Author: Poonam Whabi

Advancing Gender Justice on Asian Fast Fashion Supply Chains Post COVID-19: Learning from ILO’s Convention 190 on Its First Anniversary, reviews the gendered impact of COVID-19—and the need for a transformational approach to prevent and end GBVH using guidance from C190—in the context of Asian fast fashion supply chains which produce primarily consumer apparel and footwear. The report highlights the persistent risk factors for violence that both predate and are exacerbated by COVID-19. It provides detailed guidance for fast fashion lead firms on steps they can take to uphold C190 obligations to address violence on garment supply chains in context of the global public health crisis and the economic shocks caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. While this report focuses on fast fashion supply chains, the guidance for corporate accountability to achieve violence free workplaces provides an important roadmap across global supply chain sectors.


Watch the recording of the Awards here.

Global Labor Justice – International Labor Rights Forum (GLJ-ILRF) hosted its 12th annual Labor Rights Defenders Awards Ceremony on October 1, its first event since the merging of the two organizations. With over 700 views globally so far, the online event celebrated labor rights leaders and activists from across the globe who have committed their lives to defender worker rights and build power across a range of sectors and communities.

Awardees included Sharan Burrow, General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), Dr. Lorretta Johnson, Secretary-Treasurer of the American Federation of Teachers, The Chicago Teachers Union, and The General Agricultural Workers Union of Ghana (GAWU). “In the midst of this pandemic, we’re both more isolated and more aware of how we’re linked across borders,”  said GLJ-ILRF Executive Director JJ Rosenbaum, who moderated the evening. “We will honor the importance of expanding the spaces for voice and leadership of those workers who have historically been excluded from labor rights and worker organizations.” 

Beginning with the music of Los Jornaleros del Norte, a band of day laborers that was established after an ICE raid in Los Angeles, the evening brought together international activists, organizers and allies from Bangladesh, to Honduras, to India, to Ghana and more. Many engaged in supportive banter and commentary on the YouTube channel throughout the event, which facilitated a feeling of camaraderie that can be difficult to replicate in the era of online gatherings. 

Each of this year’s Labor Rights Defenders were selected for their long term engagement in the labor rights movement. “In these incredibly momentous times, with so much at stake, we must find new ways to join together, to protest, to march, and in other ways to join arms across borders in solidarity and mutual reciprocity,” Rosenbaum said. 

Sharan Burrow has had a long career of visionary leadership at ITUC, including the passage of groundbreaking ILO Convention on the elimination of gender-based violence and harassment and the advancement of a social contract for all workers. As the first woman to hold the position of General Secretary at ITUC, Burrow has represented workers and civil society groups in global policy discussions at numerous UN bodies, the ILO, the World Bank, and the IMF. “We are the biggest democratic force on earth, and we have all peoples in the world,” Burrow said. “I’ve always come away with the dignity and the strength from those union men and women.”

As a lifelong labor organizer for paraprofessionals and school-related personnel, Lorretta Johnson has committed her life to advancing the rights of educators and children in the U.S. and globally. Johnson began her career rallying for better pay for paraprofessionals in Baltimore, and rose through the ranks of the American Federation of teachers – including serving as the president of AFT Maryland for 17 years – before becoming the Secretary Treasurer of AFT. Emphasizing the power of the Black Lives Matter movements and the labor activism of 2020, Johnson expressed, “In this exciting hopeful moment, let us be sure to look inwards at ourselves, into our unions, and our own organizations, because there is a basic fundamental value of labor, and it is the source of our strength.”

The Chicago Teachers Union, a union that represents over 20,000 teachers and clinicians, is a model of 21st-century labor organizing and a powerful voice advocating for educational and community justice in Chicago. Chicago became the birthplace of unionization among teachers in 1898. In 2019, CTU led an monumental 11-day teacher strikes demanding reforms including decreased class sizes, raising salaries, hiring more social workers, nurses and librarians, offering sanctuary to undocumented students on campuses, and expansion of affordable housing for teachers and students. President Jesse Sharkey and Recording Secretary Christel Williams Hayes underscored the collective efforts of all the union members in order to achieve wins for their students. “We have to continue to be prepared to do some type of work stoppage or an action to show them that we’re going to fight, we’re going to fight to the end,” Williams Hayes said. 

The General Agricultural Workers Union of Ghana (GAWU), an affiliate of the Trades-Union Congress Ghana, is recognized for advocating for cocoa farmers rights and working to elimate child labor, impacting hundreds of thousands across West Africa. Founded in 1959, GAWU pushes to protect workers through supply chain management across supply chains in West Africa and community development programming. GAWU began its work on Child Free Labor Zones (CFLZs) in 2007, using a strategy that hinges on strengthening trade union structures and increasing wages of union members. “It is possible to produce cocoa without child labor, it is possible to do agriculture without child labor, and it this is possible when farmers can organize,” said Andrews Tagoe, Deputy General Secretary of GAWU. 

Judy Gearhart, the former Executive Director of ILRF, was honored with an additional award in recognition of her dedicated service and enduring commitment to the labor movement. “We know that no amount of international policy will make a difference unless our allies can use those policies to advance their struggles on the ground,” Gearhart said.  

Amidst the global pandemic, we are thrilled to have offered a forum to bring together so many activists, workers, organizers, and allies to virtually celebrate our 2020 Labor Rights Defenders.  

Early this week, Malaysian glove manufacturing giant Top Glove reported that a Nepali worker had died due to COVID-19 in one of its facilities in Klang District, site of an outbreak affecting over 5,000 mostly migrant workers. Another Nepali worker tried to sound the alarm to this outbreak last September by anonymously sharing photos that showed workers crowding into a Top Glove factory. That worker was immediately fired.

In Malaysia as well as other countries dependent on migrant workers for key industries, migrant worker exploitation is aided by a hostile civic space that clamps down on free speech and freedom of association. In these countries, migrant workers are often at the bottom of supply chains and left out of protections for basic freedoms by immigration regimes. Rising xenophobia in response to COVID-19 has also left migrant workers around the world under further attack from governments and their employers.

Bangladesh Migrant Workers Forum and GLJ-ILRF, along with Rayhan Kabir, today filed a submission to five UN special rapporteurs to seek action on the global patterns of arbitrary detention of non-citizens, and retaliation for the exercise of free speech. In the same submission, we highlight Malaysia’s immigration enforcement against Bangladeshi migrant worker Rayhan Kabir, who was detained, deported and blacklisted nearly five months ago for speaking in an Al Jazeera documentary against Malaysia’s arrest and deportation of migrant workers during the pandemic.

We are asking the Special Rapporteurs on freedom of opinion and expression, migrants, racism, human rights defenders, and health to: (1) issue communications to Malaysia about its immigration enforcement action against Rayhan Kabir amounting to violations of his freedom of expression and against arbitrary detention; (2) recommend that Malaysia reaffirms the rights of all noncitizens in the country, including migrant workers and refugees, to freedom of expression and against arbitrary detention; and (3) address general patterns and worldwide trend of arbitrary detention of non-citizens – and of retaliation for exercise of free speech by workers, including migrant workers and their defenders.

Malaysia’s detention of Kabir from July 24 to August 19, 2020 violates international standards protecting rights to freedom of expression and against arbitrary detention –  and was done against the backdrop of increasing xenophobia and hate speech against non-citizens, especially against Rohingya refugees and migrant workers. The case also highlights the disturbing use of immigration detention to silence dissent.

Malaysia has repeatedly used immigration enforcement to repress migrant workers’ freedom of expression. In recent years, Malaysian officials have acknowledged to UN officials that migrant workers in Malaysia are “scared” to report rights violations due to fear of deportation. Malaysia’s current immigration regime facilitates this type of retaliation by imposing universal mandatory detention and deportation for non-citizens who violate the immigration law, regardless of fault or protected status. Use of immigration enforcement to retaliate against migrant workers for exercising their rights to freedom of expression, as in Kabir’s case, has a chilling effect on not only migrant workers’ speech, but also their freedom to associate in unions and workers’ organizations, an essential condition for decent work.

According to GLJ-ILRF Executive Director JJ Rosenbaum: “Especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, protecting the rights of non-citizens is critical for protecting their right to health. Freedom of expression is a prerequisite for free flows of information between government actors and non-citizens that are essential for providing health care and collecting public health data. All non-citizens must be protected in their exercise of freedom of expression, regardless of migration status, consistent with their fundamental human rights and in the interest of public health. We urge the UN special rapporteurs to urgently bring our concerns to the Malaysian government, especially in view of the current COVID-19 outbreak affecting mostly migrant workers.”

Read the full submission [here].

Global Labor Justice – International Labor Rights Forum (GLJ – ILRF) is a newly merged organization bringing strategic capacity to cross-sectoral work on global value chains and labor migration corridors. GLJ-ILRF holds global corporations accountable for labor rights violations in their supply chains, advances policies and laws that protect decent work and just migration, and strengthens freedom of association, new forms of bargaining, and worker organizations.


The October 21, 2020 conviction of 13 State Railway Union of Thailand (SRUT) leaders by the Central Criminal Court for Corruption and Misconduct Cases in Bangkok continues setbacks on Freedom of Association and health and safety protections in Thailand.  

In 2009 following deadly train derailments,  SRUT members organized a health and safety initiative calling on the State Railway of Thailand to address outdated and broken safety equipment.  SRUT members also refused to drive trains with faulty safety measures. The International Labor Organization (ILO) found that the union leaders’ actions were in line with international standards on the role of unions in occupational safety and health (OSH).

These convictions ostensibly for “omission of official duties or commission to disrupt or cause damage” happening more than ten years later continue retaliatory efforts to chill protected concerted activity by SRUT to protect the health and safety of its members and people who ride the trains. They arise from criminal charges brought by the National Anti-Corruption Commission in 2019, and carry with them three-year prison sentences.

These convictions follow the 2017 Supreme Labor Court decision upholding an earlier ruling that ordered the seven union leaders to pay a fine of THB 15 million ($500,000) plus accrued interest, which has led to garnishment of wages and confiscation of union assets harming workers and their families.  

In 2019, the U.S. Trade Representative invoked the repression and denial of fundamental labor rights of all workers to suspend trade benefits with Thailand under its Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) program. This decision was based in part on a 2015 petition by the AFL-CIO, which included the SRUT case among others as an emblematic example of Thailand’s repeated refusal to guarantee worker rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining. Without legislative reform to guarantee these fundamental rights and while courts remain complicit in targeted attacks on unions, Thailand’s trade relations will continue to decline.

At GLJ-ILRF, we stand with these 13 workers, their families, the SRUT, the International Trade Union Confederation and the International Transport Workers’ Federation in seeking justice and upholding their members’ rights, starting with the reversal of this verdict.

From Jennifer (JJ) Rosenbaum Executive Director of GLJ-ILRF: 

“We call on U.S. brands to ensure freedom of association in their supply chains in Thailand. Too many U.S. companies are profiting from the repression of workers’ rights including the chilling of freedom of association, expression, and assembly that cases like this create.  Now more than ever, workers must be free to individually and collectively refuse unsafe work as allowed by the ILO’s International Labor Standards without fear of retaliation and reprisals.      

We also renew our demand to the U.S. State Department to downgrade Thailand’s status to Tier 2 Watch List in the annual Trafficking in Persons Report. Failure to robustly protect freedom of association is a major indicator of labor trafficking and should be so recognized in the TIP report.” 


Global Labor Justice – International Labor Rights Forum (GLJ – ILRF) is a newly merged organization bringing strategic capacity to cross-sectoral work on global value chains and labor migration corridors. GLJ-ILRF holds global corporations accountable for labor rights violations in their supply chains, advances policies and laws that protect decent work and just migration, and strengthens freedom of association, new forms of bargaining, and worker organizations.

The International Labor Right Forum and Global Labor Justice Are Joining Forces to Defend Worker Rights and Build Worker Power in the Global Economy

Today, I am excited to announce the merger of two allied organizations – the International Labor Rights Forum and Global Labor Justice.  Developed over many months with the strong support of our allies, board, and staff, our new partnership is coming together at a critical time.  As quite literally every person in the world faces a common threat in the form of a global pandemic, workers are simultaneously more isolated and connected than ever before.  At a time when state and corporate responses leave workers around the world in crisis– locked into dangerous working conditions or locked out of jobs with essential wages and benefits– it is clear we must work together to build durable transnational alliances that advance a new strategic vision with labor and human rights in the foreground. Progressive economy efforts can no longer be seen as a parochial, national issue. Transnational movements and strategic campaigns are fundamental to a future that includes decent work, development, and democracy in the U.S. and around the world.  Together we will strengthen the force behind these efforts by providing greater strategic capacity, support, and momentum.

Where are We Now?

Complicated and opaque global supply chain models of production and services continue to expand wealth and income inequality among people and nations worldwide. At the same time, we are seeing a growing retrenchment of liberal democracy, the ascent of fascism, authoritarianism, anti-worker and anti-labor reforms throughout the global landscape.

The COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent responses from employers, corporate actors and governments have had a catastrophic effect on the health and livelihoods of more than 150 million workers in global supply chains. Workers have been left to struggle against vast structural inequalities, with women workers being disproportionately affected by this crisis. Yet, a gender lens on global worker issues has been largely absent from employer and government responses. Migrant workers have also been stranded—both at home and in destination countries— ignored and left out of recovery and repatriation programs and used politically to drum up nationalism and xenophobia.

We can’t keep what we are doing.  It’s time for a new vision and new way forward.

What Experience Do We Bring? 

The International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF) was formed over thirty years ago, as a progressive coalition of labor, human rights, faith, and policy leaders seeking to mitigate the harm of economic globalization on workers. ILRF has led several successful campaigns to secure labor rights guarantees in U.S. trade agreements, establishing a model that has since become a centerpiece of U.S. law and policy. Since then, ILRF has continued to insist on prioritizing labor rights in the transformation of the global economy, with allies in the U.S. and around the world.

Global Labor Justice was created in 2017 by a set of organizers and movement lawyers in the U.S., Asia, and Latin America confronting this altered terrain.  GLJ pairs legal, policy, and research approaches with organizing along the axis of global markets of goods and services, currently supporting key experiments within supply chains and across labor migration corridors in the Americas and Asia/ Middle East.      

What’s the Opportunity?

To create a more just global economy, we must center working people and their families and strengthen corporate and state accountability. And as our name highlights, human and labor rights must coexist with the power to exercise them. 

As we come together as one organization, GLJ and ILRF align our histories, our networks of allies, and our expertise – and we are poised to meet the challenge of building solidarity and worker power in this crisis. We will use expanded research, legal, and policy capacities to analyze global production networks, global financialization and labor migration, and converge sharp strategies to support transnational campaigns.  With our combined networks, GLJ and ILRF will be an important bridge between national and regional worker movements organizing for change along global axes and across borders. 

How We Seed and Grow Transformational Change

We are hopeful as we see labor and social movements strategically prying open the cracks in neoliberal models of racialized capitalism. Strikes, uprisings, and expanded organizing in the public, private, and informal sector are increasing despite the obstacles. We see workers building and using technology to facilitate transnational communication and organizing, pushing back on technology purely as a tool of surveillance and control. 

As we join forces, GLJ-ILRF renews our commitment to bring strategic capacity to transnational organizing efforts built along the levers of the global economy. And as our shared name highlights, we will center labor, especially freedom of association, and collective bargaining in existing and new innovative forms. 

We continue to stand in solidarity with allies who are calling for a progressive global labor internationalism committed to building organizing and worker power within the same multinationals, within sectors, and within broader strategic alliances including with movements for racial, gender, immigrant and climate justice. 

Stronger Together 

Our vision is clear. All workers– whether they are employees or self-employed, full-time or precarious, directly employed or subcontracted, in the public sector or in the gig and platform economies at the fringes of the private sector – deserve a living wage, safe and healthy working conditions and a social contract. Longstanding impediments to participation and leadership like gender-based violence and harassment in the workplace must also be eliminated. 

To do this, we must build the transnational linkages across borders that would traditionally divide working people and communities with similar interests. GLJ- ILRF’s mission is to provide key strategic capacity at these intersections, so we can remove barriers, advance innovative directions, expand organizing, and strengthen movement capacity. 

As we do this, workplace democracy and trade unions must continue to be a foundational part of democracy more broadly, and are more important than ever to oppose austerity measures at a time when workers and low-income countries are least able to bear them. 

We are at a critical juncture. As the pandemic forces the restructuring of global value chains and labor and financial markets, GLJ-ILRF will continue to support workers organizing for power and hold states, employers, multinationals, and their investors accountable.

As Ella Baker said, we who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes. At GLJ-ILRF we are just getting started. We look forward to working with existing allies and new one towards winning rights, justice, and freedom for all working people and creating a more just and equitable global society.

In Solidarity,

Jennifer (JJ) Rosenbaum 
Executive Director, GLJ-ILRF 

Because they are paid poverty wages, garment workers — primarily women — have long had to go into debt in order to cover basic living expenses for their families.

Minimum wages in garment producing countries are at or below poverty level and fashion companies source at prices that pay workers at or below minimum wages. Working families having to support themselves on poverty wages makes their ability to provide for food, housing, schooling, and healthcare precarious. Furthermore, informal loans taken to cover these basic expenses are only offered at predatory interest rates that put additional strain on families’ finances.

In Cambodia, for the past several years, microfinance institutions (MFIs) have attempted to put a bandaid over poverty wages in the garment sector by providing formal loans to low-income earners like garment workers. MFI bank loans may address working families’ short-term needs. However, like informal loans, MFI bank loans also put families at increased risk of economic catastrophe. Working families often put up their only assets, often land, as collateral for loans, meaning they could risk everything if they lose their source of income and default as a result. 

Now, during the COVID crisis, tens of thousands of garment workers in Cambodia are out of work and millions are at risk of defaulting on MFI loans and losing everything they have — an economic catastrophe on top of a public health crisis. 

In response, Cambodian unions and civil society organizations are fighting Cambodian banks and the Cambodian government for MFI loan relief for low-income working families — including those working in the garment sector — during the COVID crisis. 

In their June 30 briefing paper Worked to Debt: Over-Indebtedness in Cambodia’s Garment Sector, the Cambodian Alliance of Trade Unions (CATU), the Center for Alliance of Labor and Human Rights (CENTRAL), and the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO), reveal the impacts of MFI loans on workers in Cambodia’s garment sector. 

Through a survey taken between March and May 2020 of 162 garment workers (158 women) who previously worked at factories that have partially or fully suspended work due to COVID, Worked to Debt found ⅔ of surveyed workers were paying off at least one microloan from an MFI or bank. Among those with such loans, 72% reported eating less food in order to repay. 73% said they had taken a microloan to repay an existing debt. 

In addition, these MFI loans are putting garment workers’ assets in land at risk. 79% of surveyed workers’ microloans were collateralized by land titles. 15% had already sold land in order to repay, and another 30% planned to sell land in the future in order to pay. 

Early in the crisis, in late April 135 civil society groups, including CATU, CENTRAL, and LICADHO, in Cambodia called for suspension of MFI loans during COVID. However, the National Bank of Cambodia (NBC) has so far only issued non-binding recommendations to MFI banks to offer rescheduling and deferment. In late June, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen encouraged MFIs to repossess land that had been used as collateral for microloans if debtors were unable to pay.

Worked to Debt calls on the Cambodian Government, MFIs, and international investors and development partners to suspend or encourage suspension of loan repayments, and to protect garment workers’ land. However, it also calls on those in power in fashion supply chains — fashion companies. 

Fashion export is critical to Cambodia’s economy as a source of capital and as a source of work. Garment export employs roughly 800,000 and generates about 40% of Cambodia’s economic output. Fashion companies were a driver behind garment workers in Cambodia taking MFI loans pre-COVID in the first place, since workers were unable to cover their families’ needs with poverty wages that fashion companies — via their contracts with suppliers — effectively pay.

As shown in Worked to Debt, MFI loans’ impacts on fashion supply chain workers in Cambodia during COVID reveal that fashion supply chains are broken — a reality that workers themselves have long known. Fashion companies failing to take responsibility for their impacts on supply chain workers has wide-ranging knock-on effects that hit women especially hard, even more so during COVID. One such effect is debt: poverty wages make it more likely that workers will take out loans and will not be able to make payments during an unprecedented economic shock like COVID.

All actors CATU, CENTRAL, and LICADHO are calling on have a role to play to settle this crisis for workers. Fashion companies must play an active role in that process. Companies should be working seriously in support of and with unions and civil society organizations to meet the immediate needs of supply chain workers and their families during the COVID crisis; no working family should have to sell their land because they lost their job in a fashion supply chain.

Due to the pandemic, casino workers in Chile have been laid off since March and have had their public assistance slowly reduced and cut off leaving many people with little resources to survive.

Now as the Chilean shutdown orders expire and casinos will be reopening their employers have refused to guarantee that they will rehire the union workers which threatens not just their jobs but also their organization. GLJ-ILRF has been supporting UNI affiliated union federations FENASICAJH (Federación Nacional de Sindicatos de Casinos de Juegos y Hoteles en Chile) and CONA RACOPS (Confederación Nacional de Trabajadores Del Comercio, Servicios, Call Center y Casinos de Juegos) to push back. They had met with casino owners twice and had been getting the run-around so they decided to go public on Tuesday, September 8th, holding a press conference with allied elected leaders and launched a video where nearly 1,000 casino workers showed their faces to demand that they be rehired when the casinos reopen. The fight to win job security is fundamental to economic justice and it can only happen when we all stand together and defend unionization from corporations that use crises to drive anti-worker agendas.