Myanmar (Burma) and Turkmenistan do not meet minimum standards to address human trafficking and are making no attempts to do so, according to the 2018 U.S. State Department’s 2018 Trafficking in Persons Report released today. The report, which ranks countries based on their government’s efforts to comply with minimum U.S. Trafficking Victims and Protection Act (TVPA) standards, also boosted Uzbekistan from the bottom ranking to the Tier 2 Watch List.
A child works at a silk loom in India. Credit: TIP report
The governments of both Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan annually force public employees and others to labor in the cotton fields. Although Uzbekistan recently has taken steps to end forced labor, the Uzbek government’s upgrade to the Tier 2 Watch List “is premature due to its persistence on a large scale—at least a third of a million people—in the last harvest,” says Bennett Freeman, former deputy assistant secretary of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor and co-founder of the Cotton Campaign, a broad coalition working to end forced labor in the cotton fields.
Myanmar was downgraded this year from the Tier 2 Watch List, which requires, in part, that countries not fully meeting the TVPA’s minimum standards make significant efforts to do so.
The report also downgrades Malaysia from Tier 2 to the Tier 2 Watch List, addressing the country’s controversial upgrading in 2016 from the lowest ranking. Solidarity Center allies have documented extensive forced labor conditions in Malaysia. The Kyrgyz Republic and South Africa also were downgraded from Tier 2 to the Tier 2 Watch List, which includes countries like Bangladesh, Guatemala, Haiti, Iraq, Liberia, Nicaragua and Nigeria.
Thailand was upgraded from the Tier 2 Watch List to Tier 2.
Profits from forced labor account for $150 billion in illegal profits per year, according to the International Labor Organization (ILO).
The TVPA report organizes countries into tiers based on trafficking records: Tier 1 for nations that meet minimum U.S. standards; Tier 2 for those making significant efforts to meet those standards; Tier 2 “Watch List” for those that deserve special scrutiny; and Tier 3 for countries that are not making significant efforts.
The Trafficking in Persons report, which has been issued annually for 18 years, covers 190 countries and is required by the 2000 TVPA law.
Solidarity Center Africa Regional Program Director Imani-Countess and NDI’s Patrick Merloe discussed challenges to democratic transition in Zimbabwe. Credit: Solidarity Center/Shayna Greene
Wage theft and other forms of economic injustice are among the major factors holding Zimbabwe back from a democratic transition, says Imani Countess, Africa regional program director for the Solidarity Center.
Countess spoke at a recent panel discussion in Washington, D.C., “Assessing Zimbabwe’s Election and Prospects for a Democratic Transition,” organized by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). Bringing a labor perspective to the event, Countess described the strong correlation between increased participation in unions and the formation of other democratic institutions.
“There’s absolutely a link between democratic structures, the nature of unions and the role they play in the workplace, and in the nation and the fostering of broader democratic participation, particularly in elections,” says Countess.
Undemocratic practices flourish when workers are trapped in a cycle of economic inequality. Countess gave the example of 200 Zimbabwean women who experienced this type pf hardship firsthand after their husbands had not been paid for five years by the Hwange Colliery Co. Ltd. (HCCL). The company is one of the biggest in Zimbabwe, with the government as its largest shareholder.
Despite exporting to 13 nations including South Africa and China, HCCL owed its workers $70 million in unpaid wages. Often, companies will try to look attractive to foreign investors with competitive prices by engaging in forced labor and wage theft, Countess says.
Company’s Wage Theft Forced Families Turned to Informal Economy
The wives of the HCCL workers first protested in 2013 and were attacked by police. When they began protests again in 2018, they were joined by the Center for Natural Resource Governance, the National Mine Workers Union of Zimbabwe (NMWUZ) and the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions.
Although the mine workers are not union members, Zimbabwe unions stood by the women because they were “the wives of workers,” says Countess. “So the National Union of Mine Workers was there.”
To help feed their families, the women took on informal jobs such as selling in markets and cross-border trading. About 94 percent of Zimbabweans work in the informal economy. Of the 6 percent working permanent jobs, one-third are exposed to wage theft, especially in the extractive sector, says Countess.
“For five years, these women subsidized the Hwange Colliery Co. by supporting their husbands’ ability to work without pay,” she says.
Civil society groups helped mobilize the women in their campaign through workshops on nonviolent strategies for resistance and other skills-building strategies, and opportunities to exchange experiences with women in other mining communities.
Finally, demands were met, ensuring that the women’s husbands were paid and not retaliated against for the actions of their wives.
This is only one example of how unions promote democracy in Zimbabwe despite the country’s challenges, says Countess. Though Zimbabwe is a militarized state with an unenforced constitution, union members are active in community organizations and serve in national election observation groups. For instance, in 2013, unions came together representing 15 countries in the Southern Africa Trade Union Coordination Council (SATUCC) region to participate in an observation mission in Zimbabwe.
“Mass-based organizations working together with communities can be powerful actors of change,” says Countess.
Also on the panel were Patrick Merloe, senior associate and director for Electoral Programs at the National Democratic Institute, and Elizabeth Lewis, deputy director for Africa at the International Republican Institute.
“I have one single mission: Every child should be free to be a child.”
Nobel Prize winner Kailash Satyarthi proclaimed this ambitious mission in the new documentary, Kailash, which depicts the fight to end child labor through the Global March Against Child Labor and Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA), the organizations Satyarthi founded.
In 1994, 150 child labor advocates marched through the southern tip of India chanting, “No more tools in tiny hands. We want books, we want toys,” marking the beginning of a revolution to end child labor. Four years later, Satyarthi and other child labor advocates founded the Global March.
Tens of thousands of children in child labor have been rescued through organizations founded by Nobel winner Kailash Satyarthi. Courtesy: “Kailash”
“We were led by young people, many of whom were child laborers,” said Anjali Kochar, executive director of the Kailash Satyarthi Children’s Foundation. Kochar spoke at the U.S. Department of Labor, one of several locations in Washington, D.C., where the documentary was screened to commemorate 2018 World Day Against Child Labor on Tuesday.
“They demanded their right to childhood,” said Kochar, recalling the march. “They called for the elimination of child labor and for meaningful, quality education. It was truly electrifying.”
Satyarthi began rescuing child laborers in the 1980s. His first rescue attempt was unsuccessful because he was outgunned by human traffickers. Satyarthi then brought to court photos of the atrocities he saw when trying to rescue the children, and a judge then ordered they all be freed.
The more children rescued, the bigger the mission became until more than 200 activists, lawyers and social workers joined Satyarthi in the 1980s to form the BBA, an India-based organization that has rescued more than 80,000 child laborers. Mukti Ashram, the Delhi branch of BBA, provides shelter and education for liberated children.
Demand for Cheap Products Increases Demand for Child Labor
Satyarthi looked at the successes of Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, and Martin Luther King Jr. and decided that a “global march” was best for bringing attention to a global problem. The increased demand for cheap products was leading to an increased demand in cheap labor, making abuse and wage theft common in supply chains, especially for women and children. Since The Global March Against Child Labor formed in 1998, the International Labor Organization (ILO) passed Convention 182 on elimination of the worst forms of child labor, child labor in homes was banned in India in 2006 and the South Asian March Against Child Trafficking took place in 2007, where 1 million people marched 3,000 miles to end forced labor.
Although the efforts of Satyarthi, who won the Nobel Prize in 2014 for his efforts, and other global advocates decreased the number of child laborers from 260 million to 152 million in 20 years, there is still more work to be done. Of the 152 million child laborers, 73 million work in hazardous conditions. These children are between the ages of 5 and 17, spending their days in factories and fields instead of in school.
The film reveals the complexity of child labor, illustrating how poverty and education often underly child labor. Parents who are paid very little or are unemployed may need their children to work so their families can survive. Because of the lack of resources, impoverished parents are often uneducated and their children fall prey to traffickers promising work opportunities. The children are taken from their families and forced to work for months or years, escaping with burns and broken bones. This was the case for Sanjeet, who appeared in the film and was rescued by BBA. This young boy was found with dents in his face from hot powder blown by fans in a factory. He had not been allowed to go home in a year.
Acknowledging prior accomplishments as well as the work ahead, Satyarthi created the 100 Million Campaign in 2016, which seeks to mobilize 100 million young people to fight for 100 million child laborers. This program will not only benefit the children still suffering under forced labor but will provide a legacy so that future generations can continue to tackle this issue.
“We all have to work to globalize compassion,” says Satyarthi when discussing how movements make change. “Every child has the right to bread, education, love and play.”
Bangladesh garment worker and union leader Nazma Akter is among women challenging obstacles to leadership in their unions, their workplaces and their communities.
Founder and president of the AWAJ Foundation and Sommilito Garments Sramik Federation, Nazma says “Women in Bangladesh, especially at the grassroots, are taking the initiative for leadership and we hope it will be more and more.”
Some 65 percent of countries now exclude entire categories of workers from labor law protections, while 81 percent of countries deny some or all workers collective bargaining, as democratic space for workers closes around the world, according to a new report.
Released today, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) Global Rights Index 2018 reports that over the past year, trade unionists were murdered in nine countries—Brazil, China, Colombia, Guatemala, Guinea, Mexico, Niger, Nigeria and Tanzania—as the number of countries in which workers are exposed to physical violence and threats increased by 10 percent, from 59 to 65. In Colombia alone, 19 trade unionists were murdered last year—nearly double the 11 murders of the previous year.
The number of countries where workers are arbitrarily arrested and detained increased from 44 in 2016 to 59 in 2017. Some 87 percent of countries violated the right to strike. Of 142 countries surveyed, 54 deny or constrain free speech and freedom of assembly.
The 10 worst countries for overall worker rights violations are Algeria, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Colombia, Egypt, Guatemala, Kazakhstan, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.
“Democracy is under attack in countries that fail to guarantee people’s right to organize, speak out and take action,” says ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow.
The Middle East and North Africa was again the worst region for treatment of workers, with the kafala system in the Gulf still enslaving millions of people. “The absolute denial of basic workers’ rights remained in place in Saudi Arabia,” according to the ITUC.
Haiti, Kenya, Macedonia, Mauritania and Spain have all seen their rankings worsen in 2018, with a rise in attacks on worker rights in law and practice.
The 2018 ITUC Global Rights Index rates 142 countries from one to five according to 97 internationally recognized indicators to assess where worker rights are best protected in law and in practice. The Index assigns an overall score placing countries in rankings of one to five.
1 Sporadic violations of rights: 13 countries, including Ireland and Denmark
2 Repeated violations of rights: 23 countries, including France and Estonia
3 Regular violations of rights: 26 countries, including Spain and Macedonia
4 Systematic violations of rights: 38 countries, including Haiti and Kenya
5 No guarantee of rights: 32 countries including, Honduras and Nigeria
5+ No guarantee of rights due to breakdown of the rule of law: 10 countries