Small gains for workers rights in Bangladesh due to garment industry disasters | 

Dhaka Savar Building
Dhaka Savar Building

The death toll from the garment factory collapse in Dhaka has now surpassed 1,100 people and the rescue effort has ended.

In the two weeks since the tragic incident, which brought world attention to the abuses of the garment industry, laborers in Bangladesh appear to be making small gains. Major retailers are signing on to pacts aimed at improving worker safety. The Bangladesh government says it is prepared to increase the minimum wage and allow workers to form trade unions without factory owner permission.

Worker and community protests this weekend in Ashulia, a manufacturing hub located outside of Dhaka, caused about 30 factories to suspend work and closed down the city’s main highway. Cries for the death penalty for the owner of the Rana Plaza complex, Sohel Rana, were a focus of the protest.

Bangladesh garment factory workers have long had reasons for protest. But now, the world is paying attention. 

Neither the garment industry or government has done much to improve worker safety and wages as this country over the past decade has become the second largest player, behind China, in the international system of clothing manufacturing.  Continue reading

Bangladesh factory fire survivor urges US firms to support safe, fair labor | 

Sumi Abedin
Sumi Abedin

Sumi Abedin was making 18 cents an hour as a seamstress, putting together garments for Sean “P Diddy” Combs’ clothing line (known as Sean John Clothing) when the factory she worked in located outside Dhaka, Bangladesh, began burning.

“The door was locked and we couldn’t get out,” Abedin said, speaking through translator and Bangladeshi labor activist Kalpona Akter. She ended up having to leap from a three-story window, breaking an arm and a leg – and feeling lucky to have survived. More than a hundred did not.

Today, at least 70 garment Bangladeshi workers were reported killed with the collapse of a factory.

Abedin and Akter are in Seattle today as part of a U.S. tour — the End Death Trap Tour, they call it — aimed at urging American corporations and clothing purchasers like Walmart and Gap to support safe, fair working conditions overseas.

The tour is partially sponsored by the Washington Fair Trade Coalition, United Students Against Sweatshops and the International Labor Rights Forum.

Bodies outside the Tazreen factory fire, Dhaka, Bangladesh
Bodies outside the Tazreen factory fire, Dhaka, Bangladesh

The Tazreen Fashion factory fire of last November that Abedin survived killed 112 people and set off a wave of protests in Bangladesh.

The tragedy also revealed that many U.S. firms such as Walmart, Sears and Disney had continued to do business with the factory despite clear evidence it was operating under “high risk” conditions that were unsafe for workers.

Bangladesh, with 5,000 such factories and millions of garment industry workers, is second only to China as a global exporter of clothing. The garment industry is seen by many Bangladeshi officials and business leaders as one of the nation’s brightest economic prospects.

Competing largely by supplying low-cost labor, Bangladesh is also seen by many human rights and labor activists as an increasingly dangerous place for workers.  Below, in the video, Abedin describes how she narrowly escaped death:

Continue reading

Chicken of the Sea & other firms implicated in worker abuses in Thailand | 

By Jessica Mack

Chicken of the Sea tuna may be proudly “dolphin-safe,” but is it human rights safe?

Tuna processing
Flickr, JustinWolford

A new report from the Finnish NGO Finnwatch, a labor rights watchdog, says no.

The report, “Cheap Has a High Price,” was released last week in Bangkok in collaboration with migration experts at Thailand’s Mahidol University. It concludes a months-long investigation into the labor practices at factories of three Thai companies, Thai Union Manufacturing (TUM) and Unicord, which produce tuna, and Natural Fruit, which makes juice concentrate.

And it provides a disturbing look at what may be happening across the world to some of those working at the bottom tier of our increasingly complex and global marketplace. Continue reading

Happy Globalized Labor Day | 

Flickr, Steve Snodgrass

Labor Day Impression

What in the world does Labor Day have to do with global poverty and inequity?

At Humanosphere, we focus on various efforts aimed at reducing poverty or inequity — mostly in the developing world — which include fighting impoverishing diseases, increasing economic productivity, improving human rights and so on.

Today is Labor Day, which the U.S. Department of Labor says was created by the American labor movement and is “a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.”

That’s not quite accurate. It was actually a holiday created by President Grover Cleveland to try to make peace with the American labor movement after Cleveland, in 1894, sent the military and U.S. marshals to break up the Pullman Strike — which resulted in 13 deaths, dozens wounded and a massive retaliatory riot by workers.

This year, of course, Labor Day is mostly occasion to pay tribute to our nation’s massive problem of unemployment caused by the economic slowdown. Obama gave a “jobs speech” today in Detroit.

So why, given our domestic problems, should we be paying attention to the rest of the world on Labor Day? The answer, in short, is that our economic well-being and future is increasingly dependent upon recognizing that the economy today is a global organism.

As the U.S. State Department’s representative of International Labor Affairs, Barbara Shailor, noted on its website devoted to human rights issues, the current upheaval in many Arab nations was prompted by the global economic slowdown and joblessness:

We cannot build a stable, global economy when hundreds of millions of workers and families find themselves on the wrong side of globalization, cut off from markets and out of reach of modern technologies… And we cannot advance democracy and human rights when hunger and poverty threaten to undermine the good governance and rule of law needed to make those rights real.

This is why our efforts to promote labor diplomacy are focused on ensuring that the global economy is working for everyone. This includes advocating for dignity at work and recognizing that honest labor, fairly compensated, gives meaning and structure to people’s lives and enables every family and all children to rise as far as their talents will take them.

Promoting jobs worldwide and thinking globally isn’t just the right thing to do, says Michael Clemens, with the Center for Global Development.  Writing in The Guardian, Clemens says it is clearly the smart thing to do. And the first thing he says we should do is stop trying to protect American jobs by restricting immigration:

The world impoverishes itself much more through blocking international migration than any other single class of international policy. A modest relaxation of barriers to human mobility between countries would bring more global economic prosperity than the total elimination of all remaining policy barriers to goods trade – every tariff, every quota – plus the elimination of every last restriction on the free movement of capital ….

Many people fear that even a minor increase in international migration will wreck their own economies and societies. Those fears deserve a hearing. They are old fears, of the kind that filled US newspapers a century ago. The US population subsequently quadrupled, largely through immigration to already-settled areas. Today, even in crisis, America is the richest country in the world. History, too, deserves a hearing.

Yeah, sometimes it does help to know a little history.

On this day that many traditionally think of more as the official end of summer, let’s not forget to give tribute in these difficult times to American labor — and to all the workers who have made our nation what it is today, here and abroad.