Labor rights groups say “every brand that values workers’ lives” will sign the International Accord for Health and Safety in the Textile and Garment Industry
Today, apparel brands and labor unions announced an agreement on a new International Accord for Health and Safety in the Textile and Garment Industry, thereby preserving, extending, and expanding the model pioneered by the Bangladesh Accord for protecting worker safety. The non-governmental organization signatories (known as witness signatories) to the Bangladesh Accord – Clean Clothes Campaign, Worker Rights Consortium, Maquila Solidarity Network, and Global Labor Justice-International Labor Rights Forum – issued the following statement:
We welcome, and look forward to signing, this new international safety agreement, which maintains the vital elements of the ground-breaking model established by the Bangladesh Accord: legal enforceability of brands’ commitments, independent oversight of brand compliance, the obligation to pay prices to suppliers sufficient to support safe workplaces, and the obligation to cease doing business with any factory that refuses to operate safely. The successful outcome of negotiations this summer will ensure that the sweeping safety gains the Accord has delivered in Bangladesh will be maintained and extended.
This model, which has saved countless lives in Bangladesh, will also now be expanded to other countries where workers’ lives remain daily at risk. Eight years since the inception of the original Accord, the new International Accord takes the important and overdue step to expand its coverage beyond Bangladesh. It is vital that this process will be taken on swiftly and unreservedly for the benefit of textile and garment workers who have called for better safety measures for many years.
Under the new agreement, the continuation of the progress on fire and building safety achieved in Bangladesh over the past eight years, and the expansion of the program beyond Bangladesh, will be ensured through the work of the Accord Secretariat, a fully independent oversight body with the authority to verify and enforce brand compliance. Importantly, only brands that are willing to sign the new enforceable agreement will be able to avail themselves of inspections and other services from the RMG Sustainability Council (RSC), in Bangladesh, ensuring a level playing field without a double standard for brand accountability.
Every responsible apparel and textile brand – every brand that places any value on the lives of the workers who sew its clothes – will sign this new agreement. It is especially important that brands and retailers that failed to sign the original Accord sign this one. These brands have consciously chosen to risk the lives of the workers in their contract factories; their recklessness must now end.
We congratulate the hundreds of trade unions, civil society organizations, parliamentarians, and governments around the world that have advocated this year for the continuation of the Accord. Their efforts were instrumental in getting this good outcome. We must now turn our attention to ensuring that every brand that sources clothing from high-risk countries, in South Asia and beyond, signs the new International Safety Accord.
JJ Rosenbaum, Executive Director of Global Labor Justice – International Labor Rights Forum (GLJ-IRLF) said: “This legally binding agreement is a critical step in holding brands and their suppliers accountable and pushing them to create safe workplaces for garment and textile workers in Bangladesh. Legally binding and enforceable agreements involving trade unions, labor rights organizations and brands and their suppliers are key to preventing tragedies like Rana Plaza from happening ever again.”
Ineke Zeldenrust, International Coordinator at Clean Clothes Campaign, said: “This agreement will begin the long-awaited expansion of this model that holds brands legally accountable to other countries where workers’ lives continue to be at risk. In many of these countries, unions and labor rights organizations have been asking for effective action in the field of workplace safety for years. We are happy this agreement will now become truly international and look forward to it being expanded soon to the countries where the need is highest and the demand is greatest.”
Scott Nova, Executive Director of the Worker Rights Consortium said: “Garment workers in Bangladesh used to die in the dozens and hundreds making t-shirts and sweaters for the world’s leading apparel brands. The Accord put an end to that horror. Provided enough brands sign, this new agreement will ensure it never returns.”
Notes to editor:
● The announcement of the negotiating brands and trade unions is available on the website of the Bangladesh Accord: https://bangladeshaccord.org/updates/2021/08/25/brands-and-unions-reach-agreement-on-new-expanded-worker-safety-pact
● Last week, Clean Clothes Campaign, the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, and Worker Rights Consortium published a legal brief detailing that brands accountable under current French and future German corporate due diligence legislation could be held liable if they decide to not sign a new agreement: cleanclothes.org/Accord-due-diligence/view.
● Garment worker unions and labor rights organizations in Pakistan have been calling for an expansion of the Accord model to Pakistan for a long time. This report from 2019 highlights their demands and the urgency for expanding the Accord program to Pakistan: cleanclothes.org/PakistanSafety/view.
WASHINGTON DC — Global Labor Justice-International Labor Rights Forum (GLJ-IRLF), our staff, and our allied unions and community organizations around the globe mourn the loss of AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka.
As a third-generation miner and son of immigrant parents, President Trumka often publicly called on that experience as he defended important positions for working people and unions in the U.S. and around the world.
During his term as President of the United Mineworkers of America, he met South African miners challenging the South African Apartheid regime. He helped organize the U.S. Shell Boycott in solidarity with them, later earning the 1990 Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Award from the Institute for Policy Studies in recognition of these efforts. President Trumka also led the AFL-CIO in supporting the labor movements of Tunisia, Egypt, and Bahrain during the Arab Spring, recognizing the role that these trade unions played in challenging corporate power and government impunity and in ensuring meaningful worker protections in the 2018 U.S. Mexico Canada Trade Agreement (USMCA).
GLJ-ILRF Executive Director Jennifer Rosenbaum remembered, “In 2010, Rich welcomed and hosted the first Excluded Worker Congress meeting bringing together day laborers, domestic workers, guest workers, and global supply chain workers and their organizations. The convening including workers from Asia, Central America, the Caribbean, and Africa along with Black workers from the U.S. South. Together we analyzed how multinational corporations and global capital pit countries and workers against each other and how this exacerbated existing structural oppression around issues of race, gender, and migration status. These conversations planted the seeds that led to the founding of Global Labor Justice. Under Rich’s leadership, the AFL-CIO affiliated the predominantly immigrant National Taxi Workers Alliance; entered into partnerships with workers’ centers; and deepened collaboration with U.S. and global partners on successful efforts to adopt the ILO Domestic Workers’ Convention (C189) and then the ILO Convention to End Gender-Based Violence and Harassment (C190).”
Much of President Trumka’s recent efforts focused on passing the Pro Act — legislation that would update labor law provisions so workers in the U.S. can effectively exercise the right to organize and collectively bargain. The Pro Act would strengthen the U.S. labor movement along with transnational labor efforts. We urge those in Congress to honor President Trumka’s memory through concrete action to pass the Pro Act. President Trumka’s recent leadership with the Biden Administration has also been critical in advancing a U.S. agenda that empowers unions and workers as a part of U.S. trade, development, and foreign policy. This includes locating U.S. efforts in broader cooperation with the ILO and other multilateral efforts. President Trumka was clear that worker-centered policy must include workers around the world.”
We send our deepest condolences to his family and friends as we honor President Trumka’s powerful legacy—he fought hard battles and left the world a better place for unions and working people. We also send our solidarity to the leaders at the AFL-CIO who carry forward the work at this critical time.
Over the weekend, Indian Union Leader Thivya Rakini, President of the Tamil Nadu Textile and Common Labour Union (TTCU) addressed the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance’s 16th Biennial Convention with the theme Rooted in Legacy: Reimagining a New World Beyond Borders & Across Oceans. TTCU is a women-led Tamil Nadu based sectoral textile worker union.
Thivya shared the legacy of Jeyasre Kathiravel, a young Dalit woman and union member who was organizing for better conditions at her workplace and was killed by her supervisor inspiring the Justice for Jeyasre campaign to honor her legacy and demand serious long term changes including an end to gender-based violence and harassment and freedom of association for garment workers in Tamil Nadu and beyond. Their demands were endorsed by more than ninety unions, women’s organizations, and other allies including The AFL-CIO, The Cambodian Alliance of Trade Unions (CATU), Workers United – SEIU, the Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women (GAATW), and All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA).
Thivya inspired APALA Convention attendees with the energy and spirit of TTCU’s women members as they organize to transform conditions on the global supply chains of major fashion brands. She also shared their transformative vision of dignified work and life for those who sew the clothes that many of the convention members wear every day.
“Young women are the backbone of the fast fashion industry,” said Thivya Rakini. “Through the Justice for Jeyasre campaign and TTCU’s broader organizing strategy, we are advancing a vision for our communities, our economy, and our country. When young women are able to work with dignified conditions and living wages, they will also be able to lead broader change.”
“We also joined the APALA Convention to learn more about organizing efforts coming from the U.S including the Amazon workers in Bessemer, Alabama, and the warrior coal mine workers in Alabama. Like us, they are organizing and demanding change from the most difficult environments with centuries of historical oppression. From our experience and theirs, we are hopeful- we see organizing growing more from the South in the U.S. and from the Global South and we want to stand in unity against big corporations who put profit before people.”
The APALA convention brought workers and allies together for powerful plenaries, APALA business, and collective actions. The convention links generations of organizers working to advance worker justice and continues the groundwork laid by decades of training programs, political, civic engagement programs, and APALA’s series of successful immigration campaigns.
TTCU’s Remarks at the APALA Convention opened The Justice for Jeyasre Campaign virtual speaking tour to meet with union and community members across the U.S. to build a stronger global labor movement with women’s leadership at all levels and to demand corporate accountability on global fashion supply chains. After the convention, the tour will visit major US cities including Miami, Washington DC, Tucson, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston, New York, and more. To request more information about a tour stop in your city please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
The Justice for Jeyasre Campaign is led by a coalition of international unions, labor groups, and gender-justice organizations in honor of Jeyasre Kethrivel, a young Indian Dalit woman garment worker and union member who was organizing against gender-based violence and harassment at a major Indian garment manufacturer that supplies to American and European fashion brands. Jeyasre faced months of sexual harassment by her supervisor before she was murdered in January. Since her death, twenty-five other women garment workers at the same factory have since come forward publicly describing a culture of gender-based violence & harassment at the particular unit where Jeyasre worked, Natchi Apparels. The Justice for Jeyasre Campaign pays tribute to Jeyasre’s life and efforts as a labor organizer by continuing to fight and make sure gender-based violence is eliminated in Tamil Nadu and beyond.
Aaron Halegua and Shikha Silliman Bhattacharjee
On this day in 2019, labor, feminist, and human rights allies celebrated the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) adoption of the Violence and Harassment Convention (No. 190)—a landmark international standard calling upon Member States to adopt measures to prevent and eliminate workplace violence and harassment, particularly workplace gender-based violence and harassment (GBVH). While this legal standard was being negotiated, women across the globe spoke out against sexual violence and harassment at work in unprecedented numbers, linking their individual victimization to the collective experience of persistent GBVH in their workplaces and society simultaneously brought to the forefront by the #MeToo movement.
Zhou Xiaoxuan (or Xianzi) is one of the millions who spoke out. In 2014, Xianzi was sexually harassed by a famous television host during a college internship at China Central Television. When she reported the incident to the police, they persuaded her not to pursue the claim, implying it would harm both her parents’ career and Xianzi’s reputation. Four years later, inspired by other women sharing their stories, Xianzi posted her account of the incident online. Instead of receiving an apology, in 2018, Xianzi was sued for defamation. When she counter-sued for sexual harassment, the court rejected her claim. Further hearings were scheduled in May but were abruptly adjourned without explanation. This high-profile legal battle has also galvanized considerable public interest, especially from a growing feminist movement and young Chinese women—some of whom demonstrated outside the courthouse on the day of Xianzi’s hearing. Experts believe that this public attention has made the Chinese government very cautious in handling the case, explaining the long delays.
Two years after the adoption of Convention 190, what progress have Member States made in complying with its mandates? Six countries have ratified the Convention, giving it legal effect in their domestic system, including Namibia, Argentina, and Somalia. Robust ratification campaigns are ongoing in places like South Africa and Zambia, supported by diverse groups like the ITUC and IDWF, and more than ten countries have signaled their intention to ratify. Through powerful campaigns like the Global Fight for 15 at McDonald’s, IUF’s Global Campaign against sexual harassment at Marriott, and Justice for Jeyasre, women workers and their unions are not waiting for ratification, but directly engaging with brands and employers to eliminate GBVH from their workplaces. And, in other countries, Convention 190 has inspired a national conversation about the gaps in existing laws and power-based barriers to access to justice.
A new report by Global Labor Justice – International Labor Rights Forum (GLJ-ILRF) and NYU’s U.S.-Asia Law Institute examines the case of China, evaluating how its domestic laws and practices stack up against the international standard. On the one hand, during the negotiations, China endorsed the adoption of a binding legal instrument (rather than a non-binding resolution) and the Convention’s mission of promoting a “zero tolerance” environment towards GBVH. While it has not yet ratified the Convention, China did introduce a new legal provision in 2020 that explicitly created liability for perpetrators of sexual harassment and obligated employers to adopt measures to investigate, prevent, and stop sexual harassment in the workplace.
But as Xianzi’s case demonstrates, sexual harassment persists in Chinese workplaces and victims face real challenges in asserting their rights. Chinese media coverage of sexual harassment complaints remains limited, and government authorities clamped down further on such reporting after the #MeToo movement began gaining some traction. In order to better understand the types of GBVH occurring in the Chinese workplace and how those incidents are handled, the report reviews over 100 civil case judgments from a database of Chinese court decisions.
The cases revealed a wide range of GBVH in the Chinese workplace, including making lewd comments and jokes, sending harassing messages, unwelcome touching, inviting subordinates to have sex, and forcing an employee to watch pornography. However, very few GBVH victims sought redress through the Chinese courts. Most cases involved alleged harassers suing their employer to challenge their termination—a positive indication that some employers take GBVH complaints seriously. Further, those few victims who did sue rarely prevailed because of the high burden of proof on plaintiffs and the requirement that the victim’s oral testimony must be corroborated by physical evidence. Even those who “won” were awarded either no damages or only a paltry sum. Instead, victims who complained often faced retaliation by the employer or, like Xianzi, a defamation lawsuit by the harasser.
Recognizing some of these challenges, China—like Uruguay, Denmark, and others—keeps moving towards harmonizing its domestic law and practice with Convention 190’s mandates. Three months ago, the municipality of Shenzhen issued a detailed guideline that further defines sexual harassment, specifies the policies and procedures that employers should implement, prescribes penalties for harassers, and ban retaliation.
The report encourages China to continue down this path. Based on the empirical research performed, the report offers concrete recommendations to the Chinese government, employers, workers’ organizations, and global brands to, for instance, make the legal definition of prohibited conduct coextensive with Convention 190; establish clear liability and penalties for employers; strengthen government monitoring and enforcement; and prohibit retaliation. Our intention is that this report serves as a resource to these actors in promoting compliance with the text and spirit of Convention 190.
On Wednesday, July 21st, 2021 GLJ-ILRF’s Executive Director, JJ Rosenbaum testified at the Subcommittee on Trade of the U.S. House Committee on Ways and Means’s hearing to discuss innovative approaches to combat forced labor in global supply chains and how the U.S. government can strengthen enforcement & protect workers.
Other expert witnesses included Neha Misra, Global Lead of Migration and Human Trafficking at the Solidarity Center, Charity Ryerson, Executive Director of the Corporate Accountability Lab, Genevieve LeBaron, Professor of Politics at the University of Sheffield, and Brian Lowry, Senior Vice President of Innovation, Regulation, and Trade at the United States Council for International Business.
You can watch the full hearing here, and read the testimony submitted by GLJ-ILRF below.Rosenbaum-Ways-and-Means-Trade-Subcommittee-Testimony-on-Forced-Labor-7.19.21-1
“The difference between staying in Honduras and leaving for the United States is not whether you have a job or not. It’s whether you have decent work,” states Tomás Membreño, President of STAS, the Honduran industrial agricultural workers’ union. He would know. In 2017, after palm oil conglomerate Grupo Jaremar used violence and unlawful firings to break STAS’s organizing efforts in the palm oil plantations, over a hundred would-be union members joined caravans headed north.
Central American migration to the United States today is sometimes framed as a humanitarian tragedy, sometimes a national security threat. Rarely, however, do we discuss the lack of decent work as a central reason for migration. Yet jobs that pay a living wage, offer fair conditions and benefits, respect fundamental rights, and give workers stability so that they can plan for their families’ future are fundamental to allow people from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador to choose not to migrate. Decent work is also a fundamental feature of fair migration. It is the missing pillar of US policy in the region.
The relationship between work and immigration is complicated. Many who leave have jobs at home, just not good ones. Furthermore, economists have shown that more depart as opportunities begin to rise in their home countries, continuing until GDP reaches a certain level. Then migration drops and those outside begin to return. This is sometimes called the “migration hump.” Even while migration is rising, stable work at home with opportunities for advancement may encourage people to stay put. And in the longer term, a focus on good jobs is essential to reach the downward slope more quickly.
Meanwhile, for migrants, decent work is embodied in the idea of labor citizenship. All human beings, wherever they are from and whatever their immigration status, should have the right to be treated with dignity on the job and paid fairly for their labor. Labor citizenship is fundamental to ensuring that migration is compatible with decent work for migrants themselves and for local workers in the same labor market.
The Biden administration has committed to making its foreign policy coherent with domestic prosperity. Centering decent work in the US government’s efforts to address migration from Central America would align foreign policy and national security with immigration and internal economic goals.
How would this look in practice?
· The US government would support independent, democratic unions and grassroots workers’ movements in Central America and Mexico. Such institutions anchor civil society and protect the rights of marginalized people as they work to build decent jobs, advancing genuine democracy. In so doing, its foreign policy would be consistent with good immigration policy.
· The US would enforce labor provisions in its trade agreements in the region. Although the Central American Free Trade Agreement includes labor rights clauses, the US government has done little with them. STAS and other unions still suffer glaring violations of international labor standards. U.S. unions just filed the first complaint under the new US-Mexico-Canada Agreement, testing its potential strength. Using these tools to reverse downward pressure on wages and working conditions would put trade policy on a path consistent with good immigration policy.
· Where the US finances development projects in the region, it would strengthen and enforce conditions on loans regarding the quality of jobs created and respect for freedom of association among other labor rights — furthering sustainable development and sustainable immigration policy.
· The US would support efforts to build labor citizenship along the migration corridors on which Central Americans travel. One example is the Corridors of Justice initiative linking the workers’ center CIMITRA in El Salvador, ProDESC in Mexico, and the National Day Laborers Organizing Network in the United States, creating a network of workers centers across three countries in order to support migrants in defending their rights as they move.
· When the US admits Central Americans, it would do so with full labor rights. The administration would change course from plans announced in last week to bring more Central Americans in through guest worker programs that tie them to a single employer and make them deportable if they stand up for their rights. Instead, consistent with domestic prosperity goals and protections for US workers, migrants must come in with the ability to change jobs, and have help from the government, unions, and worker centers to make their rights real.
The long history of United States political intervention and economic extraction in Central America are key factors in the violence and corruption that are propelling people to leave today. A focus on decent work as a part of migration policy in the region is one way to address some of the damage from that legacy, to strengthen democracy and reduce inequality — and to lay the groundwork that will ultimately offer Central Americans a genuine choice to stay home.
Jennifer Gordon, Professor of Law, Fordham University School of Law
Jennifer (JJ) Rosenbaum, Executive Director Global Labor Justice- International Labor Rights Forum and Lecturer in Law, Harvard Law School
As social justice and cultural organizations in New Jersey, we express our solidarity with the stonemasons who faced exploitation and abuse at the Bochasanwasi Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha (BAPS) Temple in Robbinsville, New Jersey.
According to a federal lawsuit filed in May 2021, the workers shared that they were forced to work for 12.5 hours a day for seven days a week and that their hourly wages amounted to merely $1.20 per hour (or $450/month). For more than two years, they were kept in a fenced, guarded compound and were not allowed to speak to anyone outside the premises. The workers said that they were recruited falsely under religious worker visas and that their passports were confiscated when they came to the United States. The complaint also states that one worker died at the premises. While the cause of this worker’s death is still under investigation, many Indian stone workers face untimely deaths due to pervasive silicosis, which is often the tragic result of failure to provide adequate safety protections to workers in the temple construction industry.
It is vital to understand that the majority of these exploited workers are of Dalit-Bahujan background. According to the federal complaint, temple leadership furthered caste oppression by abusing the workers, including calling them “worms.” They also claimed that these workers were conducting “seva” a Hindu term for volunteering, and thus should not seek restitution. Some workers who last year found the courage to raise concerns about their treatment were sent back to India, where they are reportedly facing harassment from BAPS representatives, who are now pressuring them to identify as religious volunteers rather than workers.
All workers deserve safe worksites, fair wages, and humane work conditions. We express our solidarity with the stonemasons in New Jersey and in India. We stand ready to provide support in the form of culturally relevant and appropriate services, linguistic access, mental health resources, and a community of care.
In addition, we call upon federal and state authorities to fully investigate the allegations of the workers against the BAPS temple and provide the workers meaningful protections during the course of those investigations. At a minimum, the workers should be compensated for their stolen wages and provided immediate medical care.
We ask Hindu organizations and temples to raise their voices publicly in support of these and all temple workers. And, we call upon all communities and allies to join us in expressing solidarity for the workers.
American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU NJ)
American Friends Service Committee Immigrant Rights Program
Anakbayan North Jersey
Bangladeshi American Women’s Development Initiative (BAWDI)
CATA – The Farmworkers Support Committee
Central Jersey Coalition Against Endless War
Council on American-Islamic Relations, New Jersey Chapter (CAIR-NJ)
Filipino Community Center (FCC)
GABRIELA New Jersey
GABRIELA New York
Indian American Muslim Council New Jersey (IAMC NJ)
Industrial Union Council
International Migrants Alliance USA (IMA-USA)
Make the Road New Jersey
Migrante New Jersey
New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice
Newark Water Coalition
NJ Citizen Action
NJ Time to Care Coalition
North New Jersey Democratic Socialists of America
Northern New Jersey Jewish Voice for Peace
Northern New Jersey Sanctuary Coalition
Occupy Bergen County
Panther Solidarity Organization, Newark NJ
Ridgewood for Black Liberation
Sadhana: Coalition of Progressive Hindus
Sakhi for South Asian Women
Students Against Hindutva Ideology (SAHI)