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. 


“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. 


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.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why did you decide to file this case? 

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

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

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

What did you allege in the complaint to the Court? 

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

What did the court order? 

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

Has the Government of Nepal acted on this order?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.


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.


  • 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