Blog

May 1, 2020

On May Day, Global Labor Justice (GLJ) launches All Eyes on Fast Fashion — New Rules for a New Era of Supply Chains, our web-based tool to redefine rules for global supply chains that create living wage jobs and  transform how corporate accountability is defined and enforced, and how value will be redistributed from finance, brands, and platforms to retail, logistics, and production workers in the global garment supply chain. 

All Eyes on Fast Fashion will begin with a demand to fifteen major fast fashion brands for a Supply Chain Relief Contribution (SRC) equal to sixty days of income paid to workers through the suppliers who directly employ them. May Day marks more than five weeks that have passed since most of the 40 million garment workers in fast fashion supply chains — mostly women — began to be deeply impacted by the global COVID-19 pandemic.  

Government and corporate responses to the global COVID-19 pandemic have exposed structural inequalities created by supply chain models of production. Within the fast fashion industry — consumer apparel, footwear and home good textile — the pandemic revealed how current supply chain models widen inequality and create a race to the bottom for workers, small suppliers, and the governments of countries that rely on garment production as a major private sector export sector.  

In the face of COVID-19, all global garment brands immediately canceled or postponed orders invoking force majeure clauses, resulting in tens of millions of garment workers losing wages due to layoffs or suspension of work, creating a humanitarian crisis leaving garment workers without recourse to access their most basic needs including food, healthcare and lost wages.

More than 40 million garment workers — mostly women — earn poverty level wages and losing even a few weeks of wages has left them facing severe food, housing, education and healthcare insecurity. Additionally, brands’ production contracts have such low margins that suppliers were left without funds to retain workers or provide subsistence support.  

Most countries housing significant garment production were also left without significant enough resources to provide national income support because the current global supply chain production model forces countries to compete with each other by lowering wages, regulation, and contributions to state social safety net programs. 

GLJ’s partner, the Asia Floor Wage Alliance, developed this SRC demand with nineteen partner unions in four countries. GLJ has written to ask fifteen major fast fashion brands to immediately pay 2% of their annual sourcing towards immediate relief for supply chain workers. The SRC is a relief contribution and in no way substitutes brands’ existing and ongoing supply chain obligations to pay for orders given and produced, to not cancel orders, to not seek discounts in an already under-costed supply chain, and to act accountability in relation to any future cases of downsizing, retrenchment and closure.

As workers, suppliers, and brands work together to rebuild supply chain capacity in the fast fashion sector, we must create a new era of supply chains where brands and their investors are held accountable for responsible business practices that fundamentally shift the imbalance of power and massive inequalities that have long plagued the global fashion industry. 

As quoted in the Business of Fashion’s article, Protecting Workers’ Rights is Harder Than Ever in a Global Pandemic, Global Labor Justice’s U.S. Director, JJ Rosenbaum says: “This is not the time to ask the question of what is the minimum brands can get away with and not lose public face. This is the time to ask the question of how can we reorganise supply chains in a way that is promoting equity.”

As we move towards a new reality, all eyes will be on the fast fashion industry — and we will continue to push for systemic change to create a new era where exploitation is abolished and all workers on the global garment supply chain are paid a living wage, their right to freedom of association is respected, and workplaces are free from gender based violence and harassment to ensure justice for all workers in the global economy.

SRC-fact-sheet

Migrant workers in Gulf countries are facing coronavirus related threats across migration corridors which merit immediate response from home and destination countries.

Global Labor Justice has joined 12 organizations, trade unions, and global federations calling for the governments of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates to protect migrant workers rights. The letters call for Gulf governments to protect migrant workers from health risks by providing urgent access to testing and treatment in worker housing areas, humane quarantine facilities, and adequate occupational health and safety protections at all active worksites. Migrant workers who do contract coronavirus should have access to medical care. We also urge Gulf countries to end immigration detention, and refrain from detaining anyone for violating quarantine as detention is counterproductive to public health at this time.

Letter to the Bahraini Minister of Labour of Social Development Regarding Migrant Workers and Protections from COVID-19
English / Arabic

Letter to the Emirati Minister of Human Resources and Emiratisation  Regarding Migrant Workers and Protections from COVID-19
English / Arabic

Letter to the Kuwaiti Minister of Social Affairs and Labor and Director General of the Public Authority for Manpower Regarding Migrant Workers and Protections from COVID-19
English / Arabic

Letter to the Omani Minister of Manpower Regarding Migrant Workers and Protections from COVID-19
English / Arabic

Letter to the Qatar Prime Minister and Minister of the Regarding Migrant Workers and Protections from COVID-19
English / Arabic

Letter to the Saudi Minister of Labour of Social Development Regarding Migrant Workers and Protections from COVID-19
English / Arabic

November 25th is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.

In honor of this day, Global Labor Justice created this video highlighting three women labor leaders on the frontlines of the global fight to end gender-based violence in the world of work. The video uplifts the narratives of women organizing within the global labor movement and explains what the recent historic adoption of the C190 ILO Convention means for women and their respective movements, the intersection of migration and the labor movement, along with their inspirational visions of change for the future of women in labor. The video is bi-lingual in English and Spanish with the respective subtitles.

September 24, 2019, New York

President of Garment and Allied Workers Union in North India

International Coordinator, Asia Floor Wage Alliance

At this moment in global history, we are witnessing a rise in authoritarianism, restrictions on civic freedoms and crackdowns on democracy in the biggest democracies in the world. As such, the independent trade union movement is needed more than ever to fight back against rising authoritarianism and fascism in the global landscape. The labor movement has always been at the forefront of liberation movements in South and Southeast Asia, by playing a strong role in the fight against colonialism and military dictatorships in India and Indonesia. We see the rise of anti-worker and anti-union labor reforms in India and throughout Asia — including Sri Lanka, Cambodia, and Indonesia — at the behest of Western led agencies, governments and multinational corporations housed in these countries.

In order to overturn the authoritarianism that is sneaking up on us, we need strategic unity between the independent trade union movement (that is organising among young workers and women workers) and the traditional mainstream labor movement. Asia Floor Wage Alliance is an Asian-led global alliance of trade unions and labor organizations fighting for living wages, freedom of association, and a violence free workplace for women workers in garment global supply chains. We emphasize Asian-led because we are building an alliance in the labor movement where the leadership comes from the production countries themselves and then allies with global North countries.

In June 2019, the International Labour Organisation — in its 100th year — voted overwhelmingly to adopt a new Convention and Recommendation to end violence and harassment in the world of work. Convention 190 (C190) explicitly addresses gender-based violence and harassment (GBVH) in the world of work. Through our twelve year history fighting for living wages and the freedom of association as Asia Floor Wage Alliance, we have found that gender-based violence in the workplace to be the most corrosive element that works against everything, and now implementing the ILO convention 190 in the workplace along with the prevention of gender based violence and harassment has become central to our strategy.

As the President of Garment and Allied Workers Union in North India and International Coordinator of AFWA, everyday we find women workers who are facing gender-based violence on the production line and in the factories. As a result, it becomes really difficult for women to attempt to unionize, which leads to a low unionization density throughout the garment industry. The elimination of gender-based violence is a necessary condition for accessing other labor rights, including the right to a living wage and the right to freedom of association.

Corporate social responsibility divisions of global garment brands have developed multiple training programs for the workplace. At the ground level, however, these trainings have failed to address the spectrum of GBVH that women garment workers face on production lines. We know from experience that training cannot accomplish the deep transformation in organizational culture that is required to end GBVH in garment factories. The purchasing practices of brands, who are the main drivers of garment global supply chains, are what cause gender-based violence. As such, any agreements that are made between workers and management, must address the deeper issues that women workers at the production line face so they can get to a place where they feel empowered to raise their voices, which cannot be simply done through the detection of labor and GBVH violations.

Our Safe Circle Approach, is a transformative approach to GBVH prevention that provides a step-by-step methodology. Focused on the front lines of GBVH, the Safe Circle approach provides guidance for implementing the crucial missing links in existing workplace programs to address GBVH: organizational transformation through the empowerment of women workers on production lines. Preventing GBVH is not only fundamental to the health, safety, and dignity of women workers, but it is also foundational to freedom of association and collective bargaining in industries dominated by women workers.

Through the Safe Circle Approach, AFWA approaches  gender-based violence as a preventative methodology for accessing other rights. This is the third necessary component in addition to corporate accountability through enforceable agreements with suppliers and brands focused on detection and remedy.   To eliminate gender based violence women workers at the production line and the mill supervisors and their male colleagues have to engage in an ongoing process of interaction in order to get to a place where women feel empowered to raise their voices. That cannot be simply done through detection of violation and addressing them.  Safe circles provides for continuous, regular interaction that builds women power to say “yes, I understand where I come from, why this is happening to me.” It is both personal transformation and institutional transformation.

Photo credit:

Women in Deogarh, Orissa,. Photo by Simon Williams / Ekta Parishad – Ekta Parishad. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

September 20th, 2019

Asia Floor Wage Alliance Women’s Leadership Committee

As women trade union leaders of the Asia Floor Wage Alliance, Women’s Leadership Committee (AFWA-WLC), we represent thousands of women garment workers in Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka. Our members produce clothes for H&M, Gap, Walmart and other well-known multinational brands that employ tens of thousands of women in the global south. The AFWA-WLC believes that the labor-power, especially in industries dominated by women workers, must be built through women’s trade union leadership. In a global industry like the garment sector, this power must be built across borders- through global organizing- to support bargaining between workers, their employers, and multinational brands.

In June 2019, the International Labour Organisation — in its 100th year — voted overwhelmingly to adopt a new Convention and Recommendation to end violence and harassment in the world of work. Convention 190 (C190) explicitly addresses gender-based violence and harassment (GBVH) in the world of work.  We applaud this effort and the women trade union leaders from around the world who organized to win this historic victory.

We know from experience, however, that international labor standards require implementation in order to eliminate GBVH.  For the garment sector, this requires brands and suppliers–in partnership with unions with strong women’s leadership—to catalyze transformational interventions in garment global supply chains.  On garment global supply chains, where production takes place exclusively in the Global South, successful interventions require investment in building the power of women trade union leaders from across the global south to engage with global brands and suppliers.

Corporate social responsibility divisions of global garment brands have developed multiple training programs for the workplace. At the ground level, however, these trainings have failed to address the spectrum of GBVH that women garment workers face on production lines. We know from experience that trainings cannot accomplish the deep transformation in organizational culture that is required to end GBVH in garment factories.

Preventing GBVH is not only fundamental to the health, safety, and dignity of women workers, it is also foundational to freedom of association and collective bargaining in industries dominated by women workers. Freedom of association and collective bargaining, in turn, are cornerstones to attaining living wages—a decade-long mandate of the AFWA.

The AFWA Safe Circle approach to eliminating GBVH on garment production lines has been informed by our collective experience in addressing violence and building women’s leadership on production lines in garment factories in Asia.

We Know GBVH on Garment Production Lines, and We Know the Way Forward to Transform our Factories and Our Countries

In 2018, we conducted and released evidence-based research on GBVH in garment global supply chains in Asia. Shining a global spotlight on the dark side of gender oppression and violence in the global fast fashion industry, we exposed a reality that workers, trade unions, and brands themselves already knew all too well.

Following from this deep analysis, we worked with Global Labor Justice to develop innovative solutions to end GBVH. Our 2019 report, “Gender Justice on Garment Global Supply Chains: An Agenda to Transform Fast-Fashion,” presents a clear road map for fast fashion brands on how to end gender-based violence and harassment (GBVH) on garment production lines.

The roadmap in our 2019 report uplifts the AFWA-WLC’s Safe Circle Approach, a transformative approach to GBVH prevention that provides a step-by-step methodology for corporate accountability. Focused on the front lines of GBVH, the Safe Circle approach provides guidance for implementing the crucial missing links in existing workplace programs to address GBVH: organizational transformation through the empowerment of women workers on production lines.

We Urge All Garment Brands Sourcing in Asia to Work with the AFWA-WLC to Implement the Safe Circles Approach

Global garment brands must take responsibility and action to eliminate GBVH in their supply chains by compelling organizational change in supplier factories. Action to end GBVH on production lines is fundamental to ensuring that women workers can exercise their voice and rights at work without fear of retaliation.

The undersigned (and growing) alliance of women trade union leaders of the AFWA-WLC call for change in the working lives of women workers. We, therefore, call upon multinational brands to make serious commitments to ending GBVH in the garment industry and to invest in women’s empowerment. We call for them, together with their suppliers, to work with women workers and trade union leaders to implement by taking the following steps:

  1. Publicly encourage ratification of ILO Convention 190 in countries where their supply chains operate.
  2. Consult with the Asia Floor Wage Alliance- Women’s Leadership Committee and Adopt the “Safe Circles Approach” in coordination with the Women’s Leadership Committee.
  3. Join a public sector-side corporate accountability mechanism to validate their commitment.

Signed:

  • Sumiyati, SPN, Indonesia
  • Elly Rosita, Garteks, Indonesia
  • Lusiana, FSBI, Indonesia
  • Vindra Whindalis, SBSI92, Indonesia
  • Yang Sophorn, CATU, Cambodia
  • Heng Chenda, CCAWDU, Cambodia
  • Rukmini V.P., GLU, India
  • Pooja, KOOGU, India
  • Anannya Bhattacharjee, GAWU, India
  • Chamila Tushari, DCU, Sri Lanka
  • Lakmali Hemachandra, CMU
  • N.M. Riyana Ferios, NUSS
  • Lalitha Ranjanee Dedduwakumara, TGCWU, Sri Lanka

History Is Made —  ILO Adopts Convention To Stop GBV At Work!

Jennifer (JJ) Rosenbaum

*Any views expressed in this article are those of the author.

Last week, in a historic close to its Centenary Conference, the International Labor Organization in Geneva voted to adopt a global convention and recommendation on eliminating gender based violence at workGlobal Labor Justice (GLJ) and the Asia Floor Wage Alliance (AFWA) supported the inclusion of protections for global supply chains and the elevation of human rights principles.  GLJ also supported women trade union leaders to participate in these negotiations and plan together for the next phase of ratification and implementation.  

These international labor standards provide a framework; but they are only a first step.  Eliminating gender based violence in garment supply chains and across all sectors will require workplace programs involving brands, suppliers, and unions with strong women’s leadership.  

GLJ’s new report titled, “Gender Justice on Garment Global Supply Chains: An Agenda to Transform Fast-Fashion”, provides a clear road map for fast fashion brands on how to end gender based violence and harassment (GBVH) on garment production lines, along with a set of recommendations to the ILO.  

The report uplifts the AFWA’s Safe Circle Approach  a transformative approach to GBVH prevention that integrates key components of a corporate accountability approach.   AFWA’s safe circle approach was designed by the AFWA Women’s Leadership Committee in partnership with women workers on production lines and their trade unions, supplier factories and brands. It was created in response to GBVH in garment factories to develop and sustain a positive organizational culture on garment production lines. 

You can read the report here

Going forward GLJ will use the #GarmentMeToo campaign to support the call from the  

Asia Floor Wage Alliance’s Women’s Leadership Committee for a commitment from multinational brands employing tens of thousands of women in the global south to implement the Safe Circle strategies approach. 

This is a historic moment for gender justice and it is only the beginning.  Transforming workplaces and global supply chains to meet the challenges posed by global inequality and the gender gap requires a gender lens. More important, the leadership of women in trade unions and civil society organizations is a must to face these challenges along with rising fascism, xenophobic nationalism, and climate change.

We hope you will continue to stand with Global Labor Justice and its partners to defend freedom of association and elevate women’s leadership in organizing and bargaining.

Please help us mark this moment. Here you’ll find some sample social media posts that you can use to promote the release of today’s reports, and you can keep up with the latest from us by following us onFacebook andTwitter.  Follow additional updates from GLJ and our partners on our blog.

Onward towards eliminating gender based violence in garment production network and expansion of freedom of association and collective bargaining that enable women workers to be change agents in the global economy!

In solidarity,

Jennifer (JJ) Rosenbaum

U.S. Director, Global Labor Justice

 

Looking Forward with Global Labor Justice: 

Labor Migration 

In the coming months, GLJ will be releasing new research as part of its Labor Migration Program.  Perspectives on Migration Governance is a series of research papers aimed at informing critical debates on migration governance with a bold vision around a future of work in global labor markets that promotes gender equity, labor rights, and democracy for migrant workers.

 

Global Value Chains 

GLJ continues its program to hold international financial institutions accountable to decent work including global labor peace agreements at the finance level. More information on this work is available here

 

Global Supply Chains and Gender Justice 

Ending gender based violence and harassment (GBHV) is one key component of bringing a gender justice approach to global supply chains- specifically fast fashion. 

GLJ’s report —Gender Justice on Garment Global Supply Chains: An Agenda to Transform Fast-Fashion—is the first in a series that will provide a roadmap for international legal frameworks, criteria for corporate accountability initiatives, and a transformative new prevention approach from the Asia Floor Wage Alliance to end GBVH on garment production lines.

The Global Labor Justice series, Gender Justice on Garment Global Supply Chains: An Agenda to Transform Fast- Fashion, lays out six pillars of a gender justice approach:

  • Pillar 1, End Gender Based Violence and Harassment: Gender Justice on Garment Global Supply Chains, An Agenda to Transform Fast-Fashion
  • Pillar 2, Advance Economic Security: Protect Workers as Supply Chains Relocate
  • Pillar 3, Incorporate a Gender Lens into Living Wage Frameworks
  • Pillar 4, Uplift Women’s Leadership in Organizations and Advocacy
  • Pillar 5, Promote Decent Work and Fair Migration in the Garment Sector
  • Pillar 6, Shift Coercive Supply Chain Practices that Contribute to and Constitute Forced Labor

The series will analyze key barriers to gender justice and proposes a bold and transformative vision of work with dignity and economic security for women workers led by women worker leaders involved in national and regional worker organizations. Each Pillar sets out concrete solutions to advance gender justice on garment supply chains, including recommendations for new international labor standards and interpretations, and innovative roles for supplier unions, allied unions, women’s organizations, human rights organizations, and consumers in production and retail countries.

Through this series, women worker leaders on Asian garment supply chains draw from their deep experience to show us the way forward.

 

Why women workers in global garment supply chains are saying #MeToo

Bobbie Sta Maria & Jennifer (JJ) Rosenbaum

Original Post at Ethical Corporation
*Any views expressed in this article are those of the author.*

Bobbie Sta Maria of the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, and JJ Rosenbaum of Global Labor Justice say the drafting of a convention to end gender-based violence against women workers at the ILO’s meeting in Geneva this week is long over-due.

“On September 27, 2017, at 12:30 pm, my batch supervisor came up behind me as I was working on the sewing machine, yelling ‘You are not meeting your target production’,” said Radhika, a woman worker at an H&M supplier factory in Bangalore, India. “He pulled me out of the chair and I fell on the floor. He hit me, including on my breasts. He pulled me up and then pushed me to the floor again. He kicked me.” Radhika filed a written complaint to human resources, but was forced to apologise to her supervisor and return to work.

Radhika is one of countless women who are speaking out about the abuses they have suffered at work, and demanding change, through the #GarmentMeToo campaign. They speak of physical violence and verbal abuse in factories – especially during high-stress production times – sexual abuse while commuting home from work, and sexual favours being demanded in exchange for lighter workloads.

These stories have been hidden from view, just like the women themselves, working away in remote supply chains for companies including Gap, Nike, Walmart, Target.

The International Trade Union Confederation estimates that the world’s 50 largest companies have 116 million “hidden” workers toiling in their supply chains

And the practice is certainly not restricted to the garment trade. The International Trade Union Confederation estimates that the world’s 50 largest companies have 116 million “hidden” workers toiling in their supply chains, with no direct employment relationship or employer responsibility.

Global brands are quick to use female empowerment when marketing their products. But when they exert relentless pressure to get more products for less money, it’s women workers who pay the price.

This week, these women are helping to forge an international convention on violence and harassment of women at work. At the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) centennial conference in Geneva, the final stages of a strong convention to end gender-based violence in the world of work is being drafted with the input of women workers, governments and employers. This would set an international standard for eradicating violence and harassment of women in the workplace, and point the way towards how to put this into practice.

Women workers on the agenda – The International Labour Conference 2019 in Geneva. (Credit: ILO)

This is a huge milestone built on the courage of women – factory workers, farmworkers, restaurant servers, teachers, domestic helpers – coming forward to tell their #MeToo stories and organising for lasting change.

It can’t come soon enough. A new report by Global Labor Justice (GLJ) and Asia Floor Wage Alliance (AFWA), “Gender Justice on Garment Global Supply Chains, An Agenda to Transform Fast-Fashion”, released as part of their #GarmentMeToo campaign, exposes how physical and verbal abuse, coercion, threats, and deprivations of liberty are tied to workers’ ability to reach production targets.

The physical violence reported by women workers include slapping, pushing, kicking, and throwing heavy bundles of papers and clothes. Workers reported that “discipline practices” tended to spike after low-tier managers meet with their bosses about hitting production targets.

Downward price pressures, unrealistic turnaround times and financial penalties leave workers vulnerable in the hands of factory supervisors

These match findings by Business & Human Rights Resource CentreHuman Rights Watch and others that show purchasing practices play a huge role in creating incentives for exploitation. Short-term purchasing relationships, downward price pressures, unrealistic turnaround times, and financial penalties leave workers vulnerable in the hands of factory supervisors pressed to deliver on impossible goals.

The GLJ report also highlighted how patterns of gender-based violence and harassment of garment workers reflect the local power dynamics between men and women. Reports of sexual harm most often featured employment relationships where women held subordinate roles to male supervisors, managers, or mechanics fixing machines.

The ILO’s convention and recommendation will provide an important framework for governments, employers and trade unions to prevent gender-based violence at work. GLJ and AFWA’s report presents The Safe Circle Approach, a transformative model of gender-based violence and harassment prevention, for garment supply chains to adopt in order to end this abuse, with roles for each stakeholder.

One of the cases highlighted by the Asia Floor Wage Alliance. (Credit: AFWA)

In addressing this entrenched subordination of women in the workplace, a recent United Nations report recommends gender-specific policies. These include reviewing whether standards or practices are discriminatory towards women and taking action to achieve substantive gender equality and end discrimination, harassment and violence.

The ILO’s draft convention process is the product of a surge of organising by women trade union leaders and their allies, elevating issues of workplace violence and building a consensus with government and employers to support a unified response to these urgent issues.

However, there is much work ahead to secure adoptions and ratifications, to make sure these standards are implemented properly, and reform entrenched practices that heighten the risk of abuse. The organising power and story-telling of women workers has propelled us to this pivotal moment in international standard-setting. However, solidarity and support from a broad coalition for the collective power of women to negotiate with brands and suppliers is critical for ending gender-based violence in supply chains, and empowering women to be change-makers in the global economy.

Bobbie Sta Maria is director for labour rights and Asia at Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, and JJ Rosenbaum is US Director at Global Labor Justice.

New Report Outlines Gender-Based Violence in Garment Supply Chain

Sam Nelson

Original Post at Jobs with Justice 

*Any views expressed in this article are those of the author.

 

The latest report from Global Labor Justice (GLJ) and the Asia Floor Wage Alliance (AFWA) details gender-based violence in the workplace that has become a front and center issue in recent years. While the issue itself receives more attention than it once did, we still lack the resources or guidelines with which to address gender-based violence. The new report from GLJ and AFWA aims to change that. The report’s release also coincides with the International Labor Conference’s (ILO) centennial anniversary, and in conjunction with a new ILO Convention, could provide a global standard for gender-based violence and how we can better address the issue.

As the #MeToo movement emerged and spread to strikes at major companies like Marriott and fast food chains around the world, the #GarmentMeToo movement was able to negotiate collectively with factory owners and directly with international clothing companies.

From their company-specific reports on GapH&M, and Walmart last year, we see each company taking a different approach to gender-based violence and how best to work with those impacted by it. In some cases, companies remain reluctant or unwilling to face gender-based violence head-on. Walmart has been non-responsive, H&M agreed to meet and even set a date and location, but then pulled out citing their work with IndustriALL (though nothing would prevent them from pursuing both strategies). Gap, on the other hand, has been in talks with AFWA’s Women Leadership Committee on worker-led and developed proactive measures to address gender-based violence in Gap’s supply chain.

From the interviews with workers, GLJ and AFWA have developed a set of criteria to judge the effectiveness of GBV prevention initiatives including:

    1. Comprehensive identification of the locally-specific spectrum of Gender-Based Violence and Harassment (GBVH)—including all forms of violence covered by international law—and developed through proactive engagement with women production-line workers who are targets of violence
    2. Opportunities for collaboration between women who are targets of violence, supervisors, and bystanders to address gendered relationships of power within factories and advance a shared goal of ending GBVH in the workplace
    3. Protections against workplace retaliation for reporting violence and other violations of rights and work
    4. Protection of freedom of association and collective bargaining to safeguard the rights of workers who participate in processes to transform their workplaces
    5. Avenues to address risk factors for GBVH related to brand purchasing practices, including production targets, accelerated work, failure to pay living wages, and lack of job security

By these standards, there is a clear gap between what existing brands are doing and what needs to happen in order to eliminate GBV. Not just that, but the report asserts that GBV is accepted by the industry, given the heavily gendered nature of the workforce, and the repression working women face.

Working people are involved and negotiate with employers on two core concepts, “safe circles” and “GBV-free zones,” helping to create a positive organizational culture on production lines that seeks to end gender-based violence. First developed in Japan, safe circles are made up of working people and management who meet to address specific issues in each factory and then develop a binding plan to implement them. Safe circles represent the entirety of a factory and provide flexibility by developing specific “GBV lists” for local contexts:

GBV Lists created at the production line and factory level will give a measurable index of behaviors to eliminate gender-based violence, and a mechanism of measuring progressive change. Local development of GBV Lists is vital to understand and make visible cultural differences that belie gender-based violence in certain countries and contexts. Although there are commonalities among garment producing countries throughout Asia, the Safe Circle Approach must also accommodate local differences in language, dress code, and behavioral norms.

The final crucial component are trainings, for both working people and management, many of which originate in “free trade zones” where the factories reside. The brands, suppliers, and AFWA’s Women’s Leadership Committee develop trainings for workers and management. Working people can tailor trainings to match the circumstances within their factories, and unlike the ones created by major retailers, the Women’s Leadership Committee-developed courses are transparent and include direct worker input and control.

GLJ and AFWA put forward a different approach to addressing gender-based violence by placing direct pressure on big brands to negotiate with working people. The Safe Circles Approach creates a new a new model for unions and people around the world to use, adapt, and ultimately put working women in control over how they’re treated in the workplace.  Gap, H&M, Walmart and other brands should use this approach to provide them with the tools and voice they deserve.

Global firms who want to be industry leaders by taking a stand against forced labour must do more than adopt principles- they must practice what they preach

 

Tom Hunt, Genevieve LeBaron, Jennifer (JJ) Rosenbaum | University of Sheffield

Original Post at Thomson Reuters Foundation News

*Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Tom Hunt is deputy director of the Sheffield Political Economy Research Institute (SPERI) at the University of Sheffield.

Genevieve LeBaron is professor of politics and co-director of the Sheffield Political Economy Research Institute (SPERI) at the University of Sheffield.

Jennifer (JJ) Rosenbaum is the U.S. director for Global Labor Justice. She is also a lecturer in law at the Harvard Law School and co-chair of the American Bar Association’s Immigration and Human Trafficking Committee. 

Let us introduce you to two workers. Their work is physically demanding and at times unsafe. The hours are irregular and their low pay isn’t enough to live on. Both workers have taken loans from their employer to get through tough periods. Interest rates and fees are high and repayments further shrink their pay. They are trapped in a vicious low-pay debt trap: not paid enough, indebted, and unable to leave. One is a tea worker on a plantation in India. The other works for Marriott International in the USA cleaning hotel rooms. Both workers deserve decent work and economic stability. Both cases require new forms of corporate accountability.

For the last few years, we’ve investigated debt bondage by studying the global tea and cocoa industries. Our survey work reveals patterns of forced labour at the base of supply chains of large multi-national corporations, including forms of debt bondage, an internationally recognised type of forced labour. We found highly exploited tea workers in India unable to exit plantations due to debts from usurious loans from employers. Over half of the tea workers we surveyed had borrowed money and over half had no savings. Deep poverty and racial inequality combined with low pay leaves labourers reliant on exploitative employers just to survive.

Hotel workers at Marriott International, the world’s largest and richest hotel chain, are now drawing attention to similar practices in the U.S. Under a slogan of ‘One job should be enough’ members of the UNITE HERE union have taken industrial action to demand a living wage and safe conditions. The strike has highlighted an additional factor that puts some of Marriott’s predominantly black and Latino workforce in an even worse situation: fees and interest payments from the Marriott Employees Federal Credit Union(MEFCU), an officially independent credit union but which is led by senior Marriott executives.

A class action lawsuit alleges that MEFCU, in violation of US lending law, doesn’t inform its members – who are employees at Marriott International and other companies- about the true cost of its ‘mini-loans’. The plaintiffs allege that when application fees are added to the interest rate, the mini-loans of up to $500 have an APR of 46%, way above the advertised 18%. In 2017 MEFCU charged ‘more in fees for every dollar loaned than any other credit union of its membership type’.

Court papers argue that “while the mini-loan may appear to be a free-standing financial product, it is part-and-parcel of the unequal bargaining relationship between the Marriott and its employees.” Here is the crux of it: instead of getting regular shifts and stable wages, Marriott workers are offered quick high-cost loans with repayments deducted from their pay.

These are red flags for forced labour.

This matters because our research reveals there is a porous boundary between someone being a victim of forced labour and a worker subjected to lesser and more routine forms of exploitation. An unexpected hospital bill or a drop in scheduled working hours could be the trigger that sees a desperate, impoverished worker borrow money and cross that boundary. US workers’ action, court cases, and media reports raise serious concerns that the business model at Marriott is configured around labour exploitation, which in severe cases, is likely to cross the line into forced labour.

Global firms like Marriott who want to be industry leaders by taking a stand against forced labour must do more than adopt principles- they must practice what they preach. The International Labour Organization has adopted global labour standards including on forced labour prevention and guidelines on promotion of decent work and sustainable tourism agreed to by governments, employers, and worker organizations from around the world. It is highly questionable whether Marriott’s actions are sufficient to prevent forced labour and promote decent work in the US and its global expansion.

In some U.S. hotels, Marriott continues to use temporary foreign worker programs where workers pay fees to obtain the jobs and have limited mobility.  Unions and NGOs have filed complaints that Marriott projects in India and Bangladesh breach labor standards leaving many workers subject to poverty wages, and fearing retaliation if they report violations or join a union. Marriott has refused to negotiate with the IUF union on a global framework agreement to protect workers from sexual harassment and gender-based violence. And in the UK in 2017 Marriott underpaid 279 minimum wage workers by £71,722.93.

Government, business, and activists fighting forced labour should take note of the issues Marriott workers are raising across the globe. Dynamics of exploitation typical of debt bondage and forced labour continue to exist. If Marriott really wants tackle forced labour at home and overseas there is lots it can do. Prioritizing paying living wages, preventing wage theft, gender based violence and unfair labour practices, and engaging trade unions as a core partner would be a real plan to prevent forced labour – wherever the workers are.

Aaron Halegua, Jennifer Rosenbaum and Mariam Bhacker

Original Post at Marianas Variety

*Any views expressed in this article are those of the author.

 

WE are individuals and groups concerned by the labor abuses that transpired at the Imperial Pacific construction site.

The confiscation of worker passports, failure to pay workers the minimum wage, high rates of injury and even deaths, and retaliation against complaining workers have all been well-documented. In order to prevent future exploitation, we support the proposal to establish an independent and transparent monitoring mechanism in which the voice of workers and their representatives plays a crucial role.

Imperial Pacific promises that the situation has been remedied because it terminated the previous contractors. In fact, a significant risk remains. As the Financial Times recently noted, the construction industry as a whole is a “particularly high-risk sector for worker exploitation.” Further, Imperial Pacific’s workforce now primarily consists of foreign H-2B workers. Not surprisingly, this program that allows companies to bring in cheaper, short-term workers is rife with abuse. From 2010 and 2014, the U.S. Department of Labor identified nearly 1,000 employers that violated H-2 laws. Moreover, statistics reveal that immigrant construction workers are more likely to get injured.

In other contexts where serious worker abuse was discovered, an independent monitoring mechanism was established to ensure compliance with labor and safety rules. An example of this is the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety, negotiated after the Rana Plaza factory collapsed killing over 1,100 workers, in which clothing retailers agreed to establish an independent monitoring regime overseen by a steering committee comprised of brands, global unions, and neutral experts. In Qatar, upon reports of  widespread abuse of foreign workers building sites for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, the local organizing committee established a monitoring framework to ensure contractors’ compliance with a set of worker protection standards. As part of the auditing regime, an independent monitor was hired to assess companies’ compliance with the standards and an agreement was concluded with the global union, Building and Wood Workers’ International, to jointly conduct health and safety inspections. In both examples, a central tenant of promoting transparency and accountability is that reports by the monitoring bodies are made public.

The logic underlying these programs is simple: we cannot rely on companies to police themselves and the actors at the top of the supply chain or construction project must use their leverage to ensure compliance by subcontractors. Further, government enforcement agencies have limited resources to detect violations, let alone prevent them.

If Imperial Pacific is serious about eradicating abuse from its projects, it too should conclude a binding agreement requiring that its contractors adhere to specific local, national and international standards on labor, safety, and human rights. An independent party should conduct regular audits and publish the results. Any violations should trigger defined, mandatory penalties. Worker organizations should also be permitted to educate employees in their native language about worker rights, grievance mechanisms, and protections from retaliation. The specifics should be negotiated with organizations that genuinely represent worker interests, who then play an ongoing role in ensuring its rigorous implementation and impact on workplace standards.

These proposals are not radical steps. They are recognized “best practices” emerging in the construction sector and established in other industries. Imperial Pacific should embrace this opportunity to join firms that are leading their industries in ensuring workers’ rights and safety.

But Imperial Pacific must not be allowed to simply monitor itself — the Commonwealth’s recent experience in construction and long experience with the garment sector show this to be true. The CNMI government is aware of the need for meaningful oversight and should take this opportunity to turn the industry around. Government authorities told the U.S. Congress, international media, and other stakeholders that CNMI is committed to protecting workers. It is time to make good on these statements by requiring Imperial Pacific to establish a negotiated, transparent and independent monitoring program as a condition for continuing operations in the CNMI.

Aaron Halegua is research fellow of the New York University School of Law. This opinion is submitted in his personal capacity and not as a representative of New York University.

Jennifer Rosenbaum is with Global Labor Justice while Mariam Bhacker is with Business & Human Rights Resource Centre.