“Trade unions and NGOs must work together” to end child labor, asserted Nobel Prize winner Kailash Satyarthi as he summed up a two-day gathering of more than 40 child labor activist organizations from around the world in Seville, Spain. Participants at “Forum Spain-Americas: Civil Society for the Sustained Elimination of Child Labor” met last week to discuss United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 8.7, which aims in part at the eradication of child labor.
Satyarthi, founder of the Global March Against Child Labor, a worldwide network of trade unions, civil society organizations and education associations working to end child labor, launched the organization 20 years ago to press for adoption of International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention 138 on eliminating the worst forms of child labor.
“The Global March started out as a movement, which became an organization,” said Solidarity Center Asia Region Director Tim Ryan. “You can identify an issue and create an organization, but you need a vision to create a movement.” Ryan, who serves as chairperson of the Global March Against Child Labor, participated in a panel examining how the Global March’s international work over the years could inform renewed efforts to address child labor in the Western hemisphere.
Ending Child Labor, Ensuring Children Receive Quality Education
The connection of trade unions and civil society organizations in a close partnership has been a unique and important aspect from the inception of Global March, Ryan said. Currently, representatives from Education International, the global union federation of teachers, and trade union activists from Ghana and the United States are Global March Board members.
“It’s no surprise teachers’ unions around the world are part of the Global March,” Ryan said. “A key value underpinning the elimination of child labor has to be the opportunity for children to have a quality education.”
Satyarthi said that education philosophy around the world must be aimed at something greater than turning out consumers.
“Education that just produces makers and lubricators of the global economy is a disaster,” he said. But “there is no dearth of good people and good work who can strengthen our alliances with hope and resolve” to eliminate child labor with committed people and their organizations working for it.
As the number of workers in the informal economy increase around the world, the result is that more and more workers are low paid, with few or no social benefits or job security. In the Dominican Republic, where many in the informal economy are Haitian migrants, the union movement successfully organized those who work in construction and, in the case of domestic workers, played a key role in pushing for passage of the International Labor Organization Domestic Worker Rights Convention 189.
The Dominican Republic labor movement’s strategies for success will be among the examples discussed November 15 during the Solidarity Center launch of the new book, Informal Workers and Collective Action: A Global Perspective. (The event in Washington, D.C., is free. RSVP here.) The book collects case studies from union campaigns in such countries as Brazil, Cambodia and Colombia, bringing together in one volume a compendium of academic field research and concrete grassroots examples
U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Tefere Gebre, Solidarity Center Executive Director Shawna Bader-Blau and international worker rights advocates will explore how unions are using social and economic justice tools to organize workers and share their successes with others seeking dignity on the job, justice in their communities and greater equality in the global economy.
In recent years, Uzbekistan has increased the number of public-sector workers required to pick cotton, because the country nearly ended child labor in 2014 after pressure from the international community, including the Solidarity Center. Recent reports, however, indicate that the practice of forcing children to pick cotton has not ended in all parts of the country, with children sent to the fields.
The return of child labor is one of many examples showing that Uzbekistan’s promised reforms have not yet fully become reality, and the Uzbek cotton fields remain full of abusive practices, even resulting in death. Najmiddin Sarimsoqov, 58, became the first victim to lose his life in the Uzbekistan cotton fields this harvest season when he died of a brain hemorrhage as he prepared to pick cotton in Jizzakh Region’s Zafarobod District on October 8.
Each year, the Uzbekistan government forces approximately 1 million people to work in the country’s cotton fields, picking a crop that makes up nearly a quarter of the nation’s GDP. The Walk Free Foundation, a group committed to ending forced labor, estimates that 4 percent of the country’s population is sent to the fields.
According to experts, the situation in Uzbekistan is unique, since the work is mandated by the government, a practice that dates back to the Soviet era. This makes monitoring and addressing the situation in Uzbekistan even more difficult, because monitoring must be conducted in tandem with Uzbekistan officials.
According to the Cotton Campaign, a coalition of organizations “dedicated to eradicating child and forced labor in cotton production,” of which the Solidarity Center is a member, the Uzbek government’s practice of forcing doctors, nurses, and teachers to work in the fields is extremely detrimental to the nation’s health and education services.
This year, however, the Uzbek government claims to have sent many of these public-sector employees out of the fields and back to their schools and jobs. The decision, made by President Shavkat Miriziyoyev, presumably comes after Jim Yong Kim, president of the World Bank, put pressure on the country to end the horrific practice. However, this situation has not been remedied.
Many of the public employees no longer forced to work are instead required to pay their replacements at costs that are unaffordable. Some teachers, who had been sent back to their classrooms from the fields, were forced to pay $40 to local officials, half of their monthly salary.
Praise for Uzbekistan Liberalized Labor Laws ‘Premature’
Steve Swerdlow, a Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch, called praise of the news regarding Uzbekistan’s supposedly liberalized labor laws “premature,” as long as activists face threats of violence and detention. “President Mirziyoyev’s government should send an unambiguous message to independent activists and cotton monitors that their work is valued and that they will be free to monitor this cotton harvest without retaliation or interference,” he adds.
The Solidarity Center and its partners have long been involved in the fight against forced labor in Uzbekistan. A report released earliert this year highlighted worker rights abuse in areas with World Bank investments. Even more recently, the Uzbek-German Forum published a report on forced labor in these areas, highlighting the World Bank’s failures to stop the practice in areas where it invests, such as Karakalpakstan, a region in the western area of the country. Together with its partners in the Cotton Campaign, the Solidarity Center has joined in calling on the World Bank to live up to its promises in Uzbekistan.
Despite government claims to the contrary, it is clear that Uzbekistan’s cotton fields are still rife with forced labor and child labor, and the Solidarity Center and its allies will continue the struggle for decent work in Central Asia and beyond.
Solidarity Center Executive Director Shawna Bader-Blau says the Solidarity Center will “double down” in its next 20 years on advancing an agenda of inclusion for the global labor movement in asserting the right to form unions. Credit: Kaveh Sadari
“The Solidarity Center is at the forefront of global movements to protect freedom of association and hold corporations accountable,” according to the resolution. “As the Solidarity Center begins its next 20 years, it commits its future to a global labor movement based on true equality and inclusion for all workers.”
“And the Solidarity Center—with you, and with the dozens of unions and millions of workers we can ALL call allies—will double down on that over the next 20 years to make sure it happens.”
CBTU President Terry Melvin was among convention delegates speakng in support of the AFL-CIO resolution on the Solidarity Center’s 20th anniversary. Credit: Solidarity Center/Tula Connell
Bricklayers President Jim Boland introduced the resolution, and representatives of several U.S. unions and affiliated organizations stood to speak in support of Resolution 26: “The Solidarity Center—Twenty Years of Standing up for Workers around the World,” including Coalition of Black Trade Unions (CBTU) President Terry Melvin and IFPTE President Gregg Junemann.
The government in Zimbabwe is moving to ban market vendors in Harare at a time when more than 90 percent of the workforce labors in the informal economy and 85 percent or more Zimbabweans are seeking decent work.
Zimbabweans are struggling for their fundamental right to earn a living. Credit: Thando Khoza
“People who are into street vending are not into it for their liking, but are being forced due to the collapsed economy,” the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) says in a statement.
“Instead of harassing vendors, the government must first of all restore economic growth and create the promised 2.2 million jobs. By doing so, all vendors will vanish overnight,” says ZCTU.
The Zimbabwe Chamber of Informal Economy Associations (ZCIEA), which represents some 200,000 members, has been seeking to address challenges identified by government and business in negotiations with the Harare central business district since January, and urges that “Operation Restore Order” ordered by the Harare City Council acting town clerk not be implemented.
“The laws and regulations which govern the informal economy are very much outdated and informal economy traders are always criminalized or termed illegal,” ZCIEA says in a statement. ZCIEA says the government’s designated vending sites are not accessible to customers because of their distance, and urges continued discussion among vendors and central business district representatives.
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