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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.

UN-submission-Malaysia-Rayhan-Kabir

The first annual Summit of the Corridors of Justice for Labor Migration in the Americas took place this past Tuesday and Wednesday, bringing together leaders from across the fields of labor, migration, and human rights. The Summit represented the perspectives from over 10 countries, including El Salvador, Mexico, Costa Rica, Chile, Colombia, Guatemala, the United States, Canada, Nicaragua, Honduras, and Spain. Prior to the pandemic, the Summit was intended to be an in-person gathering in April with the objective of understanding the experiences of workers, academics, labor rights advocates, union leaders, and civil society so as to promote a unified front against migrant worker injustices. The online forum allowed for more people from around the world to get involved – over 6,000 people were reached through radio and social media channels. “Today we’re beginning to build worker power across migration corridors and growing our strength to transform migration policy and confront corporations that take advantage of immigration laws to exploit workers’ labor,” said JJ Rosenbaum Executive director of GLJ-ILRF.

“All these corridors are full of hope – but we cannot forget that these corridors are also so full of abuses, violations, extortions and kidnapping,” said Pablo Alvarado, Co-Executive Director of the National Day Laborers Organizing Network (NDLON).  

Alongside GLJ-ILRF, the coordinating organizations included El Salvador’s Centro de Integración para Migrantes Trabajadoras y Trabajadores (CIMITRA); the US-based National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON);  El Salvador’s Alianza de Salvadoreños Retornados (ALSARE); Costa Rica’s Centro de Derechos Laborales Sin Fronteras (CDL); the US’ National TPS Alliance Fundación Avina; Guatemala’s Asociación de Guatemaltecos Unidos por Nuestros Derechos (AGUND); Mexico’s Proyecto de Derechos Económicos, Sociales y Culturales (ProDESC); Movimiento Acción Migrante (MAM) of Chile; and Canada’s Red de Apoyo a Trabajadoras Y Trabajadores Agrícolas de Quebec (RATTMAQ). Many other organizations partook in the Summit. 

The two day event consisted of five panels, each featuring prominent labor rights leaders from across the Americas and Europe. While day one centered on activism, action, and reform initiated by workers and advocates, day two dug into the risks and vulnerabilities faced across migration corridors. 

The first panel of Summit focused on Migrant Worker Rights and How They Organize, primarily centered on activism in Mexico, Guatemala, Costa Rica, and El Salvador, and was moderated by Liduvina Magarin, from Centro de Integración para Migrantes Trabajadoras y Trabajadores (CIMITR) in El Salvador.  Olivia Guzmán of Mexico’s Coalición de Trabajadoras y Trabajadores Migrantes Temporales Sinaloenses described the Coalition’s work establishing a worker center for pre-departure migrant workers heading to work in the US and Canada to promote just recruitment and hold US companies accountable. From the Guatemalan perspective, José Sicajau of Asociación de Guatemaltecos Unidos por Nuestros Derechos – (AGUND) depicted the experiences of migrant workers in Canada, highlighting how the Canadian government is not doing enough to protect workers rights and the advocacy efforts the group has pursued in both Canada and Guatemala. Touching on similar themes, Emanuel Delva of Centro de Derechos Laborales Sin Fronteras (CDL) in Costa Rica highlighted the importance of focusing on worker rights not only for those migrating to the US, but for those workers within Costa Rica. Furthermore, Juan Toledo of Alianza de Salvadoreños Retornados (ALSARE) discussed the importance of providing support to those who are deported. 

The second panel, Academia and Participatory Action Research on Labor Migration, featured Maribel Torres and Yesenia Mata of La Colmena and María Figueroa of the Worker Institute at Cornell University. The moderator, Amparo Marroquín of Universidad Centroamericana in El Salvador, asked questions regarding the methods that researchers use, the impact of the coronavirus, and lessons that have been learned. The panelists discussed both the difficulty that labor migrants faced during the pandemic and their own difficulties collecting data. Earlier this year, the panelists authored a report about the Latinx Immigrant Workforce’s contribution to Staten Island’s economy before and after the pandemic. A major takeaway that María Figueroa shared was that Staten Island and La Colmena is a microcosm of the US and that future research should explore the contributions of the Latinx community and the organizations that support them.

In the final panel of day one, Viridiana Vidal of NDLON moderated a discussion on Popular Education, New Narratives and Communications, which underscored the importance of using alternative types of media to present valuable information to migrant workers and immigrant families. Manuel Vicente of Radio Jornalera, a US-based radio station, expressed how since the station started up in May 2019, it has provided people with a platform and a structure to communicate essential information to communities not always targeted by the mainstream media. Lucila Rodríguez of Fundación Por Causa in Spain discussed how narratives of migration have been used as scare tactics since 2001, and that this has resulted in human rights problems in the West. From the Chilean perspective, Lorena Zambrano  of Asamblea Migrante y Pro Migrante de Tarapacá (AMPRO) described how Chile portrays a national image of copper and tourism, but does not provide enough attention to the role of migrants within its borders. To close, Marlon Portillo of NDLON gave an overview of the role of popular education, and emphasized the role it plays in helping people “understand, organize, and transform” structures. 

To begin the second day, a panel on Labor Supply Chain: Recruitment and Conditions of Temporary Migrant Workers was moderated by Jacob Horwitz of GLJ-ILRF.  Paulina Montes de Oca of ProDESC in Mexico who described the illegal practices of recruitment agencies in Mexico and ProDESC’s work to hold both US companies and Mexican authorities accountable. Leticia Beita of Canada’s Red de Apoyo a Trabajadoras Y Trabajadores Agrícolas de Quebec – RATTMAQ highlighted how although Canada provides more benefits for workers in other countries, employers take advantage of the lack of awareness among workers, which leads to labor violations.  Vinicio Sandoval of Grupo de Monitoreo Independiente de El Salvador – GMIES gave an overview of the importance of understanding migrant labor within Central America, and how protections can be better enforced through international conventions. Saray Lopez, General Secretary of Sindicato de Trabajadores de la Industria de la Caña (SINTRAICA) in Costa Rica shared of how over 1,000 Nicaraguan temporary migrant workers had joined her union and gone on strike to win a groundbreaking collective bargaining agreement at a Costa Rican sugar cane refinery, lifting up a positive vision of temporary labor migration with labor rights won through collective action.   

Rut Mendez of CIMITRA moderated the second and final panel of the Summit, Migrant Worker Community in Double or Triple Risk in Labor Migration, which featured Pedro Gómez of Red Nacional de Jornaleros y Jornaleras Agrícolas, Hilda Chiquito from Asociación de Guatemaltecos Unidos por Nuestros Derechos, Francisco Bazo of Movimiento Acción Migrante, and Dennis Castillo from Instituto sobre Migración y Refugio LGBTIQ para Centroamérica. The panelists discussed the intersecting forms of oppression that migrant workers with multiple marginalized identities face. Hilda Chiquito, the first panelist to speak, shared the struggle that women face when leaving their family, especially during a pandemic. Pedro Gomez spoke about the difficulties and abuses he has faced while trying to maintain his indigenous customs and identity after moving from Sonora to Oaxaca, Mexico. Dennis Castillo highlighted the high rates of violence against LGBTQI people and the lack of support and protection for them, stressing that basic respect and visibility are still important ongoing struggles. The final speaker, Francisco Bazo, discussed structural racism and a need for a solidarity that transcends organizations, labor sectors, and borders. Improvement of labor migrant rights improves working conditions for everyone.

To close the summit, Fidelina Mena of CDLSINFOCR and Wendy Ponce of CIMITRA shared a joint statement containing a list of demands and commitments from the organizations and individuals in attendance. The statement touched on issues discussed throughout the summit and provided concrete steps for realizing a more equitable world not just for migrant workers, but for everyone. The joint statement is a living document and will continue to evolve along with the growing transnational labor and human rights movement that conceived it. Adelante! 

Last week, Chilean casino and hotel workers announced a historic national agreement with Enjoy, the largest casino operator in the country. The agreement commits the company to safeguard jobs, to establish a waiting list that prioritizes workers who have lost their jobs during the pandemic in future hires, and to a process that allows FENASICAJH, the National Federation of Casino Unions of Gaming and Hotels of Chile, oversee the implementation of health protocols at the national level.

“Even in this global pandemic and crisis, our national federation of casino and hotel workers has strengthened our leadership and achieved important growth in Chile thanks to the unity and commitment of several unions. And we’ve reached an important new milestone as a federation, signing our first ever national agreement with Enjoy Casinos. The agreement protects our jobs and gives us an official channel to make sure health protocols are followed. We hope this collaboration extends soon to the other casino operators in Chile, as well as other unions. We’ve shown that through unity we can achieve great things.” – Pamela Oliden, Croupier from Enjoy Antofagasta and leader in FENASICAJH.

GJL-ILRF, in partnership with UNI Americas has been providing strategic campaign support to Fenasicajh and Contracops as they build worker power and win the historic victory job security provision and health and safety protections for workers in the casino sector impacted by the COVID-19 crisis and shutdown.

“Chilean casino workers are leading the way on how to organize during the pandemic. Other casinos operators should take note and sign with the federation,” Jacob Horwitz, Field Director of GLJ-ILRF.

In spite of a public health crisis and severe economic insecurity in Chile, workers continue resisting the country’s neoliberal political and economic model and fighting for public policies aimed at redistributing wealth and increasing democratic participation.

Donate now and show your solidarity with Honduran and Guatemalan Farmworkers devasted by the impact of Hurricane Eta.

There is an urgent need for support for Honduran and Guatemalan farmworker unions in the wake of the devastation caused by Hurricane Eta. Thousands of Central American farmworkers have been left in a state of emergency caused by flooding and devastation in the wake of Hurricane Eta.

In Honduras, workers from the Banana sector and on Palm Oil plantations had their homes flooded and were stranded surrounded by water. Workers and union organizers had to be rescued from rooftops by boat and helicopter including from our partner union El Sindicato de Trabajadores de la Agroindustria y Similares (STAS). In Guatemala, the storm flooded whole communities as well as all of the banana farms and villages where the members of our partner union Izabal Banana Workers’ Union, (SITABRI) live and work. Hundreds of union members and their families spent days on the roofs of their houses and have lost everything they owned.

These are the same fighting unions that over the past decade have led powerful union and migrant rights workers organizing in Honduras and Guatemala and are critical to defending labor rights and building worker power going forward. With fields flooded and other damage, it will take months for work to normalize, especially export fruit packaging. Meanwhile, communities lack food, housing, stoves, clothing and other basic needs. Our union partners, while working to recover themselves and support their own families, are bravely stepping up and literally traversing rivers to reach their members and provide relief.

In crisis and rebuilding, worker organizations are critical. Our partner unions support communities’ immediate needs, advocate for equity and justice in the rebuilding, and make sure big corporations don’t use the disaster to drive deeper worker exploitation.

Donate now and show your solidarity. 100% of your donation will go directly to Hondurans and Guatemalans affected by the hurricane to help them with their basic needs, including purchasing food, stoves, mattresses, clothing, and home repairs.

Together we can support the efforts of the brave trade unionists to aid, defend, and strengthen workers and their communities.

In Solidarity,

GLJ-ILRF

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.

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.

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.