Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, two countries where forced labor in cotton harvests is rampant, have been downgraded to the lowest ranking in the U.S. State Department’s 2016 Trafficking in Persons Report released this morning. The report also downgraded Myanmar (Burma) but boosted the ranking of Thailand, which a coalition of labor and human rights groups says has not meaningfully addressed human trafficking and should not have been upgraded.
The report, which ranks countries based on their efforts to fight forced labor and human trafficking, downgraded Myanmar, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan to the lowest level (Tier 3), meaning their governments do not comply with minimum U.S. Trafficking Victims and Protection Act (TVPA) standards and are not making significant efforts to become compliant.
Each year, the Uzbek government forces more than 1 million teachers, nurses and others to pick cotton for weeks during last fall’s harvest. Last year, the government went to extreme measures—including jailing and physically abusing researchers independently monitoring the process—to cover up its actions.
In 2015, the State Department boosted Uzbekistan from Tier 3 to the “Tier 2 Watchlist,” saying the country was making efforts to become compliant with the TVPA, a move rejected by human rights activists who each year risk their lives to document widespread forced labor during cotton harvests.
Thailand Should Not Be Upgraded
Moving Thailand from the report’s lowest ranking is not warranted, according to a 13-member coalition, the Alliance to End Slavery and Trafficking (ATEST), which includes the Solidarity Center.
“Thailand’s lack of policy implementation and meaningful change on the ground calls for the lowest Tier 3 ranking,” says Kristen Abrams, ATEST acting director.
In June 2014, the State Department downgraded Thailand to the lowest ranking, due to reports of migrant workers, primarily from Burma and Cambodia, working in slave-like conditions on Thai fishing boats, fueling the country’s $7.3 billion seafood export industry and making it the world’s third-largest exporter. Today, many migrant workers still toil in forced labor and are held against their will on the boats where they are beaten and even killed. Thailand’s estimated 3 million migrants make up 10 percent of its workforce, but in seafood processing the make up 90 percent.
In releasing the report, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry highlighted the plight of domestic workers, many of whom are working in countries far from their homes and are especially vulnerable to exploitation and abuse. Kerry announced the creation of a model contract for domestic workers based on international standards and a memorandum of understanding for origin and destination countries that sets clear standards designed to prevent the abuses of domestic work.
‘Malaysia Has Done Little to Address Trafficking’
This year’s report also fails to fix last year’s controversial upgrade of Malaysia, according to the coalition.
“More than a year after the discovery of mass graves of trafficking victims along the Malaysia-Thailand border, there is little evidence that Malaysia has taken anything more than meager steps to address its troublesome human trafficking situation,” Abrams says.
Among the 27 countries on Tier 3, the lowest ranking, are Algeria, Burundi, Haiti, Russia, Venezuela and Zimbabwe.
Profits from forced labor account for $150 billion per year, according to the International Labor Organization (ILO).
The 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 16 years, covers 188 countries and is required by the 2000 TVPA law.
Workers’ rights were weakened in most regions over the past year, according to the 2016 International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) Global Rights Index.
Repression of worker rights was compounded by restrictions on freedom of speech and assembly, including severe crackdowns in some countries, which increased by 22 percent, with 50 out of 141 countries surveyed recording restrictions.
The ITUC Global Rights Index ranks 141 countries against 97 internationally recognized indicators to assess where workers’ rights are best protected, in law and in practice.
Global Rights Index Details Chilling Repression
- Unionists were murdered in 10 countries, including Chile, Colombia, Egypt, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Iran, Mexico, Peru, South Africa and Turkey.
- 82 countries exclude workers from labor law.
- More than two-thirds of countries have laws prohibiting some workers from striking.
- More than half of all countries deny some or all workers collective bargaining.
- Out of 141 countries, the number which deny or constrain free speech and freedom of assembly increased from 41 to 50.
- Out of 141 countries, the number in which workers are exposed to physical violence and threats increased by 44 percent (from 36 to 52) and include Colombia, Egypt, Guatemala, Indonesia and the Ukraine.
ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow summed up the global environment this way:
“Repression of workers’ rights goes hand in hand with increased government control over freedom of expression, assembly and other fundamental civil liberties, with too many governments seeking to consolidate their own power and frequently doing the bidding of big business, which often sees fundamental rights as incompatible with its quest for profit at any expense.”
Read the full report.
More than half of the workers at the eight Frito Lay worksites in the Dominican Republic who sought a voice on the job received official verification of their new union in recent days, culminating a process that began in April.
When the 621 sales, distribution and production workers joined the National Union of Workers of Dominican Frito Lay (SINTRALAYDO), their efforts were delayed by factory management, which questioned the eligibility status of dozens of workers.
Achieving union recognition by the international snack food company involved “all of the local union leaders” who “could recognize members missing from the company’s list and prove they worked there, preventing the company’s attempt to disqualify them from the count,” says SINTRALAYDO Secretary General Ramon Mosquea, a former Solidarity Center-supported labor educator.
Frito Lay Workers Persist over Years to Win Contract
The workers overcame huge obstacles to win a union. After they sought to achieve majority recognition for a union at the company in 2012, management derailed the process by presenting a list of hundreds of workers the union understood were sub-contracted, thereby reducing support for the union to less than 50 percent, according to SINTRALAYDO leaders. Dominican law requires that more than 50 percent of eligible workers support a union at a worksite before it can be officially recognized.
Since then, the company fired more than 500 SINTRALAYDO members, but workers persisted, joining with the union to recruit supporters, develop greater leadership among its executive committee and engage management in ongoing dialogue to resolve worksite problems, says Mosquea.
“As a union we need to acknowledge the importance national and international solidarity played in getting us to this stage,” he says. “I especially need to recognize the trainings, organizing support and ongoing accompaniment from the Solidarity Center. It played a fundamental role in our getting to this next stage, when we enter into collective bargaining.”
Participants at the 2016 Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU) convention joined the Solidarity Center to celebrate 20 years of working together at a gathering that also launched the first of a year-long series of events marking the Solidarity Center’s 20th anniversary in 2017.
CBTU President Terry Melvin and Solidarity Center Executive Director Shawna Bader-Blau open the 20th anniversary event. Credit: Solidarity Center/Tula Connell
Speaking at the May 27 reception in Washington, D.C., CBTU President Terry Melvin, who serves on the Solidarity Center Board of Directors, said, “The issues affecting workers of color are very similar around the world. I believe there are things we can learn from South Africa, from Europe, that can help us be better trade unionists.”
Opening the event, Solidarity Center Executive Director Shawna Bader-Blau said “We are proud the Solidarity Center has been allied with CBTU in the struggle to achieve worker rights around the globe for the past 20 years.”
In 2014, CBTU met with top African union leaders in high-level meetings organized by the Solidarity Center during the U.S.-Africa Leaders’ Summit in Washington, D.C., and presented recommendations on jobs, gender equality, inclusive economic development and pro-poor investment to African heads of state.
Solidarity Center and CBTU Partners in Brazil
The Solidarity Center and CBTU also have worked in Brazil with INSPIR (the Inter-American Union Institute for Racial Equality) for the past 20 years to help eliminate racism against Afro-descendants in the workplace and throughout society. Afro-descendants comprise more than half the Brazilian population, yet are systematically discriminated against in the labor market.
UAW members Janice Hodges from Ft. Wayne, Indiana, and Melvin Prince from Kansas City, Missouri, were among CBTU members taking part in 20th anniversary celebrations. Credit: Solidarity Center/Tula Connell
Former CBTU president and AFSCME Secretary-Treasurer Emeritus Bill Lucy, who recently retired from the Solidarity Center Board, told participants that after his first fact-finding trip to Brazil with the AFL-CIO 20 years ago, he saw “directly how racial discrimination played out in many ways similarly to what we were fighting (and continue to fight) together against and organizing to overcome in the US.
“The Solidarity Center office in Brazil since then has been a key supporter and funder of this work, which I was proud of then and continue to be glad to see,” he said.
“The Solidarity Center mission is to strengthen workers’ rights around the globe,” said Jos Williams, who recently retired as leader of the Metro Washington Labor Council, and as Solidarity Center Board member. “They did that knowing that one of the best partners they have is CBTU.”
CBTU Members Take Part in International Labor Workshops
Earlier that day, CBTU conference participants attended an international plenary featuring Kwasi Adu-Amankwah, the general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation Africa Region (ITUC-Africa) and Maria Julia Nogueira, secretary for racial equality at the Central Unica dos Trabalhadores (CUT) in Brazil.
“We are all facing the same struggle”–Lois Carson, a state vice president of the Ohio Association of Public School Employees/AFSCME. Credit: Solidarity Center/Tula Connell
The workshops focused on the struggles African unions and communities are waging against corporate globalization, and on the historic parallels and similar dynamics of racial inequality in the United States and Brazil.
“We are all facing the same struggle,” said Lois Carson, a state vice president of the Ohio Association of Public School Employees/AFSCME, who attended the plenary. “No matter what country, what region, everywhere workers are underpaid, working in bad conditions.”
From Kansas City, Missouri, Melvin Prince, a UAW Local 31 member and CBTU conference participant, put it this way:
“The only way we’re going to get something done is to work together and stick together.”
At the event, the Solidarity Center made available for donation more than one dozen framed photos and posters depicting workers we work with around the world. All donations go to help Solidarity Center’s efforts to help empower workers around the globe.
Update: The survey is now available in Spanish and French.
La encuesta está disponible en francés y español.
L’enquête est disponible en français et espagnol.
The United Nations Special Rapporteur is partnering with the Solidarity Center to research a report on the links between the political, social, and economic exclusion of workers, their associations and trade unions. The following article from the UN Special Rapporteur website describes how you can participate.
The globalization of the world economy in the past half-century has contributed to a dramatic rise in the power of large multinational corporations and has concentrated wealth in fewer hands. State power to regulate these business entities, meanwhile, has been simultaneously eroded and co-opted by elite economic actors themselves.
Unconstrained power – whether public or private in origin – is now, more than ever, a critical threat to the protection of human rights. This power shift has created a challenging environment for the enforcement of human rights, as Special Rapporteur Maina Kiai has documented in his two most recent reports on natural resource exploitation and the imbalance between how States treat businesses and civil society.
For his next report to the UN General Assembly (October 2016), the Special Rapporteur plans to explore a new dimension of this power shift: its effect on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association of workers – specifically the most marginalized portions of the world’s labor force, such as global supply chain workers, informal workers, migrant workers and domestic workers. He will also examine the gender and racial dimensions of the issue.
The Special Rapporteur is particularly interested in the links between the political, social, and economic exclusion of workers, their associations and trade unions, as expressed in:
- The limitation and/or criminalization of assembly and association rights in law and in practice (and acquiescence of the State when these rights are breached by state or private actors);
- The exclusion of workers in the informal economy from legal frameworks recognizing assembly and association rights;
- The strategy to informalize more work for the purpose of limiting or excluding workers from exercising their assembly and association rights;
- The lack of effective global governance of migration, which has led to the exploitation of migrant workers
The Special Rapporteur will also explore the interplay between the lack of assembly and association rights for workers and the health of these rights within a society as a whole.
What’s your opinion and experience?
The Special Rapporteur convened an expert consultation to discuss this subject in May 2016. But he would also like to hear your views. He is particularly interested in specific, real-world examples of how the assembly and association rights of workers are being both eroded and bolstered. These examples may be included in the report.
How to submit information for the report
For more details on the report, please see our concept note. For specific questions that the Special Rapporteur is looking to answer, please see the following questionnaires. Note that each file has three separate questionnaires: One for UN member states, one for businesses and one for civil society/unions/workers. Please answer only the questionnaire that corresponds to your position:
Questionnaires in English
Questionnaires in Spanish (coming soon)
Questionnaires in French (coming soon)
In responding to the questionnaire, please be sure to provide as much detail as possible and to specify which countries you are referring to.
Completed questionnaires should be e-mailed to email@example.com. We will be accepting submissions until June 30, 2016. You may submit your responses in English, French or Spanish.
The Solidarity Center will assist with researching the report. Responses to the questionnaires will be shared with select Solidarity Center staff prior to the publication of the report.