The U.S.-based Amalgamated Bank has selected the Solidarity Center as one of its featured nonprofits in an online contest. The organization that receives the most votes will receive up to $5,000 and be recognized as a prominent social justice organization making change for workers.
(Please click here to vote for the Solidarity Center.)
The campaign runs through December 7—and you can vote for the Solidarity Center once a day!
The Amalgamated Bank campaign is part of “#GivingTuesday,” an annual event that takes place on the Tuesday following Thanksgiving. Amalgamated Bank’s contest is designed to encourage bank customers and others to give to organizations that inspire them and raise awareness about social-justice groups that deserve support. The Amalgamated Bank #VoteToGive contest is open anyone in the United States.
Amalgamated Bank is the largest union-owned bank and one of the only unionized banks in the United States. Founded in 1923 by the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America, Amalgamated Bank today is a leading philanthropic organization for social change and worker justice. The contest goes out to the broader labor, pro-labor and progressive community including Amalgamate’s clients as well, and has the potential to introduce us to many unions and allies in the United States.
If you are on social media, please retweet and “like” and on Twitter, and like and share our Facebook posts to help spread the word. Use the hashtag #VoteToGive.
When Joe Montisetse came to South Africa from Botswana to work in gold mines in the early 1980s, he saw a black pool of water deep in a mine that signified deadly methane. Yet after he brought up the issue to supervisors, they insisted he continue working, but Montisetse refused.
Two co-workers were killed a few hours later when the methane exploded.
Today, Montisete is newly elected president of the National Union of Mineworkers, a position he achieved after helping form a local union at the gold mine soon after his co-workers’ deaths. After they formed the union, workers were safer, he says.
“We formed union as mine workers to defend against oppression and exploitation.”
For the first time in years, large numbers of public-sector employees were not forced to carry out spring fieldwork in Uzbekistan’s cotton fields, although instances of child labor and forced labor were documented, according to a new report by the Uzbek-German Forum (UGF).
Despite progress, “No Need for Forced Labor when Farmers are Empowered to Pay Decent Wages: Spring Cotton Fieldwork 2018” finds that the government-run system of forced cotton production remains in place.
“The shift from the mobilization of workers in education and healthcare institutions to mostly voluntary labor to prepare fields this spring is significant and should be commended,” said Umida Niyazova, UGF executive director. “It is clear that structural problems remain, however.”
“Further scrutiny and careful monitoring will be required during the 2018 harvest to see how far those changes have actually gone in ending forced labor in Uzbek cotton production, and what still remains to be done,” Niyazova continued.
New Policies Enable Farmers to Hire Voluntary Workers for Spring
Human rights activist Fakhriddin Tillayev (right) was among political prisoners Uzbekistan released this year. Credit: Solidarity Center
This spring, seven monitors for the Uzbek-German Forum conducted site visits to farms, schools, colleges, clinics, hospitals, banks, markets and local government agencies and interviewed dozens of farmers, education and medical workers, children, union leaders and local government officials.
The monitors found no large-scale organization of forced labor as occurred in past spring weeding seasons. Those who still reported being forced to work included the guards, cleaners, librarians and specialists at schools in the Bayavut district, who said that they weeded cotton fields for 15 to 20 days in May and June.
The report cites two factors behind the reduction in forced labor this spring, including higher procurement prices set by the government. Farmers are required to sell their crop to the government for a set price, and the government this year raised the price from $370 to $706 per metric ton. And for the first time, farmers were allowed to receive cash from banks. With more access to cash and higher payments, farmers are less reliant on unpaid labor for the springtime work required to produce cotton quotas set by the government.
Despite these improvements, farmers also described an overall lack of autonomy and intrusive, punitive oversight by local authorities who impose crop quotas. Penalties for missing those quotas can be severe, including physical violence and loss of one’s land, and state agents apply enormous pressure for them to be met. One farmer said to monitors: “The public prosecutor screams, ‘Quickly plant cotton.’ He threatens, he says, ‘or else I’ll have a criminal case against you.’”
In recent months, the government of Uzbekistan has been willing to talk about reducing forced labor and began releasing political prisoners, including worker rights activists.
“We are seeing unprecedented change in Uzbekistan right now, after a decade of international pressure. We hope respect for workers’ rights, especially ensuring fundamental rights for workers to organize together and negotiate for better working conditions, will follow,” said Solidarity Center’s Eastern Europe/Central Asia Director, Rudy Porter.
The Cotton Campaign, of which Solidarity Center is a member, developed a roadmap for the government of Uzbekistan to dismantle the forced labor system of cotton production, which was presented to government officials during high-level meetings in Tashkent in May 2018.
Two female migrant workers from Myanmar were arrested in Thailand, fined and await deportation for volunteering their time to teach children of migrant workers at a Buddhist monastery, an action the Thailand-based Human Rights and Development Foundation (HRDF) is calling “illegitimate and unjustified.”
The two women, who hold valid passports, visas and work permits, volunteered at the Laem Nok Monastery in southern Thailand in addition to the jobs for which they were hired. But immigration officials charged them with performing work without a permit to teach, even though the time they spend instructing the children is unpaid, according to HRDF and the Migrant Working Group (MWG). The MWG is a network of non-governmental organizations working on health, education and migrant workers’ rights that includes the Solidarity Center.
The arrests occurred despite the statement of one worker’s employer who told police the worker is lawfully employed and has been excused to take leave from her regular job painting boats because she is pregnant. The monastery also affirmed the two workers taught without pay, actions that are not illegal in Thailand, says HRDF, a Solidarity Center partner.
The women were forced to sign a document in Thai that they did not understand, in which they admitted they committed a crime, and received a fine of 5,000 Baht ($153) in lieu of imprisonment. They will be banned from re-entering to work in Thailand for two years, according to HRDF. A Myanmar national holding a tourist visa who observed the volunteers teaching was also arrested on the same charge.
“The arrests could signal a strong discouragement to other similar teaching programs in the country and could also pose a negative impact on education opportunities for migrant children as a whole,” HRDF and MWG said in a statement.
Volunteers Taught Children at Risk of Exploitation
The Laem Nok Monastery has operated a learning center for children of migrant workers for more than four years. The program began after the community recognized that migrant children, who are often left without care when their parents are working can be targets of forced labor, human trafficking and other forms of exploitation. With support from community fundraising, the monastery dedicated a learning space where children are taught the languages and cultures of Thailand as well as those of their origin countries. Local businesses provide funding for food and teaching supplies, but the teachers are unpaid volunteers, including local college students.
HRDF and MWG are calling on Thailand’s Department of Employment, Ministry of Labor to establish clear guidelines for enforcing compliance with work permits and to review the policy that restricts migrant workers from becoming paid or unpaid volunteers.
The groups also are urging police to ensure migrant workers’ legal rights are respected, including the right to legal counsel and to bail during pre-trial.
“The arrests have created undeserving traumas to the children in the classroom who had to witness their teachers being arrested and taken away in front of them,” says HRDF.
I am Marie Constant, I am from Madagascar. I have worked as a domestic worker in Lebanon since 1997. I work for one person only. The work is difficult, especially when we receive guests as we don’t have choice but stay up late working until the guests leave which is usually around midnight or sometimes around 1 a.m.
In general, the domestic workers don’t have a choice as they need to work from morning until evening with no specific break time and no holidays. And because of these rights abuse, we decided to form a union to defend our rights. Also, the fact that most domestic workers don’t have the right to weekly leave, we try to reach out to all the domestic workers women in most of the regions to educate them about their rights.