Video: Workers’ Role, Power in Global Supply Chains

Video: Workers’ Role, Power in Global Supply Chains

A new Solidarity Center video makes it easy to understand how global supply chains, government inaction, poverty and economic inequality are connected—while highlighting how unions are key to reversing the dynamic that fuels low wages and unsafe workplaces.

In the short, “white board” video, the narrator explains that by using collective power, workers “improve their workplaces, their wages, their families’ living conditions—and they use that power to improve their communities and build democracy.

“In strong democracies, working people hold their governments accountable so more people have better jobs and the dignity everyone deserves.”

The bottom line: “Together we can create better jobs, stronger communities!”

Watch the video and share it broadly!

Thailand Urged to Drop Charges against Rights Defenders

Thailand Urged to Drop Charges against Rights Defenders

The global labor and human rights communities are urging the government of Thailand to drop charges against three human rights defenders who recently released documentation of torture in the country’s three southern provinces, home to a Muslim and ethnic Malay majority.

A decision by Thailand’s public prosecutor on whether to prosecute Somchai Hom La-or, Pornpen Khongkachonkiet and Anchana Heemmina on criminal defamation and computer crimes is expected any day. The charges carry a maximum penalty of seven years’ imprisonment plus fines of up to 300,000 baht ($8,330).

The report, “Torture and Ill Treatment in Thailand’s Deep South,” published in February 2016, describes 54 cases of alleged torture by the Royal Thai Police and Royal Thai Army. The human rights nonprofits, Cross Cultural Foundation (CrCF) and Duay Jai Group published the report.

In May 2016, Thailand’s Internal Security Operations Command filed a complaint against the three, claiming the reputation of the army was damaged by the allegations, and alleged the human rights activists had not cooperated with authorities to provide more information on the cases raised in the report.

“The charges are used to shut up human rights defenders, but we will not back down from exposing rights violations,” Somchai Hom La-or said last year after being charged with defamation.

“For a conflict-ridden region like the deep south, we need to expose human rights violations to bring true peace.”

The global labor and human rights communities are urging the Thai government to drop charges against the three and amend the nation’s penal code to remove criminal penalties for defamation.

Hom La-or, a CrCF advisor, is founder and secretary-general of the Human Rights and Development Foundation (HRDF), a Solidarity Center partner that focuses on migrant worker rights. He has actively defended human rights in Thailand for decades, since the start of the country’s modern human rights movement. In October 1973, while studying for a law degree from Thammasat University, Somchai Hom La-or became a leader in the mass student-led protests against the military dictatorship that had ruled the country for over a decade.

Pornpen Khongkachonkiet is director of CrCF, which assists marginalized communities, especially torture victims and their families in Southern Thailand, access justice. Anchana Heemmina is founder and director of Duay Jai Group (Hearty Support Group), and Patani Human Rights Organization Network.


Solidarity Center Backs Migrant Workers, Refugees

Solidarity Center Backs Migrant Workers, Refugees

The toxic spread of xenophobia, racism, misogyny and fear marginalizes millions of migrant workers and refugees—further disenfranchising people whose jobs do not lift them from poverty, afford them safe workplaces or uphold their dignity. The Solidarity Center is fighting this ugly trend through programs that recognize the human rights of workers, support their dreams of a better life and ensure their safety on the road and at their destination.

In 2015, more than 240 million people were international migrants, most having bravely risked the unknown for an opportunity at a better future or to escape violence, repression and injustice at home. This mass movement of people is the backbone of wealth created in the global economy, and it has the potential to be a positive force in the fight against poverty and inequality.

Labor migration—which accounts for 150 million international migrants—generates billions of dollars in economic activity every year. For individuals, a job in another country, under the right circumstances, can provide a life- and family-sustaining career. Hundreds of thousands of African workers who cross borders on the continent, for example, moving means finding paid work where none exists at home. Meanwhile, another 65 million people globally have fled tragedy, persecution and war, uprooting their families to seek what most people want: a stable, safe life.

Despite their varied motivations for leaving, these women and men have one thing in common: They all deserve respect, decent work and dignity.

Jordan, migrant workers, domestic workers, decent work, Solidarity Center

Domestic workers in Jordan formed a worker rights network that includes migrant workers from Bangladesh, Indonesia, the Philippines and Sri Lanka. Credit: Solidarity Center/Francesca Ricciardone

The Solidarity Center works around the world to ensure that the rights of migrant workers and refugees of any category are respected, and partners with unions and worker-rights organizations to extend workplace protections to all workers. Together, we focus on creating safe migration processes for workers, including greater regulation of labor recruiters and the elimination of recruitment fees to prevent debt bondage. We also support the creation of networks among partners in origin and destination countries to ensure that migrant workers are protected along their journey. In 2016, we had migrant rights-supporting programs in 21 countries, reaching more than 15,000 workers.

The Solidarity Center also engages with partners to defend against xenophobia, racism and discrimination toward migrant workers, advocating for equal treatment and full rights for all workers. In addition, the Solidarity Center is exploring how unions and labor-support organizations may help promote integration of refugees and displaced persons into labor markets, breaking down the artificial categories used to divide workers, degrade working conditions and lower wages.

For example:

In Mexico, the Solidarity Center and its partners organize migrant workers, in their communities and prior to departure, helping them know and defend their rights, and resist rampant exploitation in the labor recruitment system.

Haitian workers in the Dominican Republic have few rights on the job. Credit: Solidarity Center/Ricardo Rojas

The Solidarity Center has partnered with unions and worker associations in the Dominican Republic to organize Haitian migrant workers and their descendants, who work in agriculture, domestic work, construction and as market vendors. We have supported trainings on worker rights and the legal processes to regularize their status in the country.

Also in the Americas, we support migrant agricultural workers in Costa Rica from Nicaragua and Panama. These workers, who occupy the most precarious jobs, are legally excluded from the rights that other workers enjoy. We help them as they build new unions, promote migrant worker leaders and push for collective bargaining agreements—establishing wages that can lift them out of poverty.

In Thailand, we support workers from Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar—fleeing poverty, conflict, repression and climate change—by helping unions and nongovernmental organizations develop capacity to represent migrant worker and refugee populations, and ensure their access to labor rights.

The Solidarity Center-supported online labor rights portal, Wedabima in Sri Lanka was accessed by users more than 250,000 times across 140 countries between April and September 2016. Tens of thousands of Sri Lankans working abroad accessed the Sinhala-language website, including those working in South Korea (73,933 sessions); Kuwait (46,827 sessions); Qatar (33,317 sessions); the United Arab Emirates (27,468 sessions); Israel (16,950 sessions); and Saudi Arabia (10,272 sessions).

The Solidarity Center also fights human trafficking around the world. For example, we assisted the repatriation of migrant workers who had been trafficked to Malaysia from Indonesia, and helped—in collaboration with the Indonesian Migrant Workers Union (SBMI) and Jakarta Legal Aid Association—Indonesian seafarers who had been trafficked onto foreign fishing vessels in Trinidad and Tobago win restitution.

In Ukraine and Moldova, we work with trade unions, civil society and the government to advocate for migrant workers. In both countries, Solidarity Center-supported lawyers provide direct consultations and rights training, including for internally displaced people, an especially urgent priority in Ukraine, which has 1.8 million displaced people.

The Solidarity Center provides pre-departure training and other resources to workers in Kyrgyzstan who emigrate to Russia in search of jobs. Our programs and materials explain the legal rights of migrant workers, the conditions they may encounter as migrant workers, and sources of assistance if they encounter problems.

Fauzia Muthoni Wanjiru from Kenya describes her ordeal as a domestic worker in Saudia Arabia at the Solidarity Center labor migration conference. Credit: Solidarity Center/Evidence Holdings 

And in January 2017, the Solidarity Center convened more than 130 union leaders, migrant worker rights advocates and international human rights officials from nearly two dozen countries and 57 organizations in South Africa for the conference, “Achieving Fair Migration: Roles of African Trade Unions and Their Partners,” to raise migrant worker voices, assess the challenges faced by migrant workers, share strategies for empowering them and map out plans for changing policies and laws to provide migrant workers fundamental workplace rights. (See also the AFL-CIO statement, “Attacking Immigrants and Refugees Hurts All Working People.”)

We are working on the frontlines with migrant workers, standing up for opportunity, dignity, fair economies and worker rights. Will you help us do more? Your donation will support our redoubled efforts in 2017 to fight dangerous trends to diminish worker rights.

Global Unions Rally for 350 Fired Georgia Workers

Global Unions Rally for 350 Fired Georgia Workers

Some 350 workers at the Georgia chemical company Rustavi Azot recently were dismissed without notice or compensation and nearly 2,000 more threatened with firing unless they accept new, short-term contracts. The actions by the company, which produces mineral fertilizers, ammonia, sodium cyanide and nitric acid, generated protests in Rustavi and Tbilisi, garnered international support and prompted local media speculation about potentially questionable business dealings by the company’s former owner, Bank of Georgia.

The workers did not receive notice or access to union representation before being fired in January. Instead, they learned they had been dismissed when their passes failed to grant them access to the plant. Workers protesting their dismissals on February 2 suffered broken ribs and other injuries after they were violently removed from the company building by police.

Workers still employed at the plant say they were confronted with new contracts and threatened by their employer with firing if they refused to sign, and denied union representation and legal consultation. They say their future with the company is now uncertain.

Solidarity Center partner Georgian Trade Union Confederation (GTUC) is leading a legal challenge on behalf of dismissed workers, asserting that the firings violate Georgia’s labor code and the employer’s collective bargaining agreement with the Trade Union of Metallurgy, Mining and Chemical Industry Workers of Georgia (TUMMCIWG), a GTUC affiliate. With Solidarity Center assistance, the GTUC is preparing lawsuits against the company, demanding reinstatement or the compensation to which workers are entitled.

Workers from multiple unions, including representatives from IndustriAll affiliates in Armenia, Belarus and Kyrgyzstan joined members of TUMMCIWG and the GTUC for a global solidarity rally this week in Rustavi, presenting to fired workers letters of support from trade unions in Moldova, Russia and Ukraine.

Some Georgia media outlets are questioning how Rustavi Azot changed hands last September through a secretive auction shortly after receiving a $155 million loan from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD).

Rustavi Azot, located 14 miles south from Tbilisi, generated 84 percent of its sales last year from exports, including to some European Union countries.

Migrant Farm Workers: Courage in the Face of Inhumanity

Migrant Farm Workers: Courage in the Face of Inhumanity

Seventeen years ago, Chris Muwani migrated from Zimbabwe to South Africa, where he works on a tomato farm. If he does not fulfill his daily quota, he is not paid for the day. So to complete his workload, he often does not walk the long distance to access the toilet or fresh water. On a nearby banana plantation, France Mnyike, a migrant farm worker from Mozambique, also says fresh water is hard to access.

“Some people even faint out of dizziness because of lack of water,” he says, speaking through a translator. “Two ladies fainted and eventually died because of dehydration.”

Both men spoke this morning on the final day of the Solidarity Center’s January 25–27 labor migration conference in South Africa, where more than 130 union leaders, migrant worker rights advocates and top international human rights officials from nearly two dozen countries are discussing strategies for improvin­­­­­­­­g migrant worker rights in Africa.

Throughout the conference, “Achieving Fair Migration: Roles of African Trade Unions and Their Partners,” union leaders and migrant rights advocates have explored the xenophobia, racism and sexism migrant workers face, and sought to increase vital connections between unions and civil society organizations to campaign for laws and policies to level the playing field for migrant workers.

Some 34 million Africans are migrants—the majority are workers moving across borders in search of jobs that can support their families. As around the world, migrant workers in Africa  are cheated of wages wages (which is a modern form of forced labor) and coerced to work in dangerous and unhealthy working conditions.

“We use a chemical to spray grass but you don’t have rubber boots or a respirator but you are working with poison,” says Muwani. “If you protest about safety conditions, many people are fired.”

When Mnyike broke his leg at work, his employer did not provide medical aid and his leg remains fractured. Even if his workplace offered emergency care, says Mnyike, the employer would “deduct the cost from your salary.”

Both men also describe how they experience xenophobia at their workplaces and in their communities.

Muwani often is called derogatory names because he is from Zimbabwe, and says “even my kids are discriminated against. The kids tell them, ‘We will not play with you guys, you are not worthy of us as friends.”

Far from his wife and children, who remain in Mozambique, Mnyike continues working on the planation to support them, despite treatment so brutal that “those who die on the farm are thrown in the midst of the bananas,” he says. “They are not buried.”

Conference participants, including leadership from the South African Farm and Agricultural Workers Union (FAWU), responded by noting that we must continue to organize and recognize that workers are all African, moving beyond xenophobia.

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