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Statement from organizations in the Seafood Working Group on Thai Government announcement that it will ban the practice of using forced prison labor to make fishing nets:

“Following a petition our international coalition submitted to the Biden Administration on February 11, alongside media pressure, the Thai government says it will end the use of forced labor in prisons. The petition called on the U.S. government to ban the import of fishing nets made by companies that use forced prison labor in Thailand and came after months of investigative work and legal analysis. This is a victory we share with everyone fighting for workers’ rights in Thailand and in the seafood industry around the world. We will continue our work to ensure Thailand follows through on its pledge. It is commendable that the Department of Corrections will establish labor committees in all of Thailand’s 143 prisons. These could be strengthened through public release of findings and by allowing independent inspection bodies access to all prisons.  We are also calling on U.S. seafood giant Trident Seafoods, which bought nets from one of the implicated companies, to commit to upholding international labor rights standards, to conduct human rights due diligence throughout its entire supply chain, and to provide effective remedy to workers for any labor violations found.”

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GLJILRF is a newly merged organization that brings strategic capacity to cross-sectoral work on global value chains and labor migration corridors.

The Seafood Working Group (SWG) is a global coalition of human rights, labor and environmental organizations that work together to develop and advocate for effective government policies and industry actions to end the related problems of labor exploitation, illegal fishing and overfishing in the international seafood trade. 

For Immediate Release

March 24, 2022

Contact: Rachel Cohen, racohen78@gmail.com, 917-370-8464

Global Labor Justice – International Labor Rights Forum Sues Global Tuna Giant Bumble Bee Over False Advertising of ‘Fair and Safe’ Fishing Practices

WASHINGTON D.C. – Global Labor Justice – International Labor Rights Forum (GLJ-ILRF) today announced it filed suit against Bumble Bee Foods, LLC – North America’s largest canned tuna brand and subsidiary of Fong Chun Formosa Fishery Company, Ltd. (FCF), a Taiwan-based seafood trader ranked as one of the top three in the world – over its false and deceptive marketing claims that it sources its tuna through a “fair and safe supply chain.”

GLJ-ILRF’s lawsuit alleges significant evidence that the canned-fish giant’s supply chain is rife with forced labor and worker safety violations and demands Bumble Bee show that advertising is backed up by meaningful practices to protect workers, or otherwise cease making the deceptive marketing claims.

“Bumble Bee’s false and misleading advertising is bad for workers and bad for consumers who want to buy ethically sourced products,” said Jennifer (JJ) Rosenbaum, Executive Director of GLJ-ILRF. “There is a growing concern by consumers and the public about conditions faced by workers who produce global food supply chains. These workers should be able to work in decent conditions and provide a stable life for their families. At GLJ-ILRF, we will continue to expose false claims and demand meaningful action.”

The lawsuit details evidence that Bumble Bee and its main supplier and parent company FCF have a long history of engaging in or allowing unfair and dangerous labor practices in the commercial fishing of the tuna consumers find behind the Bumble Bee label. Fishing vessels in FCF’s supply chain employ fishing methods that are inherently dangerous, such as distant water fishing and transhipment. Working conditions in supply chains reportedly involve up to 34-hour workdays, inadequate sleep, withheld wages, and little to no food. In addition, there have been various documented instances of forced labor; illegal, unreported, unregulated (IUU) fishing; and even deaths of workers.

Despite the well-documented abuses, which are detailed in the complaint, Bumble Bee’s marketing and advertising claim the company is “best-in-class” when it comes to worker safety standards and that its “mission” is to “champion sustainable fishing” throughout its supply chain.

“Deceptive marketing practices that falsely claim to ensure fair labor and worker safety standards are an impediment to meaningful efforts for change,” said Kimberly Rogovin, Senior Seafood Campaign Coordinator at GLJ-ILRF. “As a market leader, Bumble Bee is able to use its ‘fair and safe’ claims to convince wide swaths of consumers without needing to change its company’s purchasing habits, and to shut out the efforts of advocacy groups and competitors for genuine reform.”

GLJ-ILRF brought suit under the District of Columbia Consumer Protection Procedures Act, which allows public interest non-profit organizations to bring consumer protection claims on behalf of consumers and the general public. GLJ-ILRF is represented in this case by Richman Law & Policy.

For more information on labor abuse in seafood supply chains, see GLJ-ILRF’s report Labor Abuse in Taiwan’s Seafood Industry & Local Advocacy for Reform, which illustrates egregious human rights abuses in Taiwan’s fishing industry, and Time for a Sea Change, which discusses the problem of forced labor in the Thai seafood industry. More background information is also available here.

You can find a copy of the lawsuit here

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GLJILRF is a non-profit public-interest organization dedicated to achieving dignity and justice for workers worldwide. GLJ-ILRF focuses on enforcing labor rights and promoting decent work conditions consistent with best practices and ILO standards in the low-wage sections of global supply chains such as commercial fishing. GLJ-ILRF engages in research, policy work, advocacy, and education of the public and consumers.

For Immediate Release

April 1, 2022

Contact: Rachel Cohen, racohen78@gmail.com, 917-370-8464

Landmark Dindigul Agreement to Eliminate Gender-Based Violence and Harassment at Eastman Exports Natchi Apparels with the Support of Global Allies

Tirupur, India (April 1, 2022) – Today Eastman Exports Global Clothing Private Limited, the Tamil Nadu Textile and Common Labour Union, the Asia Floor Wage Alliance, and Global Labor Justice- International Labor Rights Forum, along with H&M Group (H&M), jointly announce the groundbreaking Dindigul Agreement to Eliminate Gender-Based Violence and Harassment (GBVH), in the first year reaching 5,000 mostly female workers in spinning mills and garment cut and sew facilities.

These stakeholders have signed as set of agreements which jointly commit to work together from their supply chain role to eradicate discrimination based on gender, caste, or migration status; to increase transparency; and to develop a culture of mutual respect in the garment factory setting.

The agreement draws language from the International Labor Organization’s Convention 190 concerning the elimination of violence and harassment in the workplace and strongly protects freedom of association and the rights of Dalit women workers. Tirupur is known as India’s textile spinning capital and is the largest producer of cotton yarn in India, employing over 280,000 workers total.

“All our employees deserve safety and respect at work,” said Subhash Tiwari, CEO of Eastman Exports, one of the largest clothing manufacturers in Tirupur, India. “It is our hope that this unique agreement and partnership will not only positively impact Natchi’s valued workforce but will also serve as a model for other garment factories.”

The agreement includes an innovative program known as “Safe Circles” with regular training for all workers, supervisors, and managers; a peer education program; and shop floor monitors to detect and report GBVH. The program will be anchored by Tamil Nadu Textile and Common Labour Union (TTCU), a women-led independent and majority Dalit trade union of textile workers. The Asia Floor Wage Alliance (AFWA), an alliance of trade unions and labor organizations representing garment workers across Asia and Global Labor Justice- International Labor Rights Forum (GLJ-ILRF), a global human and labor rights advocacy organization focused on eliminating GBVH have joined as signatories and will support these efforts.

As a part of the agreement, Eastman Exports will amend its internal policies and procedures including to strengthen the Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) and establish an independent grievance mechanism overseen by third-party experts.

“This agreement delivers power and support to women workers to monitor, prevent and remediate GBVH collectively and with management,” said Jeeva M, General Secretary of TTCU. “We will use this as a model to organize against GBVH and caste-based discrimination industry wide.”

Anannya Bhattacharjee, the International Coordinator of AFWA said, “The leadership and commitment of the Dalit women-led trade union TTCU has led to this historic agreement, which puts forth a model of how fashion brands, suppliers and trade unions can work together to prevent and remediate GBVH in Asian garment supply chains. We are happy to be partnering with H&M and Eastman Exports in the implementation of this agreement, which offers a multi- faceted approach to achieving violence-free workplaces.”

“This agreement is a model for the role brands, suppliers, and labor partners have in eliminating gender-based violence from supply chains and promoting freedom of association,” says Jennifer (JJ) Rosenbaum, Executive Director of GLJ-ILRF. “Brands play a critical role by using commercial relationships and business leverage to reduce the existing risk of GBVH, incentivizing suppliers to comply with remediation. We urge all brands to sign similar agreements, join this model and replicate it across the industry.”

H&M recognizes the critical role of enabling collaboration between all stakeholders to reduce risks of GBVH, including at the intersection of gender and caste as well as of freedom of association violations, that contribute to GBVH in the garment industry. H&M wants to use its size and scale to influence the industry in a positive way. H&M will, for example, contribute financially to develop awareness trainings for management and workers, an independent and trustworthy grievance mechanisms run by an independent assessor, and a framework for measuring and reporting impact. The ambition is to find solutions that can be brought to scale at industry level.

In signing this agreement, all stakeholders honor the loss of a young garment worker, TTCU member, and Eastman employee, Jeyasre Kathrivel, whose life was tragically cut short as a result of GBVH. We honor her legacy through this important agreement and ultimately meaningful change across the garment industry.

Foley Hoag attorneys, Gare Smith and Allison Anderson, advised Eastman Exports, and worked with TTCU, AFWA and GLJ-ILRF on this agreement.

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Eastman Exports Global Clothing Private Limited is one of the leading apparel manufacturers in India, perfectly positioned to stay on the top in the fashion world as the most preferred and trusted knitwear manufacturers in India. Eastman’s journey from a modest growth at the time of its inception to its current business volume is a complete testimony to the clarity of vision and the quantum of energy that propels the company. For more information, contact: Alagesan Senniappan alagesan@eastmanexports.com; Poornakala poornakala@eastmanexports.com

Tamil Nadu Textile and Common Workers Union (TTCU) is an independent, Dalit women-led trade union of textile workers organizing to end GBVH, wage theft, and caste-based violence in garment factories.  For more information, contact: Thivya Rakini info.ttcu@gmail.com

Asia Floor Wage Alliance (AFWA) is an Asian labour-led global labour and social alliance across garment producing countries (such as India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Bangladesh) and consumer regions (USA and Europe) for addressing poverty level wages, gender-based violence, and freedom of association in global garment production networks. For more information, contact Nandita Shivakumar nandita.s@asia.floorwage.org.

Global Labor Justice – International Labor Rights Forum (GLJ – ILRF) is a non-governmental organization that works transnationally to advance policies and laws that protect decent work; to strengthen freedom of association and workers’ ability to advocate for their rights; and to hold corporations accountable for labor rights violations in their supply chains. For more contact Sahiba Gill, sahibagill@globallaborjustice.org.

Foley Hoag, LLP is counsel to Eastman. Legal services were provided by the Global Business & Human Rights practice, which helps clients align their business practices with the U.N. Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. For more information contact Gare Smith, gsmith@foleyhoag.com.

For Immediate Release

May 22, 2022

Contact: Rachel Cohen, racohen78@gmail.com, 917-370-8464

Labor Groups Supporting Indian Garment Workers Call On More Global Brands to Join Landmark Dindigul Agreement to End GBVH

Guardian Breaks Story on Gender Based Violence and Harassment Endemic in Clothing Supply Chains

Tirupur, India– The Tamil Nadu Textile and Common Labour Union (TTCU), the Asia Floor Wage Alliance (AFWA), and Global Labor Justice-International Labor Rights Forum (GLJ-ILRF) today called on more global brands to join H&M in signing the groundbreaking Dindigul Agreement to Eliminate Gender-Based Violence and Harassment (GBVH), which will empower 5,000 mostly female Dalit workers to protect themselves and their coworkers in spinning mills and garment cut and sew facilities.

New reporting in the Guardian details how global fashion supply chains are built on widespread gender-based violence and harassment across Asia.

TTCU, AFWA and GLJ-ILRF have a long history of organizing with and supporting the workers who are fighting back. We launched the Justice for Jeyasre campaign in 2021 when Jeyasre Kathiravel, a young garment worker and union member in TTCU was murdered after facing months of sexual harassment by her supervisor. 

Thanks to the movement we built with workers in India and around the world, in April, factory owner Eastman Exports Global Clothing Private Limited, the TTCU, AFWA and GLJ-ILRF, along with H&M Group (H&M), announced the Dindigul Agreement, a set of accords that jointly commit all parties to work together to eradicate GBVH and discrimination based on caste, or migration status; support women workers in collectively detecting, remediating and preveniting GBVH on the shopfloor, to increase transparency; and to develop a culture of mutual respect in the garment factory and beyond.

In the Dindigul Agreement, H&M has agreed to a regular review mechanism in deciding its level of sourcing based on Eastman’s fulfillment of the provisions of the agreement, other brands, especially those who were sourcing from Eastman at the time of Jeyasre’s death should follow suit, meet with us and sign on. 

A joint statement from the original signing parties is available here

Labor stakeholders are also in dialogue with other brands sourcing from Eastman Exports’ Natchi facilities in the past two years including Walmart, M&S, and Authentic Brands Group (which owns Lucky Brand Jeans, Brooks Brothers, Forever 21, Izod, and others)- along with BlackRock a major investor in Authentic- about joining the agreement consistent with responsible business practices under the UN Guiding Principles on business and human rights.  Together with the labor stakeholders and Eastman, brands and investors who join the agreement would be contributing towards a model for the industry. 

When reporting workplace problems leads brands to pull orders, working women  are left to choose between sexual harassment or unemployment.  All brands who say they want their supply chain free of gender based violence and harassment now have a clear choice to source from units covered by the Dindigul agreement or to talk with us about its expansion.” said Jennifer (JJ) Rosenbaum, Executive Director of GLJ-ILRF. “For brand investors like BlackRock, this is also a concrete way to make their environmental, social and governance commitments (ESG)  commitments real.” 

“For the first time, workers have an agreement that empowers us to fight back collectively against violence and harassment at work. Garment workers have long felt that we have to accept harassment as part of our jobs– we get fired by our employers when we speak out against it and the big brands whose clothing we make, don’t take responsibility. Under this agreement, Eastman commits to zero tolerance for GBVH and to working with us to remediate any harassment that occurs. H&M commits to use business leverage create support and accountability for that promise. More brands should follow their lead and sign on. Let it be a model for India and the globe so all garment workers are empowered and protected,” said Jeeva M, General Secretary, TTCU.

“The Dindigul Agreement is transformative because it incentivises suppliers to protect workers rights and eliminate GBVH. Now is the time for more global fashion companies to be part of the solution to violence and harassment by sourcing from factories that confront these issues head on as Eastman has agreed to do. Suppliers and brands should support worker-led processes to address GBVH and recognize workers’ rights to organize in unions. Too often, when abuses are brought to light, brands will try to save their reputation by pulling out of the factory, victimizing workers a second time as they lose their jobs,” said Anannya Bhattacharjee, AFWA International Coordinator.

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Tamil Nadu Textile and Common Workers Union (TTCU) is an independent, Dalit women-led trade union of textile workers organizing to end GBVH, wage theft, and caste-based violence in garment factories.  

 

Asia Floor Wage Alliance (AFWA) is an Asian labour-led global labour and social alliance across garment producing countries (such as India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Bangladesh) and consumer regions (USA and Europe) for addressing poverty level wages, gender-based violence, and freedom of association in global garment production networks. 

 

Global Labor Justice – International Labor Rights Forum (GLJ – ILRF) is a non-governmental organization that works transnationally to advance policies and laws that protect decent work; to strengthen freedom of association and workers’ ability to advocate for their rights; and to hold corporations accountable for labor rights violations in their supply chains. 

For Immediate Release

July 19, 2022

Contact: Rachel Cohen, racohen78@gmail.com, 917-370-8464

Seafood Labor Activists Blast US for Thailand, Taiwan Rankings in TIP Report That Gives a Pass to Widespread Worker Abuses

Seafood Labor Activists Blast US for Thailand, Taiwan Rankings in TIP Report That Gives a Pass to Widespread Worker Abuses

Washington D.C. – Global Labor Justice-International Labor Rights Forum (GLJ-ILRF) and allies in the Seafood Working Group (SWG) today said the U.S. government has given a pass to Thailand and Taiwan on widespread abuses in the countries’ fishing and seafood processing sectors by upgrading them in its latest Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report.

“We are dismayed and disappointed that the U.S. State Department is in effect condoning and rewarding the Thai and Taiwanese governments’ failures to meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. We have documented widespread abuses of migrant workers and forced labor in the fishing industry in both countries and we will continue to fight with local and international allies to eradicate them and help all workers ensure the right to advocate for themselves, form unions and bargain collectively,” said Kimberly Rogovin, Senior Seafood Campaign Coordinator of GLJ-ILRF.

For years, the SWG has urged the U.S. government to use its diplomatic and economic power to demand companies around the world respect labor rights if they want access to the U.S. market. This year the group issued reports on Thailand and Taiwan, outlining abuses in the seafood industry and calling for them to be ranked Tier 2 Watch List and Tier 2, respectively.

Instead, the U.S. State Department announced today its decision to upgrade Thailand to Tier 2 and to maintain Taiwan at Tier 1.

According to the State Department’s report, the key reason for the Thailand upgrade appears to be the increased number of trafficking investigations. Increasing investigations is needed, the SWG says, but it is not a significant indicator of improvement when the government maintains discriminatory legal frameworks and fails to promote and protect labor rights for vulnerable categories of workers.

“The upgrade to Tier 2 was not warranted as Thailand still restricts migrant workers’ fundamental rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining. All humans are entitled to the right to form a trade union or association in order to collectively bargain, irrespective of their nationality. Respecting these rights can mitigate social conflicts and reduce the risks of falling victim to human trafficking. For work to be decent, the Thai government must guarantee the rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining,” said Suthasinee Kaewleklai, Coordinator at Migrant Workers Rights Network in Thailand.

The SWG says that the State Department should not have upgraded Thailand until it makes critical reforms. They are calling on the Thai government to:

  1. Ensure full rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining for all workers in line with international standards;

  2. Establish long-term, comprehensive labor migration protections for migrants that effectively ban recruitment fees and eliminates private employment agencies from the process;

  3. Withdraw the Draft Act on the Operations of Not-for-Profit Organizations;

  4. Ensure victim-centered and trauma-informed prosecutions;

  5. Establish regular, rigorous labor inspections; and

  6. Provide legal guidance to law enforcement officials so they can effectively identify the crimes of human trafficking and forced labor.

 

“The Thai government proclaims its dedication to stamping out human trafficking, but at the same time, it is pushing forward a draft law on non-profit organizations with onerous restrictions on NGOs that will effectively wipe out many of the civil society groups who are working on the front line of anti-trafficking response. The U.S. government and other governments who care about stopping human trafficking in the Mekong sub-region should intervene to tell Thailand to drop that rights-abusing NGO law before it’s too late,” said Phil Roberston, Deputy Director for Asia, Human Rights Watch.

“Myanmar people are struggling to survive under the military dictatorship that has forced many to flee in search of work to support themselves and family back home. Companies in the global seafood supply chain in Thailand and elsewhere have taken advantage of desperate migrants, denying them of their rights and forcing them to work under abusive conditions for little pay. The Thai government has turned a blind eye to trafficking and maintained unsafe migration channels. We need the U.S. to keep up an international campaign to help Myanmar people and other migrants win full rights under the law,” said Htoo Chit,  Founder and Director, Foundation for Education and Development (FED).

SWG Says Taiwan Hasn’t Taken Sufficient Steps to Protect Migrant Fishers

The SWG has also called out abuses in the Taiwanese fishing industry, sharing its own recent findings, including the government’s failure to conduct timely investigations into the working conditions on the Da-Wang and Chin-Chun No. 12 vessels– despite strong indicators of human trafficking– until the U.S. government issued a trade ban. The SWG report also found that the government had not taken the necessary steps to identify and protect survivors through provision of services, nor did it administer labor inspections on distant water fishing vessels, which has allowed companies to keep victims hidden and outside the government’s safety net.

“As a human rights organization that maintains long-standing concerns about the abusive labor conditions of the migrant fishers on Taiwanese vessels, the Taiwan Association for Human Rights strongly disagrees with the U.S. Department of State’s decision to maintain Taiwan’s Tier 1 ranking. This not only fails to reflect the severity of human trafficking and forced labor in Taiwan, but also fails to effectively encourage the Taiwanese government to take further action against human trafficking,” said Yi-Hsiang, Shih, Secretary General of Taiwan Association for Human Rights (TAHR).

“It is disappointing, but not surprising, to see the Tier 1 grading in the TIP Report once again. The U.S. government should be able to look past the government’s public relations efforts and see the real situation. The fact is: most of the discrimination, forced labor, human trafficking, and violations of human and labor rights of migrant workers has not changed at all. A small raise in the minimum wage for domestic workers and distant water fishermen—who have been excluded from the Labor Standard Act and the general minimum wage until now—cannot make up for their ongoing exploitation that the Tier 1 grading fails to recognize. Geopolitics should be separate from human rights,” said Lennon Ying-Dah Wong, Director of the Department of Policies on Migrant Workers, Serve the People Association, Taoyuan (SPA).

“While Taiwan remains at Tier 1, the government will not be forced to face the music that there are victims of human rights exploitation in our society. Migrant fishers will still be discriminated against under the law and exploited by manning agencies and boat captains. The abuse of migrant workers will remain hidden from the international community,” said Jason Lee, Member of the Fishermen Service Section at Rerum Novarum Center in Taiwan.

 

The SWG has asked the U.S. Department of State’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (TIP Office) to support the following recommendations to the Taiwanese government. The members aver to continue to press the governments of the U.S. and Taiwan to address these issues:

  1. Abolish the overseas employment scheme for migrant fishers and ensure all migrant fishers are governed by the Ministry of Labor and thus afforded the same rights and protections as Taiwanese fishers.

  2. Establish a clear timeline for swift and full domestication and implementation of the ILO Work in Fishing Convention, 2007 (No. 188).

  3. Increase inspections on vessels of Taiwan-owned and flagged as well as Taiwan-owned and foreign flagged vessels, and prosecute the owners and senior crew suspected of forced labor, especially among the distant water fishing vessels.

  4. Deploy labor inspection personnel in foreign ports where Taiwan’s distant water fishing vessels are authorized to port, and train all maritime-related inspection authorities on victim identification and law enforcement.

  5. Increase transparency in the fishery sector by requiring disclosure of vessel position, 100% observer coverage, and ensuring the safety of all observers on all fishing vessels.

“Over the past 13 years, the Taiwanese government has designed numerous action plans and regulations just to maintain the minimum standards and keep Taiwan at Tier 1, but it has never taken any concrete action to prevent human trafficking of migrant fishers. Until the government actually implements the international labor conventions and domestic regulations it has committed to, uses public power to protect labor, and no longer condones the exploitation of labor by employers, they do not deserve the Tier 1 ranking,” said Allison Lee, Secretary-General of the Yilan Migrant Fishermen’s Union (YMFU) in Taiwan.

Frontline Taiwanese NGOs will hold an online press conference on the TIP Report on Thursday, 21 July 10:00-11:00AM Taiwan (20 July 10:00-11:00PM US EDT)

Hosted by: Coalition for the Protection of Human Rights of Migrant Fishers in Taiwan in collaboration with the Seafood Working Group (SWG)

You can join Thursday at: https://us06web.zoom.us/j/84545821384?pwd=NC8rWlBMMWUwS2tRdDZwdk5IbUJrUT09

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GLJILRF is a non-profit public-interest organization dedicated to achieving dignity and justice for workers worldwide. GLJ-ILRF focuses on enforcing labor rights and promoting decent work conditions consistent with best practices and International Labour Organization (ILO) standards in the low-wage sections of global supply chains such as commercial fishing. GLJ-ILRF engages in research, policy work, advocacy, and education of the public and consumers.

 

Chaired by GLJ-ILRF, the Seafood Working Group (SWG) is a global coalition of human rights, labor and environmental organizations that work together to develop and advocate for effective government policies and industry actions to end the related problems of forced labor, illegal fishing and overfishing in the international seafood trade.

For Immediate Release

July 28, 2022

Contact:

GLJ-ILRF: Rachel Cohen, racohen78@gmail.com, 917-370-8464

Equidem: Amanda Sperber: asperber@equidem.org // +1 914 484 8854

REPORT: Qatar Hotels Hosting Teams & Fans at World Cup Exploited and Abused Migrant Workers

‘We Work Like Robots’ details workers’ stories of wage theft, discrimination, dangerous conditions and gender-based violence and harassment at 32 FIFA partner hotels employing an estimated 10,000 workers.

Register for the Press Conference on 28 July at 2PM BST 

For nine months, we were made to work for more than 12 hours a day, without a day off. In order to keep our hours hidden, we were prevented from clocking in and clocking out. I was on the verge of going insane,”  said an Indian worker at the Holiday Villa Hotel and Residence, Doha, a FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 partner hotel.

LONDON – FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 (“Qatar World Cup”) hotel managers exploited and violated the rights of thousands of migrant workers from Africa and Asia, according to a new investigation released today by Equidem and Global Labor Justice-International Labor Rights Forum (GLJ-ILRF). 

The groups detail significant labour and human rights violations they found at most of the hotels that employ an estimated 9,000-10,000 workers who will host World Cup teams, spectators and corporate sponsors later this year.

Field  investigators – themselves migrant workers – interviewed 80 workers over two years. Women and men from Africa and Asia working at World Cup hotels describe—in their own words—the sexual harassment, nationality- and gender-based discrimination, wage theft, health and safety risks, sudden loss of employment, and illegal recruitment charges they faced in their work.  Qatar’s laws and policies fuel these rights violations: Workers are denied the fundamental right to associate, subjected to intensive surveillance and employer control, and fear retaliation—including employer-instigated deportation—for defending their rights and interests.

The report details widespread systematic abuse and exploitation, including:

  • Wage theft, including unilateral cuts in pay of up to 75% and unpaid, forced overtime.
  • Nationality-based wage discrimination at all 32 of the hotels designated as FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 hospitality partners.
  • Widespread reports of coworkers and guests subjecting women workers to gender based violence and harassment, including inappropriate touching and sexual propositions.
  • Stolen COVID premium pay: workers said they were promised double wages to work with COVID-19 positive people, but those wages were stolen, and workers were never paid for assuming serious health risks.

“Four months before the 2022 FIFA World Cup is played in Qatar, migrant workers in the World Cup partner hotels report a pattern of gender based violence and harassment, discrimination, wage theft, and fear of retaliation if they come forward.” said Jennifer (JJ) Rosenbaum, GLJ-ILRF Executive Director. “These reports expose the failed model of corporate social responsibility models (“CSR”)- where corporations have sole responsibility to monitor and enforce their own interpretations of labour standards.  We invite an immediate dialogue with FIFA and its partner hotels about the steps necessary to raise and maintain workplace conditions at or above international labor standards and the fundamental role of labour and human rights organizations in this process. Without this, hotel workers will continue to face daily violations of international labor standards and the players and fans who stay at these hotels will be complicit in an extractive business model that puts profit over people.”

The report is based on research conducted from February 2020 to July 2022 and documents significant labour and human rights violations in 13 out of 17 of FIFA’s partner hotel groups. These international brands employ thousands of migrant workers from countries including Bangladesh, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Morocco, Nepal, the Philippines, Thailand, and Uganda.

Migrant workers are at significant risk of discrimination and exploitation because of the extreme power imbalances between migrant workers and employers in Qatar. The nationality-based hierarchies in Qatar are entrenched by policies that deny migrant workers paths to long-term residency or permanent citizenship. In this context, migrant workers require forums for collective action to safeguard their rights and promote their interests.

“Despite an upsurge in rights-protection initiatives by FIFA and Qatar over the last two years, workers across most World Cup hotels have reported a troubling pattern of abuse and fears of reprisal for speaking out. Our research indicates that thousands of migrant workers at World Cup hotels are owed compensation for illegal recruitment charges, unpaid wages and overtime, and other harms suffered in Qatar,” said Mustafa Qadri, CEO of Equidem. “With less than four months until kick-off, the Qatar World Cup is facing an exploitation crisis that neither FIFA, Qatar, nor their hotel partners can hide behind audits and expert partnerships.”

Equidem and GLJ-ILRF call on FIFA, Qatar authorities and their World Cup partners to ensure hotel workers who have faced discrimination, exploitation and other harms are provided a remedy consistent with international recognized responsible business and human rights practices.

Equidem and GLJ-ILRF further call for the establishment of a genuinely independent Migrant Worker Centre in Qatar as a necessary step towards advancing freedom of association and creating a modern, rights-respecting labour system in the country.

“A top-down, heavily state-controlled labour reform process is inhibiting efforts to improve respect for migrant worker rights at Qatar World Cup hotels, despite the critical help of international trade union bodies, UN agencies and other experts,” Qadri said. “Qatar must respect its international obligations to respect freedom of association rights so that migrant workers have the space to safely voice concerns about their treatment.”

Over 800 workers were contacted in an attempt to understand their experience but only 80 replied, which suggests the exploitation and abuse is widely underreported.

Read the full report here

Equidem and GLJ-ILRF will host a press conference today at 2pm BST/ 9am ET to offer more detail and answer questions about the report. Register here.

Contact
Equidem: Amanda Sperber: asperber@equidem.org // +1 914 484 8854
GLJ-IRLF: Rachel Cohen, racohen78@gmail.com // +1 917-370-8464

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Equidem is a human rights and labour rights charity working globally and locally to promote the rights of marginalised communities, accountability for serious violations, and building the human rights movement. Our team of experts and field investigators expose injustice, provide solutions for the most intractable human rights challenges and work closely with grassroots and global civil society to empower the individual and the community.

Global Labor JusticeInternational Labor Rights Forum (GLJ-ILRF) is a new merged organization bringing strategic capacity to cross-sectoral work on global value chains and labour migration corridors. GLJ-ILRF holds global corporations accountable for labour 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.

For Immediate Release

February 27, 2023

Contact: Rachel Cohen, GLJ-ILRF: racohen78@gmail.com

 

REPORT: Big Fashion Founding Families, Investors Cash In On Wage Theft 

Asian Unions and Allies Launch Campaign to Stop Nike, Levi’s and VF Corp. From Funneling Stolen Pandemic Wages toward Buybacks that Enriched Owners, Wall Street

Register for the press call on Tuesday, February 28 at 9:00 AM ET / 7:30 PM IST / 9:00 PM ICT: https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/8916767074099/WN_I7-pu3rASn-Bvb1yHxAGVA

 

WASHINGTON – Labor Unions in six countries in South and Southeast Asia are joining forces to demand an end to stock buybacks by US-based Big Fashion companies after years of unpaid wage claims. These unions and their global allies, Asia Floor Wage Alliance (AFWA) and Global Labor Justice-International Labor Rights Forum (GLJ-ILRF), are launching their “Fight the Heist” campaign with a new report that reveals how Nike, VF Corp. and Levi’s and their wealthiest investors are profiting through wage theft from workers in their Asian supply chains.  

The report “Big Fashion Investors Cash In on Wage Theft,” released today, shows that after quickly bouncing back from a brief pandemic slowdown in 2020, Nike, VF Corp. and Levi’s executives and investors have seen their profits skyrocket through stock buybacks and dividends. Meanwhile, the vast majority of garment workers, who lost on average 22% of their normal wages in 2020, have received no payback and remain in permanent crisis, with many factories continuing to steal overtime pay or pay subminimum wages. 

 Share buybacks in other sectors, like the airline and semiconductor industry, have recently come under scrutiny. Senators and members of Congress are proposing legislation to rein in Wall Street’s expansive efforts to reward investors. However, there’s been little notice of Big Fashion’s lavish payments to investors as garment workers struggle to survive.

“At the same time that workers lost wages en masse, Big Fashion made record profits and brands paid themselves millions through stock buybacks. The Nike-owning Knight family, for example, paid themselves $74 million in dividends while garment workers literally could not survive,” said GLJ-ILRF Executive Director Jennifer (JJ) Rosenbaum. “The campaign is demanding that brands negotiate a forward-looking solution to transform their supply chains for workers, pay back the money garment workers lost and end stock buybacks until workers are made whole.”

Nike and Levi’s increased their share buyback programs in 2022. Nike authorized a new $18 billion dollar buyback program ($3 billion more than before), Levi’s approved a $750 million share repurchase program ($650 million more than before). VF Corporation paused and reinstated its existing share buyback program in 2021, and projects spending $7 billion on share repurchases in the next four years.

“At the start of the pandemic, I was furloughed for weeks at a time and lost all my savings,” said Netra, who makes Nike apparel at a factory in Indonesia. “My factory never paid my back wages and I’m struggling to send the money my parents and siblings rely on. Nike should ensure factory owners pay us fairly for the work we’ve done.”

The new report follows up on a 2021 AFWA report, “Money Heist,” that surveyed thousands of workers at the beginning of the pandemic in 189 factories that make clothes for some of the world’s largest brands. The report documented at least $164 million in lost wages as garment producers skirted national laws on worker pay. 

In late 2022, investigators returned to dozens of factories from the first report and found:

  • Nine in ten factories have not resolved workers’ COVID wage claims from 2020.
  • More than half of factories are not paying workers owed overtime, beginning in 2020 onward. 
  • One in five factories are not paying workers minimum wages or owed benefits.  

Taking data collected as representative of a likely overall trend, the total potential COVID wage claims for Nike, Levi’s and North Face parent company VF Corporation in just the six surveyed countries (Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Pakistan and Sri Lanka) could be as much as $427 million.

“The pandemic was a global shock that has had a severe impact on the health and finances of garment workers,” said AFWA International Coordinator Anannya Bhattacharjee. “The industry looks for every possible opportunity to push its risk and losses onto workers with the fewest options and least bargaining power. But workers are fighting back and linking arms with workers in the US to demand that these companies pay them what they are owed before they make lavish payouts to investors.”

Asian garment unions, AFWA, GLJ-ILRF and other allies are calling on these Big Fashion companies to: 

  • Sit down with garment workers and their unions for a systematic investigation of COVID wage claims, including specific impacts on women workers. 
  • Stop billionaire payouts from dividends and stock buybacks until all garment workers are repaid their lost wages.
  • Transform their global supply chains to provide living wages for all workers.

Unions representing workers at Nike factories today filed an OECD complaint with the US National Contact Point. It alleges that Nike has contributed to “severe human rights impacts” for garment workers in its supply chain but has not addressed and remediated the impacts according to the OECD Guidelines on Responsible Business Conduct. Nike has not responded to unions’ requests for dialogue about these impacts, which the Guidelines call for. 

If the US NCP approves the complaint, the NCP will formally invite Nike to dialogue with the unions about their demands and facilitate a dialogue process.

You can read the full “Big Fashion Investors Cash In on Wage Theft” report here

You can read more about the OECD complaint here.

 

Get more info on the campaign on our press call on Tuesday, February 28 at 9:00 AM ET / 7:30 PM IST / 9:00 PM ICT

Zoom registration link: https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/8916767074099/WN_I7-pu3rASn-Bvb1yHxAGVA

 

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Asia Floor Wage Alliance (AFWA) is an Asian labour-led global labour and social alliance across garment producing countries (such as India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Bangladesh) and consumer regions (USA and Europe) for addressing poverty level wages, gender-based violence, and freedom of association in global garment production networks. 

Global Labor JusticeInternational Labor Rights Forum (GLJ – ILRF) is a non-governmental organization that works transnationally to advance policies and laws that protect decent work; to strengthen freedom of association and workers’ ability to advocate for their rights; and to hold corporations accountable for labor rights violations in their supply chains. 

 

For Immediate Release

March 12, 2023

Contact: Rachel Cohen, racohen78@gmail.com

Migrant Fishers Bring Call for Labor Rights to Boston Seafood Expo

Boston – Boston fishing and labor advocates, teachers and community members today joined Taiwan’s migrant fishers at the Seafood Expo North America to call on big seafood brands to take responsibility for their supply chains and ensure fishers’ fundamental labor rights at sea. 

Fishers spoke out about the Wi-Fi Now for Fishers’ Rights at Sea campaign and why having Wi-Fi communication is vital to protecting their rights. 

Conditions are very tough on the high seas. We need Wi-Fi to communicate with our labor organizations and families. This is how we will protect our rights and our mental health and ensure we are getting fair pay and treatment. We are asking seafood companies, governments and vessel owners to ensure we have rights on the job and a way to talk to the outside world when we’re at sea,” said Edi Kasdiwan of the Indonesian Seafarers Gathering Forum (FOSPI), who traveled to Boston to attend the Expo. 

Faith, labor and community leaders from the Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance, the Boston Teachers Union, Boston Seafarers Mission, UFCW Local 1445, MassCOSH, Catholic Labor Guild, North Shore Labor Council  and other groups joined migrant fishers who work on Taiwanese deep-sea fishing vessels and other US and Taiwanese allies at the Expo. They called out the big seafood companies that make claims of a fair and safe supply chain but take little responsibility when it comes to ensuring that fishers in their supply chains work under international labor standards.

At sea for up to a year, workers are isolated and unable to communicate with their family, labor organizations, service providers, or state officials. The fishers have launched a global solidarity campaign to call for Wi-Fi on every vessel in the Taiwanese distant water fleet as a critical necessity to ensure workers’ rights under international labor standards. They are fighting for the right to organize and to end forced labor, violence and health and safety violations on their ships.

Taiwan has the world’s second largest distant water fleet, with more than 22,000 crew, the majority being migrant workers. Without access to Wi-Fi onboard fishing vessels, workers are isolated and unable to communicate with their labor organizations, service providers, state officials or their families.

Many workers have reported harrowing conditions aboard these vessels, including insufficient drinking water and food, sanitation problems, lack of onboard safety measures, high recruitment fees that put workers in debt, arbitrary wage deductions, unilateral contract termination and deportation without due process, as well as egregious abuses such as forced labor, physical abuse, murders, and disappearances at sea.

In a recent incident reported by the Yilan Migrant Fishers Union, fishers on a vessel called the Shunjie– operating in the Tonga Islands without Wi-Fi equipment–  were forced to work 20 hours a day and wrap wounds from their work with wire tapes because there were no bandages. The fishers said the captain scolded them when they were ill and asked for medicine. After months under these conditions, the fishers were only able to reach out for help when they docked and fellow fishers shared their Wi-Fi connection.

The fishers have come together to call on the U.S., Japanese and Taiwanese governments, vessel owners, seafood brands and investors to recognize their right to the ILO’s fundamental rights. Workers are looking for dialogue with companies to find solutions.

“We are in Boston to hold the world’s biggest seafood companies responsible for their supply chains. Fishers are workers who deserve rights on the job. Taiwan’s migrant fishers have launched a global campaign for that right and it’s time for these brands and retailers to come to the table with fishers and ensure that vessel owners respect their rights. These global buyers have the power to improve conditions and ensure communications access for workers in distant-water fleets,” said Kimberly Rogovin, Senior Seafood Campaign Coordinator, GLJ-ILRF.

The fishers have organized their international campaign with U.S., Taiwanese and Indonesian allies, including Indonesian Seafarers Gathering Forum, or Forum Silaturahmi Pelaut Indonesia (FOSPI), Global Labor Justice – International Labor Rights Forum (GLJ-ILRF), Taiwan Association for Human Rights (TAHR), Stella Maris Kaohsiung, Humanity Research Consultancy (HRC).

Click here for more info about the Wi-Fi Now for Fishers’ Rights at Sea campaign.

 

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Global Labor JusticeInternational Labor Rights Forum (GLJ – ILRF) is a non-governmental organization that works transnationally to advance policies and laws that protect decent work; to strengthen freedom of association and workers’ ability to advocate for their rights; and to hold corporations accountable for labor rights violations in their supply chains. 



For Immediate Release

March 8, 2023

Contact: Rachel Cohen, racohen78@gmail.com

Global Tuna Giant Takes Positive Step to Resolve GLJ-ILRF Allegations of Overstated Labor Rights Claims

WASHINGTON– Global Labor Justice-International Labor Rights Forum (GLJ-ILRF) today welcomed a settlement with Bumble Bee Foods, under which the tuna giant agreed to remove specific claims about its fishing practices and working conditions, including “fair and safe supply chain” and “fair and responsible working conditions,” from its website, social media presence, and other public advertising to reach a mutual settlement of the lawsuit.

The resolution of the lawsuit coincides with the recent launch of the Wi-Fi Now for Fishers’ Rights at Sea campaign to ensure fair and responsible working conditions for Taiwan’s migrant distant-water fishers. The fishers have launched a campaign for fundamental workers’ rights– including freedom of association and health and safety at work– and for Wi-Fi access on their vessels so they can protect those rights.

Migrant fishers, GLJ-ILRF and other Taiwanese and U.S. allies will bring the call for these rights to big seafood producers and brands at the North America Seafood Expo in Boston this weekend.

“This settlement is a step in the right direction, and we are hoping for productive dialogue with Bumble Bee and other industry actors and governments about ensuring accessible and encrypted Wi-Fi for fishers in Taiwan’s fleet. Wi-Fi on every vessel would enable workers to protect their fundamental labor rights on board and prevent labor exploitation. This is an opportunity for industry, governments, fishers, and their unions to work together towards a shared solution,” said Sahiba Gill, Senior Staff Attorney at GLJ-ILRF.

In March 2022, GLJ-ILRF filed suit in a Washington D.C. court against Bumble Bee Foods, LLC– North America’s largest canned tuna brand and subsidiary of Fong Chun Formosa Fishery Company, Ltd. (FCF), a Taiwan-based seafood trader ranked as one of the top three in the world – over its marketing claims that it sources its tuna through a “fair and safe supply chain.” The lawsuit highlighted a history of labor problems in the deep sea fishing sector and demanded Bumble Bee show its advertising was backed up by meaningful practices to protect workers and the environment.  Through the settlement, Bumble Bee agreed to remove the disputed statements for ten years.

“Now the work continues to ensure fishers in Bumble Bee’s supply chain and across the sector fish in decent conditions. Wi-Fi access for all fishers in the Taiwan fleet is a first step in that direction,” said Kimberly Rogovin, GLJ-ILRF Senior Seafood Campaign Coordinator.

GLJ-ILRF brought suit under the District of Columbia Consumer Protection Procedures Act, which allows public interest non-profit organizations to bring consumer protection claims on behalf of consumers and the general public. GLJ-ILRF was represented in this case by Richman Law & Policy.

Updates on the Wi-Fi Now for Fishers’ Rights at Sea here

Read GLJ-ILRF’s report Wi-Fi for Fishers at Sea

 

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Global Labor JusticeInternational Labor Rights Forum (GLJ – ILRF) is a non-governmental organization that works transnationally to advance policies and laws that protect decent work; to strengthen freedom of association and workers’ ability to advocate for their rights; and to hold corporations accountable for labor rights violations in their supply chains.

For Immediate Release

March 22, 2023

Contact: Rachel Cohen, racohen78@gmail.com

NEW REPORT: Supplying SLAPPs: Corporate Accountability for Retaliatory Lawsuits in Thailand’s Poultry Supply Chain

WASHINGTON – A new report “Supplying SLAPPs: Corporate Accountability for Retaliatory Lawsuits in Thailand’s Poultry Supply Chain” highlights the continued use of Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP suits) by Thammakaset Co., Ltd. to harass migrant workers, lawyers, journalists, and other human rights defenders, and presents evidence to suggest a possible relationship between the companies Betagro and Thaifoods Group and key individuals linked to Thammakaset through the new corporate entity, Srabua Company Limited.

The report examines government databases and company documents available in the public domain, including company profiles, shareholder information, and financial reports to identify and map links in the poultry supply chain. Information from desk research was supplemented by field visits. The research team conducted field visits to the locations of the former Thammakaset farms to verify the continued operation of the farms. During these visits, the team also documented ongoing business relationships between companies identified in the supply chain of the farms. The research team additionally used satellite imagery to confirm the farms’ locations.

The report was a collaborative effort of Thai and international human rights lawyers, researchers, advocates and students. It was written by a human rights lawyer in collaboration with Global Labor Justice – International Labor Rights Forum (GLJ-ILRF) and the International Corporate Accountability Roundtable (ICAR). Research support was provided by students in the Corporate Social Responsibility Program at the Leitner Center for International Law and Justice.

You can read the full report here.

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Global Labor Justice International Labor Rights Forum (GLJ – ILRF) is a non-governmental organization that works transnationally to advance policies and laws that protect decent work; to strengthen freedom of association and workers’ ability to advocate for their rights; and to hold corporations accountable for labor rights violations in their supply chains.

The International Corporate Accountability Roundtable (ICAR) is a civil society organization that believes in the need for an economy that respects the rights of all people, not just powerful corporations. We harness the collective power of progressive organizations to push governments to create and enforce rules over corporations that promote human rights and reduce inequality. For more information, visit us: https://icar.ngo/