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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derailments,  SRUT members organized a health and safety initiative calling on the State Railway of Thailand to address outdated and broken safety equipment.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.” 

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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.

Actions, or lack thereof, by OSHA, NLRB Endangered Workers’ Lives Groups Call on International Labour Organization to Step in to Protect U.S. Workers 

GENEVA — U.S. trade unions representing more than 14 million workers Wednesday filed a complaint with the International Labour Organization charging the Trump administration with violating global standards in its handling of the Covid-19 crisis in American workplaces. In the complaint, the AFL-CIO and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) assert the Trump administration and anti-union employers have exploited longstanding flaws in U.S. labor law – and imposed new ones – to restrict employees’ organizing and bargaining rights, leaving millions of workers unable to defend their health and their lives while the Coronavirus ravages their workplaces. The sweeping complaint points first to the failure of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to adopt emergency standards on Covid-19 in the workplace, instead issuing a toothless “guidance” with no legal force. Further charges cite the National Labor Relations Board, now dominated by Trump appointees, for decisions and policy rulings that undercut workers’ organizing and bargaining efforts, endangering their lives. 

“The Trump administration has left workers defenseless against employers who have nothing to fear from OSHA or the National Labor Relations Board, leading to more infections and more deaths around the country,” said SEIU President Mary Kay Henry. “Black and brown workers have been devastated by the administration’s failures.” For workers covered by the National Labor Relations Act, the Trump-dominated labor board built on a series of anti-worker decisions that pre-dated COVID, but curtailed workers’ ability to fight for safer workplaces during the pandemic. Once the pandemic hit, Trump’s labor board issued further rulings that allowed employers to fire employees who try to rally their co-workers against the lack of health and safety conditions in Covid-affected workplaces, and to refuse to bargain with unions seeking Covid-related safeguards at work, among others. 

“Since the Covid-19 crisis began, the Trump administration has made it easier for companies to discriminate against workers who protest unsafe conditions and made it harder for workers to organize and bargain for safer conditions,” said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka. “The emergence of the Covid-19 crisis in American workplaces has not paused the Trump NLRB’s assault on workers’ organizing and bargaining rights,” the complaint argues. “On the contrary, the Board is using the crisis to give employers even more power to violate these rights at a time when workers most need their protection to defend their health and their lives at work.” The complaint also zeros in on pre-existing legal prohibitions on collective bargaining by farmworkers, household domestic workers, so-called independent contractors, and public employees in most states, all of whom are excluded from coverage of the National Labor Relations Act, and shows how these exclusions endangered workers during the pandemic. Private-sector employers can fire these workers with impunity for union activity, while public sector employers can refuse to recognize or bargain with their unions. Many have been forced to report for work or lose their jobs, unable to exercise any collective voice in setting safety and health protections. 

ACTIONS ‘AIMED SQUARELY AT WORKERS’ RIGHTS’ 

“The Covid crisis has exposed and intensified these pre-existing flaws in new ways, now exacerbated by Trump administration actions aimed squarely at workers’ rights in the pandemic,” the complaint reads. The unions’ complaint calls upon the ILO also to consider the forced labor and discrimination aspects of the Trump administration’s response to the Covid-19 crisis in the workplace. Employers used Trump’s executive orders as a rationale to force workers to return to unsafe workplaces or lose their jobs, hitting Black and brown communities hard. The AFL-CIO and SEIU sent the complaint Wednesday to the ILO’s Committee on Freedom of Association, the highest international body on workers’ rights to organize unions and bargain collectively. The Committee has jurisdiction over complaints based on ILO conventions 87 and 98 on freedom of association, trade union organizing, and collective bargaining. Under the ILO constitution, the United States and all member countries must adhere to the principles of these conventions. A finding that the United States violated international freedom of association standards would send a powerful signal to workers, employers, Congress and the international community that the United States is out of step with global workplace standards and needs to step up protection of workers’ rights. Additionally, the U.S. would be in violation of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, a free trade deal inked July 1, in which the U.S. agreed to adhere to ILO standards on freedom of association. The unions’ complaint includes detailed case studies in several key sectors and companies where the Trump administration’s failed response to the Covid-19 crisis has left workers sick or dead with no ability to defend their health and their lives through organizing and bargaining collectively. They include: 

  • Meatpacking workers at companies such as Tyson’s, Smithfield, and JBS, defined as “essential” by a Trump executive order and forced to return to work without enforceable safety standards in place
  • Health care workers in nursing home and hospital chains such as HCA Corporation in North Carolina and Providence Health in Washington State, where management held “captive-audience” meetings requiring employees to put up with anti-union speeches and films in close quarters
  • Fast-food workers at McDonald’s and warehouse workers at Amazon, where management disciplined workers who protested the companies’ lack of adequate health and safety protections
  • Farmworkers in 40 states without state-level organizing and bargaining protections who are at the mercy of owners who can force them to return to work and fire those who do not want to work for fear of becoming sick or dying
  • Gig workers such as Uber and Lyft drivers, and platform-based delivery workers who cannot organize and bargain for health and safety protections
  • State university employees in Kentucky and Tennessee who are at the mercy of administrators’ orders to return to work, without any voice in setting safety and health conditions
  • Airport service and retail workers employed by the Italian-based multinational HMS Host Corp. and by Spanish-owned Eulen America, where employees suffered massive layoffs from their already low-wage jobs, and are slowly being recalled out-of-seniority and without adequate protections in the Covid-19 “hot spots” that many airports have become.

 “Even as the pandemic surged, our managers gave us flimsy gloves that broke by the end of the day and told us to wear doggie diapers and coffee filters as masks,” said Angely Rodriguez Lambert, an Oakland McDonald’s worker who tested positive for Covid-19. “At least a dozen workers at my store got infected with COVID-19, plus the 10-month old baby of one of my colleagues. Because McDonald’s does not respect our right to a union, we had no choice but to sue to force the company to protect us.” The complaint ends with a request for the Committee to establish a “direct contacts mission” to investigate further the effects of the Trump administration’s Covid-19 workplace policies on workers’ organizing and bargaining rights. Such a body would interview workers, union representatives, employers and government officials in the United States to gain a deeper understanding of the health crisis, and the rights crisis, that affect American workers and their families. 

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This week the 2020 World Bank Annual Meetings are taking place and addressing the unprecedented issues of inequality, unemployment and economic crisis for working families. The World Bank’s mandate of poverty alleviation makes it a critical stakeholder in the response along with the ILO and trade unions at the local, national, and global level.

It is well documented that some employers are using COVID- 19 as an excuse to bust unions across manufacturing, healthcare, logistics, and other sectors.  In the wake of this, the World Bank Group must be extremely vigilant to identify and respond swiftly to retaliatory employer actions where it is a financier.  The International Finance Corporation’s (IFC) Labor Performance Standard prohibits union busting, and is a requirement of the loans it provides to companies. The IFC itself noted the increased risk and visibility of reprisals in the context of COVID-19, adding urgent guidance to its clients on their obligations not to retaliate against union or other workplace organizing.

However, this policy guidance is not enough, and the IFC must back it up with enforcement of its own standards and action consistent with responsible business practices as a development financier. In an emblematic and ongoing labor dispute, the General Secretary and Assistant General Secretary of the IUF affiliate union, Fédération de l’Hôtellerie, Touristique, Restauration et Branche Connexe (FHTRC-ONSLG), were both terminated last week by IFC loan recipient hotel, the Marriott Sheraton Palma Guinea. Despite advance notification by trade union and NGO stakeholders, the IFC refused to intervene to prevent or remedy the retaliatory firing.  

As the Global Council of Unions emphasized in their statement to the annual meetings this week, “Freedom of association and collective bargaining violations are a recurring problem at IFC projects, especially through retaliation against workers. … At the [Marriott] Sheraton Palma Guinea, IFC intervention helped secure a fair union representation election despite retaliatory firings, but the company has since returned to firings and pressure on workers to bust the union. The Bank Group must proactively work with borrowers to ensure respect for freedom of association and occupational safety, and swiftly ensure remediation when violations such as retaliatory firings occur.”

  At the Marriott-Sheraton Grand in Conakry, Guinea, the IUF, ITUC, and Global Labor JusticeInternational Labor Rights Forum (GLJ – ILRF), advocated with the IFC to organize and win a fair union election despite retaliatory firings, but the hotel has since returned to firings and pressure on workers to bust the union. On October 7th, after an escalating pressure campaign by the hotel against union members, the Marriott-Sheraton Grand in Conakry, Guinea fired the two senior union officers as part of a broader attempt to bust the union.

As Global Labor JusticeInternational Labor Rights Forum (GLJ-ILRF), we call on the World Bank and the International Finance Corporation to act in accordance with their mandates to block union busting and respect freedom of association and collective bargaining where workers have chosen to be represented.  This must include the reinstatement of hotel union General Secretary Amadou Diallo and Deputy General Secretary Alhassane Diallo, who were both terminated on October 7th, 2020 as leaders of the newly elected union, raising awareness around fundamental workplace issues, including health and safety. 

Statement from GLJ-ILRF Executive Director Jennifer (JJ) Rosenbaum:

“We have been raising the alarm bell with the IFC about continued retaliation, anticipated reprisals, and union busting  at the Marriott Sheraton Conakry, Guinea for almost a month.  In that time the IFC Vice President for Africa has not responded, and the hotel proceeded with firing the newly elected leadership of IUF affiliate union, Fédération de l’Hôtellerie, Touristique, Restauration et Branche Connexe (FHTRC-ONSLG) to make an example out of them by undermining protected concerted activity and prevent others from coming forward with fundamental workplace issues, including health and safety concerns.

Now is the time for the World Bank and IFC to deal with the hotels reprisals swiftly and firmly with serious consequences.  In this case, that must include the reinstatement with back pay of General Secretary Amadou Diallo and Deputy General Secretary Alhassane Diallo.  Before the COVID-19 global pandemic, our investigations of IFC funded hospitality projects around the world clearly showed that IFC hospitality investments are not meeting decent work standards. It is time for the World Bank and IFC to get serious about the role organized workers and trade unions must play in the current COVID-19 economy and recovery at the national and global level.  This includes making them an integral part of dialogue with the IFC and its loan recipients and responding swiftly to remedy reprisals.” 

For more information about GLJ-ILRF’s work to hold the IFC accountable for international labor standards in its hospitality sector projects see here.

For more information on the IUF’s global campaign to hold Marriott International Accountable see here.

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.  

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.

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.

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 

On June 17, 2020, Global Labor Justice sent a written submission to UN Special Procedure Mandates in response to the call for submissions, Protecting Human Rights During and After the COVID-19 Pandemic – Response to Joint Questionnaire by Special Procedure Mandate Holders. The submission reviews the gendered impact of COVID-19 on workers in Asian fast fashion supply chains, which produce primarily consumer apparel and footwear, and comprise 60% of the 40 million garment workers worldwide.

The human rights impacts laid out in this submission affect a workforce of mainly women with intersecting vulnerabilities associated with migrant status, living in poverty, and belonging to marginalized communities. Some women production line workers are locked out of supply chain employment — which means that they are unable to work and earn wages due to government lockdowns, layoffs, furloughs, and refusal of global brands to pay for existing contracts and orders. Other women workers are locked into supply chain employment – meaning that they are forced to work amidst the pandemic – in order to feed themselves and their families. Whether locked out or locked in, women workers on Asian fast fashion supply chains face a spectrum of violence and other human rights abuses rooted in risks associated with brand purchasing practices, concentration of a majority woman workforce in the lower tiers of supply chain production, and working conditions in supplier factories. 

GLJ-submission_UN-Special-Procedure-Mandate-Holders_COVID-19_Asian-Garment-Supply-Chains_June-17-2020

Global Labor Justice hosted its inaugural Digital Convening, Women Leading the Fight for Violence-Free Workplaces and Corporate Accountability, which featured a group of women in the labor movement leading advocacy campaigns against corporations around the world. The panel – organized in honor of  the one-year anniversary of the ILO’s Violence and Harassment Convention (C190) – was moderated by GLJ staff attorney Sahiba Gill, and centered around questions of gender, race and the power in the workplace. Panelist included Allynn Umel of Fight for 15, Angeles Solis of Make the Road New York, Gabriela Rosazza of International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF), and Roushaunda Williams with UNITE HERE Hands Off, Pants On Campaign. These labor rights leaders highlighted how corporations put profits before people, and put their public image before crucial policy changes to address vulnerability, harassment and racism in the workplace even in the midst of a global pandemic. As Sahiba Gill illuminated, “Corporations never let a crisis go to waste.”  

The panelists compared the realities of wage theft, harassment and lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) in the fast fashion and hospitality industries, as well as in Amazon warehouses, McDonald’s stores across the globe and on Fyffe fruit plantations in Honduras. The Covid-19 pandemic reveals the lack of responsibility that brands take on in order to protect their employees, and, as Angeles Solis stated, “The pandemic has pulled back the cover on how our public resources fall short on what is needed for this moment.” Through her work advocating for adequate sick leave, premium pay, and health rights for McDonald’s employees, Allynn Umel described how McDonald’s restaurants have shuttered in many countries, but remain open in the US. “The moment that we’re in today has absolutely underscored the fact that fast food workers are essential, although they’ve never been treated as such,” she said. These workers are essential for global society to function – providing food, making clothing, packing goods and offering hospitality accommodations – but are frequently exposed to the worst workplace conditions and are the most likely to contract COVID-19.

The panelists’ demands for corporate accountability centered around ensuring basic rights and dignity for workers. Whether someone is working at a garment factory in Dhaka or a hotel in Chicago, they should be fairly remunerated for their labor, safe from sexual harassment, allowed to organize without retaliation, and provided adequate protective equipment, especially during a global pandemic. Central to these demands is that corporations not only value their profits and shareholders, but workers on every level of the supply chains instead of advertising empty platitudes. “We see dozens if not hundreds of corporations releasing statements on BLM while they are actively busting union organizing campaigns organized by black and brown workers,” said Gabbriella Rosazza of ILRF. 

Sahiba Gill noted that global corporations must be taken on globally. The women who spoke at this event and the people they represent are at the vanguard of this fight for change and we are optimistic that Covid-19 will serve as a catalyst for progress in this regard.  When these types of demands come to fruition, they both empower and humanize workers.

Roushaunda Williams recounted the impact of Illinois’ statewide mandate for hospitality workers to have “panic buttons” as protection from gender-based violence: it gave [the workers] safety, it gave them protection, and it made them feel important.” C190 is a step in the right direction on a global scale, but there is a long march ahead.

In the past ten years, over ten percent of Nepalis have worked abroad, mostly as guest workers in Malaysia and the Arabian Gulf in low-wage sectors. In light of COVID-19, March 22, Nepal closed its borders, at the same time as overseas employers were firing Nepali workers due to the economic downturn.   In response, Nepal’s Supreme Court ordered Nepal’s current government to rescue Nepali workers stranded overseas and exercise oversight over health protections for those remaining overseas. 

We spoke to Shom Luitel, Advocate at People’s Forum for Human Rights, who filed the case with the Supreme Court of Nepal. 

Why did you decide to file this case? 

We are an organization that provides free legal aid to migrant workers, and also files public interest litigation. During the lockdown in Nepal (which began on March 24), I was feeling really desperate because we could not do anything for the migrant workers, and that we should be doing something. The Supreme Court is closed except for COVID-19 related cases. So we went and filed the case, even in the middle of the lockdown. 

Can you tell me how COVID-19 has affected the situation of Nepali migrant workers? 

If they have been fired from their jobs, Nepali guest workers have lost the basis both for their work permits and their residency permits, so they have to be sent home. At the same time, many workers are facing problems getting paid and getting food from their employers, since the employer usually provides them food. So they are really in a bad situation (more on the situation of Nepalis in Malaysia and the Arabian Gulf here).

What did you allege in the complaint to the Court? 

We asked for an order under the Foreign Employment Act, 2007 to bring workers back home. Section 75(2) of the Act requires if there is an epidemic, war or national disaster in a country where Nepalis are working, the Government of Nepal must “take necessary steps to bring such workers back home,” and this should be paid for in part by the Foreign Employment Welfare Fund, under Section 33 of the Act.

What did the court order? 

The bench of Justice Sapana Pradhan Malla issued an interim order to address the immediate situation. She ordered the Government to prepare a report about the situation of the migrant workers. She also ordered the repatriation of stranded workers and to make sure their health is protected according to WHO standard while they are abroad.

Has the Government of Nepal acted on this order?

Not immediately, but now they feel pressure, especially because the media is covering this closely. (Note: Adv. Luitel wrote after our interview a “Roadmap” for repatriation and reintegration of migrant workers at The Himalayan Times, which lays out next steps he hopes the Government will take. As of May 14, a parliamentary committee has asked the Government to act as well). 

How has civil society (such as trade unions and recruitment agencies) responded to the order? 

We have not been in touch with them, but we hope they have welcomed the ruling. In our written brief we have also asked for the Government to support spending the Migrant Workers’ Welfare Fund on workers (Note: the Fund was introduced in the Foreign Employment Act, 2007 and supported widely by civil society including unions and recruitment agencies, but has been misappropriated in the past. It is paid for by contributions from migrant workers themselves). The National Human Rights Commission is also working to push the Government to act.

Does this ruling touch on the situation of workers coming into Nepal from India, who were stranded at the border,  or internal migrants within Nepal? 

No; it covers workers who migrated overseas on work visas (Nepalis can work in India without visas). 

(Note: Nepali unions are working to support migrant workers within Nepal to travel within Nepal and to provide food packages to their families).