Center, formed the Caravan in Defense of the Tocantins River to raise awareness about the negative impacts of the waterway construction and demand that the government honor international treaties respecting Indigenous and Tribal People’s right to safeguard and manage the natural resources on their lands. They reached thousands of people, through riverside meetings and in online forums.
With its strength in workers’ collective voice, the Brazilian labor movement was well-positioned to respond to the needs of workers and their communities, including the impact of climate change and environmental degradation on jobs and communities. “The unions in those cities are kind of seen as the principal organization in the social movements,” she said. “Along with the CUT, they were able to be an umbrella organization and give us support.”
The Struggle for Democracy Cannot Rest
Foro, who recently was selected by the new administration of President Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva to serve in the Ministry of Women, says “many women will be impacted by this project, and through my role now at the Ministry of Women, I plan to be alongside the women who are going to be impacted by this project.”
The license suspension is a huge victory, but the process is not over. “Everyone knows that this recommendation doesn’t resolve the issue,” she says. “The problem is still there and it will be a long journey. There still will be something in the middle between this recommendation.”
While she is hopeful about working with the new administration, whose election with the support of union and community groups opened dialogue with historically marginalized communities along the Amazon, Foro is keenly aware they must work to ensure the democratic process thrives.
“It’s important that we continue the fight, continue the struggle. Even with a democratically elected government that is representative now, there is still pressure that is coming from all different sides. The workers are part of that, but also there is the pressure from large companies, and agro-business as well. We have to continue to fight.”
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)
A community that makes its livelihood from the Amazon is standing up to the Brazilian government that, without consulting the people most affected, is on the verge of undertaking a blasting and dredging project along a river waterway that would destroy their livelihoods.
“We know that if this hydro way is constructed, then it will bring with it agribusiness interests, monoculture, land conflicts, pollution, a lack of respect for the populations who live there,” Foro says.
“Unchecked greed—by governments and corporations—has fueled environmental destruction and climate change, worsened inequality and eroded worker rights,” says podcast host and Solidarity Center Executive Director Shawna Bader-Blau.
Foro describes how a diverse coalition that includes representatives from the Quilombolo community, fishers, family farmers, youth, women and a range of grassroots groups formed the Caravan in Defense of the Tocantins River to raise awareness about the negative impacts of the waterway construction.
“We want public policies to preserve the river. And we believe this is the democratic way to build and preserve our rights. This is the way to ensure our future and our life.”
Climate change and environmental degradation have exacerbated gender inequality and worsened existing inequities resulting from resource scarcity, conflict and climate-related shocks. Women workers—particularly those in the informal economy—bear significant burdens due to the impacts of the climate crisis.
Listen to this article.
Trade union women, activists and advocates gathered on March 17 for a virtual panel to discuss the impacts of climate change on women workers and the importance of their inclusion in developing climate solutions. The panel was sponsored by HomeNet International, HomeNet South Asia, International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), Rutgers Center for Women’s Global Leadership (CWGL), StreetNet, Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing (WIEGO), the Global Alliance of Waste Pickers and the Solidarity Center.
Sonia Mistry, Solidarity Center Global Lead on Climate Change and Just Transition, moderated the panel. She framed the discussion, saying, “There is no denying that the impacts of climate change are already being felt around the world, with many of the worst impacts being experienced by those who have contributed least to the problem.” Mistry outlined the panel’s objectives, including highlighting the impact of climate change on women workers, emphasizing the role of workers and their organizations as critical partners in driving worker-responsive climate solutions, and recognizing that climate action requires coalition-building across social movements.
Navya D’Souza, Regional Coordinator for HomeNet South Asia, spoke about how climate change affects women workers in South Asia, where her organization represents 900,000 workers, 95 percent of whom are women. “Climate change is also a very, very gendered issue,’ she said. And home-based workers are seeing “an exponential increase in their already unfair burden of care work. This affects their ability to participate in the labor market.”
D’Souza said climate change also means more dangerous working conditions for home-based women workers. “Heat is rising, and because heat is rising, it affects our productivity,” she said. “We cannot work when it is too hot, and in urban settings, we live in crowded slum settlements. There is no respite from the heat, and we can’t go outside and work because it’s hot outside as well.”
D’Souza said HomeNet South Asia studied the impacts of climate change in South Asia by reaching out to 200 women across five locations in Bangladesh, India and Nepal. The study found that:
66 percent reported a loss of income due to heat and water stressors.
33 percent reported health implications, such as waterborne diseases, and increased healthcare spending.
47 percent reported an increase in unpaid care work, making it difficult for them to operate in the labor market.
A home-based worker focused on tailoring, pearl stringing and applying Kundan stones on fabric work, Sushma Mishra spoke of how climate change has impacted her work. “The roof of my house is made of cement, so it is very hot,” she said. “We face a very difficult situation in cold weather. It is very cold so we have to use electricity when working inside the house. We have to use lights. And there is no ventilation. There are no windows in the house. So that is a major challenge we are facing.”
Due to climate change, the frequency and severity of natural disasters also impact women workers. Albertina Simango, Vice President of Associação da Economia Informal de Moçambique (AEIMO) said, “Here in Mozambique particularly, because of the country’s geographic location, we have been suffering many natural events provoked by climate change. Just to give you an example, in less than 20 years, we have been hit by more than 15 climate events.”
Natural disasters, Simango said, have caused a steep increase in the growth of the informal sector. “Unfortunately, women are the base of the pyramid. The vulnerability of informal women workers is so bad that even children are affected,” she said. “I feel very sad to see women who lose everything they had because of climate events, and afterward they have to have their children negotiate and do business to help support the families.”
Additionally, women workers often work longer hours and face violence and harassment due to traditional gender roles.”They have to work very, very long hours to support their families. Some of them have to work 18 hours a day. This means getting up at 5 a.m. when it’s still dark and going back home at 9 p.m.”
According to Rina Begum, President of the Bangladesh Waste Pickers Union, environmental workers like waste pickers get short shrift. “Waste pickers keep the city clean, but they don’t get good prices. We have no value. If the government provided jobs, we could have a better life.”
In Brazil, Carmen Helena Ferreira Foro, secretary-general, Central Única dos Trabalhadores (CUT), said that the effects of climate change are exacerbated by industrial projects that do not consider the impact and are slow to benefit indigenous populations. “Everything is interconnected,” Foro said, “deforestation, water problems, rains — all the causes and effects of climate change impact the livelihoods of indigenous populations.”
“I am a family farmer from a part of the Amazon. I have to daily live with large projects in the Amazon region. They do not consider people’s lives. They exploit them and never redistribute the meaning of this energy,” she said.
“It took us 20 years to get any energy after they built a dam,” she said. “And now we are undergoing a new phase of building a waterway in the same river that was already affected.”
Sharon Bhagwan-Rolls, Regional Manager of the Shifting the Power Coalition, wrapped up the discussion by emphasizing the importance of including women workers in planning responses to climate-related disasters. “We’ve been working to ensure that women who have the knowledge, skills and capacity can articulate their needs and be at the table as they want to, and to be able to lead in disaster planning and response.
“The response aspect of disaster management is critical because the economic strategy, the recovery strategy, is vital at that stage,” Bhagwan-Rolls said. “The post-disaster needs assessment requires the feminist analysis, requires the visibility of women, particularly women workers in all the diversities presented by the speakers today.”
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