Writes Solidarity Center’s Tim Ryan: “Over the past 20 years, awareness and activism around the issues of child labor, slavery and human trafficking have grown significantly, mirrored by both growing economic inequality and broad concerns about that inequity. [There] is a clear recognition that decent work for adults can create a more secure environment for children and their opportunities for education.”
As the FIFA corruption scandal widens and pressure builds to move the World Cup from countries tainted by the investigation, a deeper human tragedy may be unfolding: The economically fragile situation of migrant workers who build infrastructure for global sporting events will only worsen if they lose their jobs abroad and have no employment to return to at home, writes the Solidarity Center’s Sonia Mistry.
Despite national legislation, poverty leads Cambodian families to help children lie about their age to get a job, while factories turn a blind eye to underage workers. Prospects for the workers, most of them female, are not good, according to Dave Welsh, country director for U.S.-based labor rights group the Solidarity Center. “At the end of their career, at the ripe old age of 35, the majority are left with no savings, no transferable skills and very little education,” he says. “The companies are taking the best years of these young women’s lives and working them to exhaustion.”
Shawna Bader-Blau, executive director of the Solidarity Center, testified at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing. She said the United States has a real opportunity to lead the fight against worker exploitation, especially with regard to upcoming negotiations on the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement. “Our diplomacy must be much more robust and aggressive on tackling the root causes” of forced labor, Bader-Blau told the committee, stating her belief that “it’s not too much to ask that we see real systematic changes” in how countries operate before agreeing to anything in trade negotiations.
More than 2,000 garment workers in Bangladesh are celebrating a new collective bargaining agreement that includes a 10 percent pay increase—double the amount required by law—and creation of a committee to prevent violence and harassment on the job. The pact, negotiated by the Hop Lun Apparels Ltd. Sommilito Sramik Union (HLALSSU), is retroactive to January.
The new agreement comes as many garment workers in Bangladesh and around the world are being laid off without pay because major fashion brands are canceling orders due to lack of demand during the novel coronavirus pandemic.
“The guarantee of promotions for women to the higher posts and the establishment of the sexual harassment committee will empower the women and provide safeguards against sexual abuse and harassment in our factory,” says Aklima HLALSSU president.
Under the new contract, Hop Lun will set up a day care facility for workers’ children younger than age six, who will be guaranteed quality care and education. Factory management will provide free ultrasound tests for all pregnant workers, subsided food in the factory canteen, and guarantee a minimum of 20 women workers will be promoted annually.
Under Bangladesh law, women workers are entitled to 16 weeks’ maternity leave, yet employers often do not grant garment workers the required leave. The new contract provides enforcement of the law.
“It is because we have a strong union that we could maintain a good relation with the factory management and sign this collective bargaining agreement,” says Sommilito Garments Sramik Federation (SGSF) General Secretary Nahidul Hasan Nayan. “That is why, during this COVID-19 crisis, Hop Lun factory maintained the highest standard of safety for its workers and has provided each and every employee with proper protective equipment.”
The contract also includes provisions to streamline union representation, with the employer providing space for a union office and automatically deducting union dues. Union leaders will be involved in trainings and workshops and joint meetings with management.