U.S. RECOGNIZES UNION SOLUTION TO CHILD LABOR IN GHANA COCOA

U.S. RECOGNIZES UNION SOLUTION TO CHILD LABOR IN GHANA COCOA

General Agricultural Workers’ Union of Ghana (GAWU) Deputy General Secretary Andrews Addoquaye Tagoe was recognized last month by the U.S. Department of Labor (USDOL) for his role in advancing child and worker rights and for reducing child labor in Ghana’s agricultural industry.

“Where the union is present, child labor is absent,” Tagoe said about GAWU’s campaign to end child labor on Ghana’s cocoa farms. 

Alarmed by increasing child labor in Ghana and Ivory Coast cocoa production, GAWU is addressing child labor in cocoa farming communities by applying a child-labor-reduction model honed in fishing communities on Lake Volta. The program raises awareness and incomes of parents so that kids can stay in school.

Although the cocoa industry’s biggest companies pledged to eradicate the “worst forms” of child labor in their supply chains nearly 20 years ago, more than 2 million children are estimated to be engaged in cocoa production in West Africa—primarily in Ghana and Ivory Coast. The two countries together supply roughly 60 percent of the world’s cocoa beans. As cocoa production in both countries has increased, so has child labor. 

Despite the chocolate industry’s substantial annual profits of around $103 billion, up to 90 percent of Ghanaian cocoa farmers do not earn a living income. Building worker voice at local and national levels for farmers to benefit from higher cocoa prices and the profitable global chocolate industry will help end child labor, says GAWU.

Children in Ghana are subjected to the worst forms of child labor, including in fishing and cocoa production, reported USDOL in 2022.  More than half of children living in agricultural households in Ghana are reportedly engaged in child labor, most in at least one form of hazardous child labor

By organizing and formalizing the agricultural economy in rural areas and working with communities to eliminate child labor, Tagoe has developed and implemented child labor free zones resulting in ‘withdrawal of thousands of children in rural communities from the worst forms of child labor,’ said Thea Lee, USDOL Deputy Secretary for International Affairs at the award ceremony.  

“An Africa without child labor is possible,” Tagoe said in his acceptance speech.

Tagoe was co-recipient of the 2024 USDOL’s Iqbal Masih Award for the Elimination of Child Labor with Egyptian civil society organization Wadi El Nil. The award honors its namesake, a Pakistani child sold into slavery at age four to work as a carpet weaver and who, after escaping at age 10, became an outspoken public advocate against child exploitation and died tragically at the age of 12. 

Watch a Solidarity Center video about GAWU’s fight against child labor in cocoa production.

C190: MORE THAN A LEGAL INSTRUMENT, A ‘BEACON OF HOPE’

C190: MORE THAN A LEGAL INSTRUMENT, A ‘BEACON OF HOPE’

Five years after its adoption by the International Labor Organization (ILO)—a specialized agency of the United Nations—the first global binding treaty to address gender-based violence and harassment (GBVH) in the world of work is yielding tangible results, addressing the fear of harassment and violence many workers face every day at work because of their gender.

The Violence and Harassment Convention, C190, calls on governments, employers and unions to work together to confront the root causes of GBVH, including multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination, gender stereotypes and unequal gender-based power relationships.

Women trade unionists and feminist activists campaigned for more than a decade to make the adoption of C190 possible, led by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), the Solidarity Center and other labor allies. Since C190’s adoption by governments, employers and worker representatives one year ago, unions have conducted extensive education and awareness training among members, a process that has mobilized members to confront GBVH at their workplaces through collective bargaining.

A June 20 virtual celebration, co-sponsored by the Solidarity Center, brought together 361 worker and women’s rights activists from around the world to report progress, discuss their plans to ensure C190 ratification and implementation, and envision the changes necessary to end GBVH in the world of work. The convention has been ratified by 44 countries

THE POWER OF C190 

C190 has been an “extremely valuable tool that legitimized the global problem of GBVH,” said Anannya Bhattacharjee, Asia Floor Wage Alliance (AFWA) international coordinator, including the Dindigul Agreement, said at the event. Signed with three global brands, the agreement is the first of its kind to address GBVH in the workplace in Asia and came about following the widely publicized rape and murder of a 20-year old woman garment worker by her supervisor following months of harassment. 

One of the most important successes of a decade-long fight for adoption, ratification and implementation of C190 is its contribution to women’s leadership, said Fulya Pinar Ozcan, International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) Women’s Committee member and Women’s Committee at Öz İplik-İş-Turkiye president. ITUC represents 200 million workers in 168 countries. 

“I want you to imagine waking up every morning in fear of going to work, knowing that you might face harassment or violence just because of your gender,” she said. “And now imagine a world where this fear doesn’t exist, where every woman feels safe, respected and valued.” 

In this context, C190 is both a path to freedom from fear and a transformative opportunity to empower women to rise as leaders during the development of the C190 campaign, said Ozcan.   

“C190 is more than a legal instrument. It is a beacon of hope,” she said. 

Because its constitution grants constitutional status to all UN conventions, Mexico’s government could begin implementing C190 immediately, said Marta Ferreyra, Institute for Women in Mexico (INMUJERES) National Policy of Equality and Rights of Women director general.

And Christy Hoffman, UNI global union general secretary, said that unions are now integrating C190 text in agreements, among them UNI’s global agreement with French telephone company Orange, and many more national and local collective bargaining agreements point toward C190 descriptions of violence and harassment and remedies. 

MORE WORK TO BE DONE

Dr. Geeta Rao Gupta, U.S. ambassador-at-large for the U.S. Department of State’s Office of Global Women’s Issues, told the audience that, “Violence and sexual harassment anywhere is a gross human rights violation and it must stop.” 

Reporting back from this month’s ILO International Labor Conference event promoting decent work for care workers, International Domestic Workers Federation (IDWF) General Secretary Adriana Paz Ramirez outlined increased GBVH risks for domestic workers who are providing child and elder care in private homes. Risks are especially high for migrant women who are legally tied to a single employer, such as in Gulf countries under the kafala system

Tomoya Obokata, UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery said addressing intersectionality in the uneven effects of GBVH in the world of work is key. He said, as addressed in his 2022 report on contemporary forms of slavery, it is clear that Indigenous, minority and migrant workers are “particularly at risk of abuse.”  

Lopa Banerjee, UN Women Civil Society division director, said that governments’ implementation of all normative frameworks that support gender equality, including C190, are key, as is adequate resourcing of women’s feminist and labor justice movements and institutions.

“This is a moment to really strengthen the feminist movement–including the gender justice and labor justice movements,” she said.  

A power shift sufficient to end GBVH in the world of work is predicated on recognition that the economy is political, said Ghada Abdel Tawab, Ford Foundation Future of Work(ers) International senior program officer. “Organizing and cross-movement building across labor and gender have been key in shifting power back to the worker,” she said, adding that “the state, the market and labor are intertwined.” 

Fatime Christiane Ndiaye, ILO senior gender specialist and Decent Work Team-Dakar member; and Laura Nyirinkindi, Working Group on Discrimination Against Women and Girls member and National Federation of Women Lawyers Africa regional vice president. 

Event co-sponsors included AFWA, Bangladesh Center for Workers Solidarity (BCWS), Feminist Alliance for Rights (FAR), Global Labor Justice (GLJ), Human Rights Watch, IDWF, ITUC, Nigeria Labor Congress (NLC), Solidarity Center and UNI Global Union

The celebration was moderated by human rights journalist for The Guardian Annie Kelly and Feminist Alliance for Rights (FAR) Transnational Lead Krishanti Dharmaraj, both of whom pointed to UN Women’s Beijing +30 (2025) gathering as a key opportunity for moving forward the expansion of women’s rights, including through the eradication of GBVH in the world of work.   

Learn more about Solidarity Center and GBVH in the world of work here

 

Justice Delayed: One Year Since the Murder of Shahidul Islam

Justice Delayed: One Year Since the Murder of Shahidul Islam

Marking the one-year anniversary of the murder of Bangladesh union leader Shahidul Islam, the Solidarity Center is demanding that the police investigation of his case be reopened to ensure that the main perpetrators of the crime are held accountable and that the persistent harassment and unfair labor practices committed against worker leaders in the country end.

A dedicated trade union organizer and leader of the Bangladesh Garment and Industrial Workers Federation (BGIWF), Shahidul was brutally attacked outside Prince Jacquard Sweaters Ltd. factory on June 25, 2023, in retaliation for his efforts to help workers claim their hard-earned, long overdue wages and benefits. He succumbed to his injuries in a local hospital.

Just 45 years old at the time of his death, Shahidul is survived by his wife, also a former union organizer, and two school-age children. He was the sole wage earner for his family. With bills, school fees and her cancer treatments to pay for, Shahidul’s wife is struggling to get by.

While police in February submitted a charge sheet to the Gazipur court accusing 14 individuals in the murder of Shahidul Islam, including one administrative management official from Prince Jacquard Sweaters Ltd., trial dates remain to be set and the investigation is ongoing. Though it is positive to see that police have established a clear link between factory management and the crime, labor rights groups and Shahidul’s family argue that the investigation did not go far enough and that higher-level company officials were likely involved. 

“Shahidul Islam knew that without organizing rights, workers cannot collectively bargain for better wages and working conditions in far-flung supply chains,” said Solidarity Center Executive Director Shawna Bader-Blau. “Today as we honor the legacy and memory of Shahidul, we stand united with trade unions and labor rights advocates everywhere in demanding justice for him and protection for the many committed organizers, workers and trade union leaders like him working to shift power dynamics and build worker power in the Bangladesh garment sector—the changes that he died fighting for.”

She added, “There is no alternative to strengthening protections for trade unionists so that they can exercise their fundamental rights without fear of retaliation or violence. And despite the many obstacles, we hope that change is coming.”

The Way Forward

Because of brave organizers like Shahidul Islam, the Solidarity Center has documented the formation of at least 134 independent garment sector trade unions since 2015. 

In light of the culture of impunity for worker rights violations that led to his untimely death, the Solidarity Center calls for accountability, justice and transformation. We also call on:

  • Brands sourcing from Prince Jacquard Sweaters Ltd. factory to take responsibility for their contribution to the conditions that led to Shahidul Islam’s murder by providing financial compensation to Shahidul’s family. All brands, regardless of whether they were directly or indirectly sourcing from Prince Jacquard, should recognize that their own supply chains are vulnerable to such a horrific event and should take concrete steps to monitor for and take swift action to address wage theft and any violations of freedom of association that occur.
  • The government of Bangladesh to ensure that workers’ right to freedom of association is upheld, as the free exercise of this right can safeguard workers and organizers from the kind of violence that killed Shahidul Islam. Concerted action in this area will demonstrate the government’s commitment to upholding fundamental labor rights.
Shahidul Islam’s Legacy: A Background

Shahidul Islam’s Legacy: A Background

Over a 25-year career, Shahidul successfully mobilized thousands of workers to join trade unions and empowered them to represent their co-workers as factory-level leaders. As a young man he experienced the grueling reality of work in a garment factory. Overworked and underpaid, and despite the risk of management reprisal, Shahidul decided to take action to build a better future for himself and workers like him by joining the Bangladesh Independent Garment Workers Union Federation (BIGUF) in the late 1990s. 

Shahidul learned the ropes of union organizing as a participant in the Solidarity Center’s three-year organizing internship program, enhancing his skills to build worker power. Subsequently, he joined the Bangladesh Garment and Industrial Workers Federation (BGIWF), rising to the rank of president of the Gazipur District Committee. His influence extended to Gazipur, Rampura in Dhaka, and Narayangonj District, where he facilitated the formation of numerous factory-based trade unions, empowering workers to raise their voices for better wages and working conditions. As a trained paralegal of the Solidarity Center, he championed workers in claiming wages and benefits wrongfully denied by their employers. His remarkable ability to motivate and mobilize workers, collaborate with diverse stakeholders and navigate government processes significantly impacted the Bangladesh labor movement. 

How did it come to this? Lack of accountability, fear and repression

Shahidul Islam was killed outside Prince Jacquard Sweaters Ltd., a factory producing for buyers in Europe and North America, and a member of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA). Prince Jacquard did not yet have a trade union, though Shahidul’s federation, BGIWF, had started supporting workers to organize not long before his death.

The global garment supply chain is notorious for its exploitation, sourcing from low-wage, minimally regulated countries where factories are rife with wage theft, union busting, forced overtime and other abuses. Multinational fashion brands outsourcing work overseas exercise economic power over suppliers—often under threat of yanking orders and moving production to more compliant factories—and make demands that lead to worker abuse but boost the brand’s bottom line. At the same time, these companies claim a hands-off relationship with suppliers in regard to workplace safety and basic worker and human rights, often hiding behind the façade of “corporate social responsibility” programs and audits. Indeed, Prince Jacquard Sweaters Ltd. had undergone outside audits by two different firms, Amfori and Sedex.    

Organizing an independent, democratic union that can represent the rights of workers and help them negotiate with their employers over issues like wage and benefit payments, can be a dangerous endeavor in Bangladesh. Once organized, the trade union registration process in Bangladesh is complicated, time consuming and plagued by corruption and interference from employers and their powerful associations. Workers regularly face unfair labor practices, such as illegal terminations, threats, harassment and violence. As in the case of Shahidul Islam, it is not uncommon for employers to hire local musclemen or mercenary members of management-dominated “yellow” unions to attack workers and organizers to prevent them from exercising their right to freedom of association. 

In fact, in the absence of due process for resolving collective disputes between workers and employers, efforts by workers to collectively stand up for their rights are often ignored or met with retaliation. Mere months after Shahidul’s murder, four more workers lost their lives and many more were severely injured during the 2023 workers’ protests for a fair wage. This calls into question the reports about progress on freedom of association in Bangladesh.

Meanwhile, the majority of global brands and buyers sourcing from Prince Jacquard Sweaters have remained unresponsive to repeated outreach by labor rights organizations calling on them to provide compensation to the family of Shahidul Islam, while those who did respond deny responsibility.

Domestic Workers ‘Level Up Their Dignity’: Advancing Rights for Care Workers

Domestic Workers ‘Level Up Their Dignity’: Advancing Rights for Care Workers

On June 16 International Domestic Workers Day, the Solidarity Center salutes women union leaders around the world who are urging governments and employers to recognize care as a public good and a human right, and to provide care workers, including migrant workers, with the same basic rights available to other workers—including weekly days off, limits to hours of work, minimum wage coverage, overtime compensation and clear information on the terms and conditions of employment. 

“Domestic workers are vital in the care economy, providing crucial support to families and communities. They deserve fair treatment, including fair pay, safe working conditions and benefits. Recognizing and valuing their work is essential for creating a more equitable society,” says Conchita “Suzanne” Baldago, founding chairperson of Sandigan Bahrain, a multinational, multi-sectoral organization representing Bahrain’s migrant workers.

With International Labor Organization (ILO) Conventions 149, 156, 189 and 190 providing a normative framework for governments and employers, women workers at the ILO are urging a holistic framework to implement rights outlined by these conventions and affirm care worker rights. 

With global labor partners the International Domestic Workers Federation (IDWF) and the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), the Solidarity Center assisted partner domestic worker and other care economy unions and associations with preparations for the ILO’s 112th Session of the International Labor Conference (ILC). Activities included in-person discussions to survey care and domestic workers around the world regarding the development and enforcement of a new care work definition that correctly includes domestic workers as care workers

An in-person workshop surveying Gulf region domestic worker associations affiliated with Solidarity Center partner Integrated Community Center (ICC) found that although care workers, most of whom in the Gulf are migrant workers, benefit from some legal provisions—such as in Bahrain and Kuwait, from fixed contracts, paid leave and health insurance—the kafala system systematically interferes to drag back any formal economic conditions. The Integrated Community Center (ICC) includes 14 Kuwait-based migrant worker associations and many more affiliate associations across MENA, Africa and Asia. Migrant workers account for an average of 70 percent of the employed population in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and more than 95 percent of private sector workers in Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

“We need changes in domestic workers’ situations to level up their dignity,” says Sandigan Kuwait Domestic Workers Association community leader Jinki Escuadro about her participation in the ICC’s in-person survey.

The ICC is reporting that labor and domestic work laws in the Gulf are inadequate, including Kuwait’s Domestic Worker Law (2015) and Bahrain’s Private Sector Labor Law (2012)—in no small part due to lack of enforcement. 

Under the kafala system, employers in the region—including household heads, governments and private business owners—continue illegal practices such as confiscating and withholding migrant care workers’ passports, engaging in wage theft and enforcing non-contractual working hours, among other practices. The kafala, an employer-driven sponsorship system in Arabian Gulf countries, ties migrant workers to their employers, effectively denying migrant workers fundamental rights and fueling abuse. 

The Gulf is routinely at the center of controversy regarding migrant domestic worker complaints of physical, mental and sexual abuse. Estimates by the International Trade Union Confederation indicate that more than 2.1 million women employed in households across the region are at risk of exploitation. Despite recent reforms, two-thirds of Kuwait’s population is comprised of migrant workers who remain vulnerable to abuse that includes physical and sexual violence, reports Human Rights Watch. 

ILO Convention 189 established the first global standards for domestic workers more than a decade ago to protect the 75.6 million domestic workers around the world, most of whom are women, many of whom are migrants and children. But there is still much work to be done, say unions, including recognition of the care work performed by domestic workers as one of the cornerstones of the construction of fair, inclusive and resilient societies based on gender equity and decent work. 

Carmen Britez, president of the IDWF, the first and only global union federation founded and led by women of color from the Global South

“To the workers: keep fighting, keep advocating for the recognition of our rights as domestic workers,’ said Carmen Britez, president of the IDWF, the first and only global union federation founded and led by women of color from the Global South. Credit: Solidarity Center / Alexis de Simone

Carmen Britez, president of the IDWF,  the first and only global union federation founded and led by women of color from the Global South, issued a message to the workers, governments and employers at the ILC: “To the workers: keep fighting, keep advocating for the recognition of our rights as domestic workers.  To the governments: you have responsibilities to uphold to workers and to our societies, to domestic workers, because we have been fighting for our labor rights over many years. And to the employers I say, at a minimum, have a little bit of heart, think about where you come from. Who is taking care of your children? Who is taking care of your grandparents? And where do you come from? From a woman! So take note of this, be sensitized to it, open your hearts and look at us as we are: workers!”

Solidarity Center Americas Regional Program Deputy Director Alexis De Simone says, “Marginalization of poor women workers–especially women of color and migrant workers–is not an accident. It is a deliberately built power structure. And because it was deliberately built by people, it can be deliberately dismantled by people.”

The ILO estimates that by 2030, almost 2 billion children under the age of 15 and 200 million older persons will need care, representing a combined increase over less than a decade of 200 million people who need care. At least 756 million people globally—75 percent of whom are women—are paid domestic care workers who provide direct and indirect care services in a private household. Even considering only those employed directly by households, domestic workers account for 25 percent of all care workers, making up 89 percent of paid home health care workers and 94 percent of paid child care workers.  

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