Some two dozen human rights organizations are condemning the detention of two Nepali domestic workers in Lebanon, one of whom was deported.
Sushila Rana and Roja Maya Limbu were detained “without formal and clear explanation of the charges levelled against them,” according to the International Domestic Workers Federation (IDWF). Rana was deported December 10 (International Human Rights Day), while Limbu has been detained for more than a week without access to a lawyer.
(Your organization can sign the joint statement by IDWF, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), Human Rights Watch and other human rights organizations.)
Sushila Rana and Roja Maya Limbu spoke at the founding congress of the domestic workers’ union in Lebanon in January 2015. Credit: IDWF
The two woman helped found the domestic workers’ union in Lebanon in January 2015.
“This is a serious violation of basic human rights and (the International Labor Organization’s) core conventions on the right to organize and on freedom of association,” says Myrtle Witbooi, IDWF president. “We also call on the government of Lebanon to observe and abide by Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which ensures the right to be free from arbitrary arrest and detention.”
Migrant Workers Exploited, Have Few Rights
Migrant workers to the Middle East are rarely protected by labor laws and generally denied the ability to exercise fundamental human rights, including freedom of association, which makes them vulnerable to exploitation and abuse, according to a recent report by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of assembly and of association. Migrant domestic workers in Lebanon commonly report non-payment of wages, forced confinement, employers’ refusal to provide time off, and verbal and physical abuse.
Like most migrant workers around the world, many are forced to go into debt to pay excessive fees to labor brokers to obtain the jobs. Once in the country, they are governed by the repressive kafala system, which ties a domestic workers’ visa and work permit to one employer. Kafala results in situations where employers have unchecked control over migrant workers, exposing the latter to greater risk of exploitation and abuse.
Freedom of movement for the estimated 250,000 migrant domestic workers in Lebanon is restricted by employers who take workers’ passports and laws that limit their access to public places like restaurants, unless accompanied by their employer.
A 2010 Human Rights Watch report said that migrant domestic workers in Lebanon were dying of unnatural causes at a rate of one per week. Most of the deaths were attributed to suicide — many of the victims were falling from buildings while apparently trying to escape their employers.
On the eve of the tragic Tazreen Factory Ltd. fire that in 2012 killed 112 garment workers in Bangladesh, Solidarity Center Executive Director Shawna Bader-Blau discussed on the Working Life podcast published today how global inequities led to Tazreen and to the 2013 Rana Plaza building collapse in Bangladesh—and how unions can enable workers to help prevent such disasters.
Describing her visit to the burned-out Tazreen factory, Bader-Blau says workers who survived the collapse met with her.
“They told me that they had tried to form unions in that building … and their union organizing efforts were busted by the supervisors and the employers,” she says. “They told me that had they had trade unions, they really believe they would have had more power vis à vis the supervisors and the company to negotiate things like safety improvements for themselves and adequate wages for themselves and their families.
“When workers do have the ability to form and join trade unions, they can bargain to improve their wages, they can bargain with their employers to make their conditions better. Work should be about dignity.”
Listen to the full podcast here.
On November 24, 2012, a massive fire tore through the Tazreen Fashions Ltd. factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh, killing more than 110 garment workers and gravely injuring thousands more.
To mark the fourth anniversary of Tazreen, a new Solidarity Center photo essay depicts the system of exploitation in the global garment industry that made the fire at Tazreen so devastating, and showcases how workers have been standing together since the disaster to fight for safer working conditions and greater respect for their rights at work.
Dying for a Job: Commemorating the Anniversary of the 2012 Tazreen Factory Fire, illustrates how with the Solidarity Center, which partners with unions and other organizations to educate workers about their rights on the job, garment workers are empowered with the tools they need to improve their workplaces together.
In Binga, a small community 400 miles west of Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital, residents support themselves and their families fishing the vast Lake Kariba. With no industry in the area, they depend on the lake for their livelihoods. Yet they say they face constant challenges in making a living—the biggest of which is harassment from officials.
“We are oppressed by the … authorities. Our fish are confiscated”—Alice Mudenda, a fisher in Binga Credit: ZCIEA
“We are oppressed by the … authorities,” says Alice Mudenda, a fisher in Binga. “Our fish are confiscated by either the police, rural district council or National Parks officials under unclear circumstances.”
Binga fishers must have a license to fish—yet it only can be obtained in Harare, an eight-hour journey, and the cost, up to $2,000 every three months, is well beyond their means.
Some 94 percent of Zimbabwe workers make their living outside the formal economy, and yet like Mudenda, they say they are harassed and bullied by authorities, according to a survey by the Zimbabwe Chamber of Informal Economy Associations (ZCIEA), a Solidarity Center ally.
81% of Zimbabwe Informal Economy Workers Bullied or Threatened
Eighty-one percent of the 514 respondents say they have been bullied, with 22 percent specifying that the harassment involved both confiscation of goods and threats of violence.
Some 36 percent noted the source of harassment stemmed both from the local authorities and the Zimbabwe Republic Police, the national police force of Zimbabwe, with 32 percent citing local authorities as the biggest source of harassment.
The ZCIEA survey also found widespread fear and distrust of law enforcement officers, with 82 percent of respondents saying they had not reported their harassment to police because police are the harassers (46 percent) or they fear police (17 percent).
Market Vendor Law Targets Livelihoods
In June, the Zimbabwe government introduced a statutory law that bans imports of basic commodities—a law that directly affects hundreds of thousands of informal economy workers who survive on cross-border trading. Merchants in towns like Beitbridge, which borders South Africa, reported plummeting sales after the law’s passage.
Tens of thousands of market vendors protested the new law, joined by civil servants outraged over the government’s refusal to pay their salaries, holding a successful one-day shut-down of businesses, government and services July 6.
The survey covered 25 areas across the country, with 53 percent of respondents women and 40 percent men (7 percent did not answer). The majority are between ages 35 and 44 (35 percent), followed by 25–34 years (27 percent) and 45–54 years (16 percent).
ZCIEA was formed in 2004, when the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU)/Commonwealth Trade Union Council (CTUC) project began working with 22 trader associations to launch an umbrella organization to better coordinate efforts.
ZCIEA, with 198,466 registered members, offers training and legal support, along with legislative advocacy. In the report, the association points to the need to address the widespread harassment of informal economy workers by developing programs that further empower members, including workshops on legal rights and representation and preventing sexual harassment.
When the employer of a migrant domestic worker takes her passport and refuses to return it if she seeks to leave, that is forced labor.
When a family works at a brick kiln to pay off a debt, their children prevented from attending school, that is forced labor.
When Uzbek teachers and doctors are mandated by the government to spend two months each fall picking cotton, that is forced labor.
Around the world, nearly 21 million people are forced laborers—11.4 million women and girls and 9.5 million men and boys. Ninety percent of forced labor takes place in the private economy, where it generates $150 billion in illegal profits per year.
Today, an International Labor Organization (ILO) Protocol on Forced Labor enters into force, requiring countries that ratify it to ensure the release, recovery and rehabilitation of people living in modern slavery. Adopted by the ILO in 2014, the protocol also protects workers from prosecution for any laws they were made to break while they were in forced labor.
The protocol and the accompanying recommendation supplement the 1930 ILO standard covering forced labor, Convention 29, and gives “new impetus to the global fight against all forms of forced labor, including trafficking in persons and slavery-like practices,” according to the ILO.
The protocol also bolsters the ILO’s 1957 Abolition of Forced Labor Convention 105. (Here’s a summary of the two forced labor conventions and the protocol.)
Protocol Would Compensate Those in Forced Labor
Among its provisions, the protocol:
- Guarantees forced laborers access to justice and compensation—even if they’re not legal residents of the country where they work.
- Protects individuals, especially migrant workers, from possible abusive and fraudulent practices during the labor recruitment and placement process.
- Requires employers to exercise “due diligence” to avoid modern slavery in their business practices or supply chains.
Nigeria was the first country to ratify the protocol and since then, eight more countries have done so. The ILO is urging people to join its 50 for Freedom campaign, which aims for 50 countries to ratify the protocol by 2018 to be truly effective.
Join Campaign Urging Countries to Pass Protocol!
Send a message to your labor minister urging passage of the protocol here. The action is hosted by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), which is a member of the 50 for Freedom coalition, as is the Solidarity Center.
You also can sign up to get more information on the campaign and spread the word to your networks and on social media with the hashtag #50FF.
Additional 50 for Freedom materials include: