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‘The Economy Runs on Our Toil': Record Protests Sweep Bangladesh September 22, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Asia, Bangladesh, Human Rights, Labor.
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Roger’s note: the myth is that we are living in a post-industrial society (as if somehow the clothes we wear, the cars we drive, the houses we live in, etc. somehow are magically made).  In reality exploited industrial labor has been shifted for the U.S. and Europe to the third world, mostly Asia.  Just about anything we buy, from running shoes, to screw drivers, to pillow cases, is manufactured by some exploited worker, quite possible a child working 12 hours a day for slave wages, in Bangladesh or the Philippines.  It is an iron law of  capitalist production to continually search out sources of cheap labor.  Capital accumulation originated on the backs of indigenous miners in Peru and African slaves.  Today, while it is mainly low paid services industry workers who are subjected to exploitation in the former industrial nations, the beat goes on for dark skinned factory workers in the third world.

Over 50,000 demand ‘dignity’ in garment industry where majority-female worke-force faces dangerous conditions and some of lowest wages in world

 

- Sarah Lazare, staff writer

Garment workers rally in Dhaka, Bangladesh Saturday, September 21 (Photo: Reuters / Andrew Biraj)

50,000 garment workers demanding higher pay flooded the streets of Dhaka, Bangladesh Saturday, and 20,000 shut down dozens of factories by walking off the job, in the largest demonstrations to ever sweep the notoriously dangerous and low-wage Bangladesh garment industry.

The protests continued on Sunday, with workers and their supporters blocking traffic, marching along a key highway, and clashing with police who shot rubber bullets and tear gas at crowds of thousands, the AFP reports.

“Our backs are against the wall, so we don’t have any alternative unless we raise our voice strongly,” Nazma Akter, president of the United Garments Workers’ Federation, which groups 52 garment worker’s groups, told Saturday’s protest, Reuters reports. “We will not hesitate to do anything to realize our demand.”

Bangladesh’s garment industry is the second largest in the world, accounting for 80 percent of the country’s annual exports. Its estimated 4 million workers, 80 percent of whom are women from rural areas, earn a paltry $38 U.S. dollars a month, making them some of the lowest-paid garment workers in the world.

Unions have demanded a wage increase that would bring them to a monthly wage of $100 dollars to lift workers out of deep poverty, but factory owners rejected the demand, offering a paltry 20 percent raise.

“We are not the object of mercy, the economy moves with our toil,” Akter declared addressing Saturday’s rally.

Bangladesh’s garment industry has been swept with protests since the collapse of a factory in April killed more than 1,200 workers and injured over 2,500, with most victims women—one of many tragedies to sweep the country’s dangerous garment industry. While the catastrophe captured global headlines, little has been done to improve the bleak conditions of an industry that sells to numerous U.S.-based corporations, including Walmart, Gap, Sears, Disney, and Benetton.

“[W]e want these jobs with dignity,” Akter declared previously, “with safe working conditions, decent wages, and a voice in the workplace, and a unionized work place.”

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As Death Toll Rises, Report Shows Big Retail Brands Chose Profit over Safety in Bangladesh April 26, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Asia, Bangladesh, Labor.
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Hundreds of thousands protest dangerous “sweatshop” conditions as police fire tear gas, rubber bullets

- Jacob Chamberlain, staff writer

A Bangladeshi woman was lifted out of the rubble by rescuers at the site of a building that collapsed in Bangladesh. (Kevin Frayer/Associated Press)

As the death toll soared past 300 in the aftermath of Wednesday’s garment factory disaster in Dhaka, Bangladesh, and over 1,000 remained unaccounted for on Friday, police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at hundreds of thousands of mourning protesters fed up with an international garment industry that continues to place profit over workers’ lives.

Meanwhile, the Associated Press reports Friday that in 2011 several major western retailers rejected a proposal made by a group of Bangladeshi and international unions that outlined a way to clean up Bangladesh’s garment factories. The plan would have established an independent inspectorate to oversee all factories in Bangladesh “with powers to shut down unsafe facilities as part of a legally binding contract signed by suppliers, customers and unions.”

“The proposal was presented at a 2011 meeting in Dhaka attended by more than a dozen of the world’s largest clothing brands and retailers — including Wal-Mart, Gap and Swedish clothing giant H&M — but was rejected by the companies because it would be legally binding and costly,” AP reports.

At the time, Wal-Mart’s representative told the meeting it was “not financially feasible … to make such investments,” according to minutes of the meeting obtained by AP.

‘Not Financially Feasible…': Inspections would have been funded by contributions from the companies of merely $500,000 per year, compared to the $20 billion Western brands such as Walmart, the Gap and H&M make from the garment industry in Bangladesh per year.

The inspections would have been funded by contributions from the companies of merely $500,000 per year, compared to the $20 billion Western brands such as Walmart, the Gap and H&M make from the garment industry in Bangladesh per year. All told, garment manufacturing is a $1 trillion global industry.

Five garment factories were housed in the eight-story building that collapsed on Wednesday in Dhaka. The factories have been sub-contracted to supply clothing for Wal-Mart in the past, but Wal-Mart officials said that they are still investigating whether their products were being produced in the factory at the time of the disaster.

Among the factory owners in the building were Phantom Apparels Ltd., New Wave Style Ltd., New Wave Bottoms Ltd. and New Wave Brothers Ltd. garment factories, who at the time were making clothing for a number of brands including Benetton, Primark, Loblaws, The Children’s Place and Dress Barn.

On Friday, the New York Times reports, labor groups distributed photos showing that they had discovered garments with labels from J.C. Penney and El Corte Inglés, a Spanish retailer, at the site of the collapse.

The collapse is the latest in a series of factory disasters in Bangladesh tied to western brands including a massive blaze which broke out in the Tazreen factory in November, killing 112 workers. Clothes made for Disney, Wal-Mart and other western labels were found at that factory.

Factory owners from the building ignored a warning not to allow their workers into the building after a crack was detected in the building’s structure on Tuesday.

On Friday, hundreds of rescuers continued to dig through the masses of factory rubble for the third day in a row as “the cries of the trapped and the wails of workers’ relatives gathered outside the building,” AP reports.

Meanwhile hundreds of thousands of workers and relatives from the hundreds of garment factories continued to protest throughout the day Friday.

Bangladeshi media reported that two factories have been burned by protesters demanding the death penalty for the owner of collapsed building, said to have broken many building codes, as well as the owners of the factories inside the building.

However, as Dara O’Rourke, an expert on workplace monitoring at the University of California, Berkeley, reminded the New York Times, it is important to remember the source of labor exploitation in places such as Bangladesh: “Even in a situation of grave threat, when they saw cracks in the walls, factory managers thought it was too risky not to work because of the pressure on them from U.S. and European retailers to deliver their goods on time,” O’Rourke, said, adding that the prices Western companies pay “are so low that they are at the root of why these factories are cutting corners on fire safety and building safety.”

“Improvement is not happening,” said Amirul Haque Amin, president of the National Garment Workers Federation in Bangladesh, who said a total of 600 workers have died in factory accidents in the last decade. “The multinational companies claim a lot of things. They claim they have very good policies, they have their own code of conduct, they have their auditing and monitoring system,” Amin said. “But yet these things keep happening.”

Rescue workers, army personnel, police and members of media run after they heard someone shouting that a building next to Rana Plaza is collapsing during a rescue operation in Savar, 30 km (19 miles) outside Dhaka April 26, 2013. REUTERS/Andrew Biraj

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Raid Frees 14 Enslaved Indian Children Forced To Make Christmas Decorations December 9, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Asia, Human Rights, India, Labor.
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Roger’s note: The logic of capitalism is that if it is profitable, it is legitimate.  Hundreds of years of labor activism have pushed governments to restrict some of its abuses of living human beings, but as this article demonstrates, it is like putting a finger in the dike.  Capitalism, be it the capitalism of a so-called democracy or the cruelly misnamed socialism or communism of a Soviet Union or Chinese state capitalism, is inherently undemocratic and despotic.  The reason that governments, even in so-called democracies, cannot control these abuses is that the massive concentrations of corporate capital control the flow of information and the very electoral process.  Genuine socialism, which can be defined as “freely associated labor,” and which is the only road to genuine democracy, certainly would not generate the kind of abuses to children or other living human beings that we read about here.

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The Huffington Post |                                                 By

Posted: 12/07/2012  3:31 pm EST  |  Updated: 12/07/2012  3:31 pm EST

 

A raid on an Indian sweatshop freed 14 children — some as young as 8 years old — who had been kept in slave-like conditions making Christmas decorations allegedly bound for the West, Yahoo! reports.

The children were kept in tiny rooms, working 19 hours a day to create the festive trinkets, according to the outlet.

Last week’s raid was led by human rights group Global March for Children, which according to its website is a long-time partner of the International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC), as well as UNICEF.

Global March received support from former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who now serves as the United Nations’ special envoy for global education. Brown released a video of the conditions in the sweatshop, which he hopes will put pressure on India and the international community to put a stop to child labor, Yahoo! notes.

In a column written for the Huffington Post, Gordon went into further detail about the raid. He wrote:

The suffering of these young children, cruelly trafficked into slave labour, is the real Christmas story of 2012. Their plight must become a wake-up call for all concerned about the treatment of vulnerable children around the world. It demands we move immediately to ban all child labor.

 

“There is no parent in the world who would ever want their child to be subjected to conditions that you see in these films of children in dingy basements,” Gordon said, according to Yahoo!, “without air, without food, without proper care, being forced into child labor for all these hours of the day. I think every parent who sees these films will want this practice brought to an end as quickly as possible.”

The United Nations estimated that 55 million children aged 5 to 14 were currently employed in India, the Telegraph reported in 2007. That number has gone down, according to the Washington Post, which reported that a 2009 survey by the Statistics Ministry put the number at about 5 million. However, the newspaper also notes that UNICEF puts the number at about 28 million children.

This December, Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA) and Global March Against Child Labour (GMACL) organized a month-long campaign against child labor and trafficking in Assam, a northeastern state of India, The Sentinel reports. The campaign will kick off with a “March against Child Labour and Trafficking.” Starting on Saturday, the marchers will walk 300 kilometers (nearly 190 miles), ending up three days later in Dhubri.

Several child labor activists and organizations, including GMACL and Gordon Brown, are pushing the Indian Parliament to vote for an amendment to existing laws that would abolish all forms of child labor for those up to 14 years of age, according to GMACL

Until now, the country had stopped short of banning all child labor, due to a worry that it would hurt poor families that depend on their children’s wages to make ends meet, according to the Post.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the Indian government is also under pressure to meet the 2016 International Labour Organization’s deadline for the abolition of the worst forms of child labor.

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Cesar Chavez: A True American Hero March 31, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Agriculture, California, Labor.
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Cesar Chavez. (Photo: Wikimedia)

Saturday, 31 March 2012 09:22

Dick Meister, Dick Meister’s Blog | Op-Ed

I hope we can all pause and reflect on the extraordinary life of a true American hero today (March 31). It’s Cesar Chavez Day, proclaimed by President Obama and observed throughout the country on the 85th birth date of the late founder of the United Farm Workers union. It’s an official state holiday in California, Texas and Colorado.

As President Obama noted, Chavez was a leader in launching “one of our nation’s most inspiring movements.” He taught us, Obama added, “that social justice takes action, selflessness and commitment. As we face the challenges of the day, let us do so with the hope and determination of Cesar Chavez.”

Like another American hero, Martin Luther King Jr., Chavez inspired and energized millions of people worldwide to seek and win basic human rights that had long been denied them, and inspired millions of others to join the struggle.

Certainly there are few people in any field more deserving of special attention, certainly no one I’ve met in more than a half-century of labor reporting.

I first met Cesar Chavez when I was covering labor for the San Francisco Chronicle. It was on a hot summer night in 1965 in the little San Joaquin Valley town of Delano, California. Chavez, shining black hair trailing across his forehead, wearing a green plaid shirt that had become almost a uniform, sat behind a makeshift desk topped with bright red Formica.

“Si se puede,” he said repeatedly to me, a highly skeptical reporter, as we talked deep into the early morning hours there in the cluttered shack that served as headquarters for him and the others who were trying to create an effective farm workers union.

“Si se puede! – it can be done!”

But I would not be swayed. Too many others, over too many years, had tried and failed to win for farm workers the union rights they absolutely had to have if they were to escape the severe economic and social deprivation inflicted on them by their grower employers.

The Industrial Workers of the World who stormed across western fields early in the 20th century, the Communists who followed, the socialists, the AFL and CIO organizers – all their efforts had collapsed under the relentless pressure of growers and their powerful political allies.

I was certain this effort would be no different. I was wrong. I had not accounted for the tactical brilliance, creativity, courage and just plain stubbornness of Cesar Chavez, a sad-eyed, disarmingly soft-spoken man who talked of militancy in calm, measured tones, a gentle and incredibly patient man who hid great strategic talent behind shy smiles and an attitude of utter candor.

Chavez grasped the essential fact that farm workers had to organize themselves. Outside organizers, however well intentioned, could not do it. Chavez, a farm worker himself, carefully put together a grass-roots organization that enabled the workers to form their own union, which then sought out – and won – widespread support from influential outsiders.

The key weapon of the organization, newly proclaimed the United Farm Workers, or UFW, was the boycott. It was so effective between 1968 and 1975 that 12 percent of the country’s adult population – that’s 17 million people – quit buying table grapes.

The UFW’s grape boycott and others against wineries and lettuce growers won the first farm union contracts in history in 1970. That led to enactment five years later of the California law – also a first – that requires growers to bargain collectively with workers who vote for unionization. And that led to substantial improvements in the pay, benefits, working conditions and general status of the state’s farm workers. Similar laws, with similar results, have now been enacted elsewhere.

The struggle that finally led to victory was extremely difficult for the impoverished workers, and Chavez risked his health – if not his life – to provide them extreme examples of the sacrifices necessary for victory. Most notably, he engaged in lengthy, highly publicized fasts that helped rally the public to the farm workers’ cause and that may very well have contributed to his untimely death in 1993 at age 66.

Fasts, boycotts. It’s no coincidence that those were the principal tools of Mohandas Gandhi, for Chavez drew much of his inspiration from the Hindu leader. Like Gandhi and another of his models, Martin Luther King Jr., Chavez fervently believed in the tactics of non-violence. Like them, he showed the world how profoundly effective they can be in seeking justice from even the most powerful opponents.

“We have our bodies and spirits and the justice of our cause as our weapons,” Chavez explained.

His iconic position has been questioned recently by outsiders claiming Chavez acted as a dictator in his last years as head of the UFW. But what the UFW accomplished under his leadership, and how the union accomplished it, will never be forgotten – not by the millions of social activists who have been inspired and energized by the farm workers’ struggle, nor by the workers themselves.

Chavez deservedly remains, and undoubtedly will always remain, an American icon who led the way to winning important legal rights for farm workers. But more than union contracts, and more than laws, farm workers now have what Cesar Chavez insisted was needed above all else. That, as he told me so many years ago, “is to have the workers truly believe and understand and know that they are free, that they are free men and women, that they are free to stand up and fight for their rights.”

Freedom. No leader has ever left a greater legacy. But the struggle continues. Despite the UFW victories, farm workers are in great need of fully exercising the rights won under Chavez’ leadership. They need to reverse what has been a decline in the UFW’s fortunes in recent years, caused in part by lax enforcement of the laws that granted farm workers union rights.

Many farm workers are still mired in poverty, their pay and working and living conditions a national disgrace. They average less than $10,000 a year and have few – if any – fringe benefits. They suffer seasonal unemployment.

Job security is rare, as many of the workers are desperately poor immigrants from Mexico or Central America who must take whatever is offered or be replaced by other desperately poor workers from the endless stream of immigrants. Child labor is rampant.

Most hiring and firing is done at the whim of employers, many of them wealthy corporate growers or labor contractors who unilaterally set pay and working conditions and otherwise act arbitrarily.

Workers are often exposed to dangerous pesticides and other serious health and safety hazards that make farm work one of the country’s most dangerous occupations. They often even lack such on-the-job amenities as fresh drinking water and field toilets, and almost invariably are forced to live in overcrowded, seriously substandard housing.

Cesar Chavez Day should remind us of the continuing need to take forceful legal steps and other action in behalf of farm workers – to help them overcome their wretched conditions and finally provide a decent life for all those who do the hard, dirty and dangerous work that puts fruit and vegetables on our tables.

We need, in short, to carry on what Cesar Chavez began. We could pay no greater homage to his memory.

Copyright © 2012 Dick Meister

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license.

“Thousands Made Slaves” in Darfur December 17, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in Africa, Human Rights.
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darfurThousands in Sudan are subject to a life of slavery. Most of them are women. (Photo: Giacomo Pirozzi / UNICEF)

www.truthout.org

17 December 2008

by: BBC News

 Strong evidence has emerged of children and adults being used as slaves in Sudan’s Darfur region, a study says.

    Kidnapped men have been forced to work on farmland controlled by Janjaweed militias, the Darfur Consortium says.

    Eyewitnesses also say the Sudanese army has been involved in abducting women and children to be sex slaves and domestic staff for troops in Khartoum.

    Up to 300,000 people have died and 2.7 million have fled their homes since conflict began in Darfur in 2003.

    Sudan’s government has not yet commented on the allegations in the report, published on Wednesday.

    The Darfur Consortium says it has around 100 eyewitness accounts from former abductees.

    Thousands of people from non-Arabic speaking ethnic groups in Darfur have been targeted, its report says.

    Victims have been rounded up during joint attacks on villages by the Arabic-speaking Janjaweed and the Sudanese Armed Forces, according to the study.

    Civilians are also tortured and killed while their villages are razed to ethnically cleanse areas, which are then repopulated with Arabic-speaking people, including nomads from Chad, Niger, Mali and Cameroon, it says.

    Most of the abductees are women and girls, but there is new evidence in Darfur of kidnappers targeting men and boys for forced agricultural labour, says the report.

    The abducted women and girls, meanwhile, are raped and forced to marry their captors as well as carry out household chores and sometimes cultivate crops, according to the study.

    “Told to Serve”

    The report includes the testimony of children forced to become domestic workers.

    One boy said he had suffered regular beatings from his Janjaweed abductors.

    “They were treating me and the other boys very badly, they kept telling us that we are not human beings and we are here to serve them, I also worked on their farms,” he said.

    A woman said she was kidnapped from a refugee camp and her captors “used us like their wives in the night and during the day we worked all the time.

    “The men they abducted with us were used to look after their livestock. We worked all day, all week with no rest.”

    Sudan’s government has always denied the existence of slavery in the country, although Khartoum has previously admitted abductions occurred in the north-south civil war of 1983-2005, when up to 14,000 people were kidnapped.

    But a senior Sudanese politician who did not wanted to be named said kidnappings had also occurred more recently in Darfur.

    “The army captured many children and women hiding in the bush outside burnt villages,” he told the report’s authors.

    “They were transported by plane to Khartoum at night and divided up among soldiers as domestic workers and, in some cases, wives.”

    Call to Action

    The report urged Sudan’s government to disband the Janjaweed and other militia and to fully co-operate with the United Nations and the African Union.

    Dismas Nkunda, co-chair of the Darfur Consortium, said: “Urgent action is clearly required to prevent further abductions and associated human rights violations, and to release and assist those who are still being held.”

    The study also calls for the mandate of the joint United Nations-African Union peacekeeping force in Darfur (Unamid) to be beefed up so it can use force to protect civilians.

    The Darfur Consortium also wants Khartoum to prosecute all those responsible for abductions and ban them from holding public office. It notes that no-one has ever been arrested over the wave of kidnappings.

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