In Pakistan, where many workers and their children toil in dangerous brick kilns, the Solidarity Center, together with allies in the country, has developed a detailed roadmap for local labor departments to address bonded labor and unsafe working conditions—a program that includes incentives for employers to ensure their facilities meet decent work standards.
The Decent Work Brick Kiln–Framework (described in an Urdu-language video) provides an inspection checklist to monitor decent work at a kiln along with other comprehensive tools and resources for district labor departments, which have not had the mechanisms to systematically inspect and report on labor law violations or the status of brick kiln compliance.
The framework also proposes an incentive-based model in which brick kiln employers would receive 5 percent above the market price for government-procured bricks. The price incentive will enable employers, who currently have no incentive to change long-held practices, to absorb the cost of social protection and enable them to earn extra profits for ensuring decent work environment.
Pakistan is part of the International Labor Organization (ILO)’s Decent Work Country Program, and its agreement with the ILO includes addressing bonded labor in the brick kiln industry. In Pakistan and in other South Asian nations, entire families sometimes become bonded after borrowing money from someone like a brick kiln owner. They then work to repay the loan but often are unable to pay off their debt, even over many years, because their wages are so low.
In addition, the European Union in 2013 granted Pakistan Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) Plus status, allowing its products duty-free access to European markets as long as it takes affirmative action in implementing 27 international worker and human rights conventions.
Yet despite the need to comply with the Decent Work mandate and GSP Plus requirements, the Decent Work Brick Kiln–Framework is the first plan to help guide brick kiln employers and district labor administrators in ensuring that bricks are manufactured in decent working conditions.
The Solidarity Center recommends that in adopting and operationalizing the program, the government initiate a two-step certification process. Government labor inspectors would first inspect and categorize kilns and submit findings to district committees, comprised of district administrators, kiln owners and nongovernmental organizations. After reviewing the findings, the committee would either certify a kiln or order the district labor department to reassess it.
“The Solidarity Center’s proposed decent work brick kiln framework offers a win-win solution for all three social partners,” says Solidarity Center Asia Region Director Tim Ryan.
“Workers will have decent working and living conditions; employers will get guaranteed business, and may receive a higher price for their products.”
If the current political impasse in Haiti is resolved, lawmakers are likely to consider how to develop the country’s untapped gold and copper veins—and the process will determine the extent to which workers achieve their share of economic prosperity.
“Given the dearth of decent employment opportunities and pervasive extreme poverty, workers are highly susceptible to exploitation and rights violations,” according to a new report, “Human Rights and Environmental Risks of Gold Mining in Haiti.”
“Building strong labor protections into the emerging regulatory regime for mining is therefore essential to guarantee the rights of Haitian workers,” the report asserts.
Metal mining in Haiti could yield an estimated $20 billion in gold alone. Between 2006 and 2013, foreign mining companies invested some $30 million to prospect for metals in Haiti. Yet as the report notes, mining activity in Haiti will occur in an environment “already characterized by widespread rights abuses, particularly deprivations of economic and social rights and denials of the right to information and political participation.”
Workers ‘Highly Susceptible to Exploitation’
Many Haitians are unaware of the potential of gold mining, and the current government has been negotiating new mining laws behind closed doors, according to Global Risk Insights. The report asserts that the next government will face pressure to open up the country to mining to alleviate deep poverty in the hemisphere’s poorest country.
More than two-thirds of Haitian workers lack formal employment, and those who have jobs typically earn wages far below the cost of living. Given the lack of decent employment opportunities and pervasive extreme poverty, workers are highly susceptible to exploitation and rights violations.
The report cites failed examples of foreign investment in the garment sector as a warning that workers may be promised much but receive little with the development of the gold mining industry. For instance, a $300 million factory complex in the northern town of Caracol displaced families dependent upon agriculture with the promise of creating up to 65,000 low-wage jobs. More than two years later, only an estimated 5,000 jobs have been created and workers are paid less than $7 a day—an amount insufficient to adequately feed a family.
The mining sector lacks the regulation and transparency of the apparel industry and so employers have less incentive to follow sound labor practices. Further, mining tends to be concentrated in isolated regions with few formal jobs—creating more potential for abuse of worker rights.
Steps for Safeguarding Workers
To protect the rights of Haitian workers, the Solidarity Center recommends that Haitian mining law should:
- Require compliance with the national labor code.
- Adopt the protections and measures outlined in the International Labor Organization’s Safety and Health in Mines.
- Include language to establish a formal workforce, in which workers have contracts, subcontracting is discouraged and local Haitian labor is hired.
- Stipulate guidelines for profit-sharing.
The 264-page report was compiled by the Haiti Justice Initiative and the Center for Human Rights & Global Justice, a member of the Haiti Advocacy Working Group, a Solidarity Center ally. Lauren Stewart, Solidarity Center senior program officer for the Americas, contributed to the report.
Alexandre Niyungeko did not flee Burundi last April when a source told him the police were planning to kill a few journalists and civil society leaders—as a warning to protesters and critics of the government—and his name was on the list.
And when anonymous callers told him his days were numbered, Niyungeko, president of the Burundi Union of Journalists (BUJ), persisted in Bujumbura, the capital, though he did go into hiding. “It wasn’t the first time someone had tried to intimidate me,” he says, explaining that, as head of the union representing 400 journalists, he often raised complaints about infringements on freedom of the press.
The threats escalated in the days after police shuttered independent radio stations and surrounded the Press House, where union and independent journalist organizations—among them the Burundian broadcasters, women journalists and a media monitoring organization—had offices, and summarily shut it down. “It’s the first time in the history of Burundi that the press was closed by police without explanation,” he says, adding that when he asked authorities who had amassed outside the building to see the order for closure, he was told: “If you continue to ask questions, you’ll be in trouble.”
Not long after, his neighbors warned him that strangers were asking about him and his routine at home.
“I was being hunted,” he says. “And that day I realized my family could be hunted, too.”
Indeed, his worst fears became reality when someone threw a grenade into his apartment when his wife and children, ages 3, 6 and 8, were home. Fortunately no one was injured. But Niyungeko knew that the only way to protect them all was to leave. In May 2015, he waited until his family had safely entered the airport transit area with tickets to fly out of Bujumbura before he set off on a separate journey. He made the dangerous overland trip, avoiding half a dozen checkpoints along the way, and met them in Rwanda.
More than 230,000 Burundians have fled their country to escape the violent crackdown that has raged since last April, when people took to the streets to protest President Pierre Nkurunziza’s announcement that he would run for a third term. Some 72,000 refugees—among them hundreds of union leaders and their members, including at least 250 teachers—have sought shelter in neighboring Rwanda.
The government’s efforts to intimidate and control the press has forced at least 100 journalists into exile, the Committee to Protect Journalists reports, and many others have been arrested and jailed, says Niyungeko. In addition, two Western journalists were arrested and briefly held last week.
Niyungeko says it is difficult for the journalists’ union to continue activities, with many leaders and members in exile, though they managed to organize a workshop for 30 Journalists in Kigali, 20 exiled and 10 from Bujumbura. Meanwhile, they continue to monitor the situation at home.
Thousands of teacher trainees, holding banners reading “Marching for dignity and justice,” and chanting “We’re prepared to go to prison,” marched through the streets of Morocco’s capital, Rabat, this week to denounce two government decrees to cut scholarships and jobs.
Teacher trainees defied government threats barring them from public protest. Credit: Hicham Ahmadouch/UMT
The protest followed a meeting between representatives of the teacher trainees and the government, which refused to annul the two decrees but agreed to recruit an additional 3,000 teacher trainers not covered by the 2016 fiscal year budget.
The workers, who have been on strike for two months, took to the streets despite government threats against unauthorized marches. At a rally earlier this month, several teacher trainees were beaten by police. Primarily in the their 20s and 30s, teacher trainees say the government’s decrees will further fuel the country’s already high youth unemployment rate, which, at more than 20 percent, is double the nation’s overall unemployment rate.
Morocco’s head of government, Abdelilah Benkirane, asserted that he will not “repeal the government decrees,” regarding teacher trainees.
Earlier this month, some 4,000 workers staged a sit-in outside the parliament in Rabat to protest worker cutbacks in pensions and ongoing worker rights violations, including the attacks on the teacher trainees.
About four thousand workers staged a sit-in outside parliament in Rabat yesterday in a show of popular protest against socioeconomic policies that are economically harmful to working people, among them planned pension reforms, a freeze on talks with civil society groups and ongoing violations of worker rights–including the government’s refusal to negotiate with trade unions on wages and working conditions for public service workers.
Protesters expressed solidarity with student teachers beaten by police last week while peacefully marching against the decision to reduce their stipends and block their path to teaching jobs.
The sit-in is a follow-up to last month’s nationwide strike by national and local public-sector workers, organized by the four largest trade union confederations in Morocco.
Miloudi Moukharek, general secretary of the Union Marocaine du Travail (Moroccan Labor Union, UMT), said all four federations are united against the government’s unpopular policies and its unwillingness to engage in dialogue with workers on wages and other issues.
Images and video footage of police attacks on young protesters around the country on Thursday last week went viral on social media, inspiring condemnation from local and international sources.
The sit-in was organized by the Confédération Démocratique du Travail (Democratic Labor Confederation, CDT), the Federation Démocratique du Maroc (Democratic Federation of Labor, FDT), the Union Générale des Travailleurs du Maroc (General Union of Moroccan Workers, UGTM) and UMT. Solidarity Center partners with the CDT and the UMT.