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American Seafood Has Its Own Forced Labor Problem – Mother Jones – 6/15/16 Mother Jones June 15, 2016 American Seafood Has Its Own Forced Labor Problem A new report sheds light on the abused immigrants shucking your shellfish by Alex Sammon It’s been an ugly year for the seafood industry. Investigative reports by both the AP and the New York Times exposed widespread reliance on forced and slave labor from international […]
After ILO, NGA Leaders Work to End Supply Chain Abuse JUNE 10, 2016, Geneva – At the International Labour Conference (ILC) today, the International Labor Organization (ILO) adopted the report of the Committee on Decent Work in Supply Chains. The report recognizes the poor treat of workers in global supply chains as well as the responsibility of multinational brands and retailers to address them. A […]
Workers’ Voices from the Global Supply Chain: Reports to the 2016 International Labor Conference In June 2016, the NGA joined the Asia Floor Wage Alliance (AFWA), a global coalition of trade unions, worker rights, and human rights organizations at the International Labor Conference in Geneva–demanding that the ILO help ensure that human rights cross borders. The NGA has partnered with AFWA on a series of groundbreaking reports detailing human rights and labor abuses […]
Joint Employment Rules Protect All Workers – 1/20/15 On Wednesday, January 20, 2016, the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division released guidance on joint employment: the increasingly common situation of a worker having two or more employers who are simultaneously responsible for complying with labor law. The following is a statement by National Guestworker Alliance Director (NGA) Executive Director Saket Soni: “Today’s […]
NGA joins broad coalition in call for portable benefits – BuzzFeed – 11/10/15 Buzzfeed News November 11, 2015 Companies Sued By Workers Want To Find A Way To Protect Them by Caroline O’Donovan An open letter was published today — on Medium, of course — that calling for a portable benefits system for workers. The letter was signed by a coalition of tech founders and CEOs, venture capitalists and […]
POWER Act Will Lift Floor for All Workers – 11-5-15 POWER Act Will Lift Floor for All Workers Bill by Rep. Judy Chu provides crucial whistleblower protections for immigrant workers & U.S. workers alongside them WASHINGTON, DC, November 5, 2015—On Thursday, Rep. Judy Chu (CA-32) introduced the POWER Act (Protect Our Workers from Exploitation and Retaliation) to the U.S. House of Representatives. Co-sponsors included Congressional […]

Mother Jones

June 15, 2016

American Seafood Has Its Own Forced Labor Problem

A new report sheds light on the abused immigrants shucking your shellfish

It’s been an ugly year for the seafood industry. Investigative reports by both the AP and the New York Times exposed widespread reliance on forced and slave labor from international seafood suppliers across Southeast Asia, prompting President Obama to sign the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act in February. The bill banned the import of goods produced with forced labor, a concerted conclusion to months of startling headlines.

But labor abuse in the seafood sector isn’t a problem confined to Asia. A reportpublished Wednesday by the labor group the National Guestworker Alliance suggests that some US seafood workers also experience abusive conditions. The report focuses on the experiences of undocumented and H2-B visa guestworkers shucking, peeling, and boiling shrimp and crawfish at seafood processing plants in New Bedford, Mass. and along the Louisiana Gulf Coast. Around 69 percent of shrimp produced in the US comes from the Gulf Coast.

“Stealing wages is standard business practice. The financial incentive to underpay guestworkers is far greater than the risk of getting caught.”

According to the NGA report, the US seafood industry has relied heavily on H2-B guestworkers and undocumented immigrants to drive down labor costs to stay price competitive with international producers. A 2009 survey in New Bedford found that nearly 75 percent of the workers in its seafood processing industry were undocumented immigrants. The US Department of Labor certified over 5,700 H2-B visas for seafood related positions in 2014, a marked 15 percent increase over 2013. Because employers grant H2-B visas, those on the receiving end are particularly vulnerable. Due to threats of retaliation by employers—including firing, which can result in deportation—guestworkers are often hesitant to report mistreatment. “Hours were long, wages were bad, housing was terrible—but we were all afraid that if we spoke up, we would lose our jobs, our housing, and our ability to ever come back to the US to work,” longtime H-2B guestworker Olivia Guzman Garfias told the NGA.

Here are some more striking details from the NGA’s report:

  • In housing provided by processing companies in both the Louisiana Gulf and New Bedford, Mass., workers reported living with up to 20 people per trailer, without access to proper sanitation and sometimes with strict curfews.
  • Of the 126 seafood workers surveyed in New Bedford, 25 percent reported having been injured on the job. The majority of workers reported having to purchase their own safety equipment.
  • 44 percent reported not being paid for overtime work.
  • At times, piece rates for pounds of shrimp prorated to levels well below minimum wage, as low as $2 per hour, and employers sometimes failed to pay promised rates. According to NGA Organizing Director Jacob Horwitz: “Stealing wages is standard business practice. The financial incentive to underpay guestworkers is far greater than the risk of getting caught.”
  • Female workers experienced sexual harassment and verbal abuse in the workplace as well as in company-provided housing. Some women spoke of unwanted sexual advances by company brass, and of being fired for rebuffing such advances.

Learn more ...

ILO end 350JUNE 10, 2016, Geneva – At the International Labour Conference (ILC) today, the International Labor Organization (ILO) adopted the report of the Committee on Decent Work in Supply Chains. The report recognizes the poor treat of workers in global supply chains as well as the responsibility of multinational brands and retailers to address them.

A delegation of workers and worker advocates, including NGA members and staff, attended the ILC to push for enforceable international standards to prevent abuses in global supply chains. The delegation, which released five reports on garment and seafood supply chains, praised the newly adopted report for mandating an ILO review of crucial issues facing supply chain workers, including extremely low wages and the disproportionate deterioration of the rights of women and migrant workers.

The next steps laid out in the report represent a historic step forward for the ILO in its first-ever tripartite dialogue on global supply chains. However, the delegation expressed a need for urgency in pursuing those steps. The group also expressed regret that employers resisted basic points throughout the dialogue and repeatedly attempted to shift responsibility to national governments instead of contractors and suppliers.

While the ILO and governments have a crucial role to play, the delegation will continue to demand action by the multinational brands and retailers that set prices globally and bear ultimate responsibility for conditions in supplier factories. The delegation believes that nothing short of binding agreements, enforceable by workers and their organizations, will ultimately hold multinational brands and retailers accountable for their supply chains.

The full delegation statement, and statements from individual delegation representatives, are below:

June 10, 2016

Geneva

Today, the General Body of the International Labor Organization adopted the report of the Committee on Decent Work in Supply Chains setting forth next steps including the convening of experts to review global supply chains and study the need for a new ILO instrument.

The Committee’s report adopted by the General Body recognizes the decent work deficit for workers at the end of supply chains, the restructuring of employment relationships brought on by multinationals’ expansion of the global value chain model across sectors which has decreased standards for workers, and the importance of “lead firm” responsibility in reversing negative impacts for workers.

With these steps, the ILO’s General Body set forth a mandate to review core issues of concern to our delegation including extremely low wages and the disproportionate deterioration of the rights of women and migrant workers in global supply chains. The dialogue included significant discussion of women workers and migrant workers in the global supply chain. Home workers at the bottom of the supply chain were also explicitly discussed. These are big steps forward.

These next steps laid out in the report represent a historic step forward for the ILO in its first-ever tripartite dialogue on global supply chains at the International Labor Conference. These steps will ensure that the ILO’s work in this area continues on a steady course.

We are also encouraged that Indonesia’s Freedom of Association Protocol and the binding Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety are cited as good practices that merit scaling and replication. While the ILO and governments have important roles to play, nothing short of binding agreements, enforceable by workers and their organizations, will ultimately hold multinational brands and retailers accountable for their supply chains.

The dialogue, however, also foreshadowed the difficult road ahead of us. Employers resisted basic points throughout the dialogue, only to be forced to compromise by the sheer pressure of the trade unions and some governments. Employers tried very hard to “nationalize” the problem of human rights violations in the global supply chain by blaming governments for the violations. Governments, while taking responsibility, pointed out that their capacity was limited by the unaccountable activities of multinational enterprises. In particular, the employers’ objections to recognizing how global supply chains obscure employment relationships and the repeated denial of the role and responsibility of “lead firms” shows the importance of ongoing leadership by trade unions and worker organizations in the ILO’s follow-up steps. It will take continued advocacy to settle the details.

As a delegation of workers and worker advocates in Asia, Latin America, and the United States, we will continue to expand our grassroots research, which underscores the urgency and importance of the ILO’s work. Leading up to the ILO, we released five global supply chain reports on the seafood and garment supply chains in Asia and the United States and a documentary on the Asian garment industry. The reports generated significant media coverage in the United States, Europe, and Asia that reached the halls of the tripartite discussion and added to the heat on the employers. Moving forward, we will expand our research and analysis, also proposing recommendations on minimum living wage and global labor subcontracting supply chains arising from our research and organizing on garment, seafood, and care supply chains.

We will also continue to demand action by brands, governments, and the ILO for lead firm responsibility for living wages in global supply chains – an issue gaining support and momentum from trade unions and social movements in Asia, the United States, the United Kingdom, and others. Given that the ILO supports a basic living standard and a wage that meets the basic needs of workers and their families, and a minimum living wage is a basic demand of workers across the globe today, we expect attention and progress on wages in global supply chains in the ILO’s steps going forward.

We look forward to continuing to engage in this supply chain process at the ILO, and translate that into building worker power on the ground all across the world and eventually into a global supply chain standard, which the final document establishes as a possibility.

Our delegation offers the following additional statements from participants:

We need binding regulation on global supply chains, including seafood processing, and we are glad for this step forward at the ILO.  Right now in Massachusetts, Mirna and a group of women have demanded that Costco end retaliation against them for exposing sexual harassment and wage theft in one of its suppliers.  I have talked to hundreds of migrant women workers with similar experiences in the United States and Mexico.

Still I am hopeful.  In Geneva, I met with other women workers who are organizing in shops, factories, and their homes and we will continue forward, together, demanding decent work and a dignified life for all workers in global supply chains.

            Olivia Garfias Guzman, National Guestworker Alliance

Five years ago domestic workers successfully campaigned for global labor standards with the adoption of ILO Convention 189, Decent Work for Domestic Workers. Since then, 22 countries have ratified it and 15 million domestic workers have greater labor and social protections. If the ILO can create binding standards for domestic workers, it can and should do so for global supply chains. The workers who produce and provide the critical services for the global economy deserve no less.

            Jill Shenker, National Domestic Worker Alliance

It is possible for retail workers in countries like the United States to be in alliance and not be pitted against production workers in Asia. Brands like H&M, Walmart, and Gap, are capable of paying a living wage, providing safe working conditions, and giving workers greater control of their schedules at work.

   Ben Woods, Jobs With Justice

Asia Floor Wage Alliance will continue to organize with garment unions, bring to light fresh evidence of human rights violations in the global supply chain, and push for binding ILO regulation of multinationals and their supply chains.

                                                            Anannya Bhattacharjee, Asia Floor Wage Alliance

We came to Geneva because warehouse workers who distribute products made overseas for large retailers face temp employment, poverty wages, high rates of workplace accidents and discrimination. Our conversations with unions and worker advocates in producer countries like India, Indonesia and Bangladesh made clear that – although the severity differs – global supply chains create the same dynamic of unstable, precarious work and sub-living wages from the global south to the global north. Meetings like this help create the worker solidarity across supply chains that will be necessary to win the working conditions we all deserve. Our experience tells us that voluntary corporate supply chain initiatives don’t work. We need binding policies. That’s why we’re fighting for a strong ILO convention on decent work in global supply chains.

                                                Mark Meinster, Warehouse Workers for Justice

While global supply chains have revealed new forms of employment relationships that disadvantage workers – particularly women and migrants – this year’s dialogue lifted up new forms of organizing, collective bargaining, and corporate accountability from trade unions and workers’ centers. With these concrete next steps, the ILO steps into an important role advancing social dialogue towards raising the floor for working conditions and broader sharing of profits across the global value chain.

                                                Jennifer (JJ) Rosenbaum, National Guestworker Alliance

 

New York Times

May 31, 2016

Retailers Like H&M and Walmart Fall Short of Pledges to Overseas Workers

After more than 1,100 deaths exposed dangerous labor conditions in Bangladesh in 2013, brands like H&M, Walmart and Gap were among the most powerful companies that pledged to improve the safety of some of the country’s poorest workers.

But human rights groups say that three years later, those promises are still unfulfilled, and that safety, labor and other issues persist in Bangladesh and other countries where global retailers benefit from an inexpensive work force.

A series of new reports by the Asia Floor Wage Alliance, a coalition of trade unions and other research and advocacy groups, has put a new spotlight on the conditions. In Bangladesh, the group says, tens of thousands of workers sew garments in buildings without proper fire exits. In Indonesia, India and elsewhere, pregnant women are vulnerable to reduced wages and discrimination. In Cambodia, workers who protested for an extra $20 a month were shot and killed.

The brands say that in recent years they have aggressively pushed stronger labor protections and vastly increased their monitoring of the factories that make their products. They have also made significant structural and fire repairs at many factories in Bangladesh.

But even the retail groups say that more improvement is needed, a message underscored in the new reports. Worker advocates say that progress on improving conditions at the factories has been too slow, and that some of the world’s biggest companies continue to benefit from unfair and dangerous labor practices.

“There have been substantial safety renovations in factories that have unquestionably made those factories substantially safer,” Scott Nova, the executive director of the labor monitoring group Worker Rights Consortium, said of the work in Bangladesh. “At the same time, it’s also true that there have been unacceptable delays.”

On Tuesday, the Wage Alliance released its latest report, which accuses Walmart of benefiting from forced labor and other abusive practices in a number of Asian countries. In Cambodia, for instance, workers at factories who make products sold at the company are required to work 10 to 14 hours a day in sweltering heat, without access to clean drinking water or breaks — conditions that have contributed to “mass fainting episodes,” the report said.

Learn more ...

rsz_58b36e96-3354-467d-89d3-7a1ceedde5da-2In June 2016, the NGA joined the Asia Floor Wage Alliance (AFWA), a global coalition of trade unions, worker rights, and human rights organizations at the International Labor Conference in Geneva–demanding that the ILO help ensure that human rights cross borders.

The NGA has partnered with AFWA on a series of groundbreaking reports detailing human rights and labor abuses on global seafood and garment supply chains. The reports detail recommendations to improve working conditions worldwide, including a cross-border living wage. The NGA and AFWA, together with the rest of the Workers Conference Delegation, are pressing the ILO to move forward with setting global standards for supply chains that include wage protections, freedom of association, and freedom of migration.

Read the reports and media coverage:

 

 

Medium

May 9, 2016

A VOICE FOR DIGITAL DAY LABORERS

What can Uber and other tech companies learn from a day laborer corner?

by Saket Soni

For centuries, migrants in search of work have arrived at street corners to offer their services as day laborers. These workers have always been an essential part of our economy, taking on some of the most important work projects in our country’s history, including, in recent years, the rebuilding efforts after Hurricane Katrina. They did these daunting jobs one gig at a time, without the prospect of permanent, full-time work.

Throughout this history, workers have faced horrific exploitation. I remember showing up at the day labor corners in post Katrina New Orleans with organizers, to defend day labors from abuse. In the last few decades, in New Orleans and across the country, waves of day laborers who faced wage theft and racial discrimination have organized collectively for a voice in the analog gig economy.

Then the digital gig economy came along. Now, workers in search of short-term work don’t have to go to the day labor corner over by Home Depot. They can hop onto a platform through their smart phones. And the disruptive technology companies that created the digital gig economy are now turning their attention to worker organizing.

First, a few weeks ago, Airbnb — the home sharing app taking on the hotel industry — was reported briefly to be in conversations promoting a $15 minimum wage and the use of unionized house cleaners by hosts. That same day, Travis Kalanick, CEO of Uber — the ride sharing app destabilizing the taxi cab industry — wrote that the company will create drivers’ associations in California and Massachusetts “to discuss the issues that matter most to drivers” as part of the $84 million settlement in a class action lawsuit against the company.

Learn more ...

Jennifer (JJ) Rosenbaum (@RosenbaumJJ) is a Robina Foundation Visiting Human Rights Fellow at the Orville H. Schell, Jr. Center for International Human Rights at Yale Law School.

From the on-demand economy to construction sites and fields, joint employer liability continues to be fundamental to combating growing inequality and substandard conditions for workers.

The U.S. Department of Labor (USDOL) started 2016 with two strong commitments on this issue – new administrative guidance and new data collection efforts.  The International Labor Organization (ILO) also takes up these issues in June as part of its general discussion on decent work in global supply chains.  And trade unions and workers’ centers continue their organizing and campaigns providing critical information, analysis, and momentum.

New Joint Employer Administrative Interpretation

On January 20, 2016, the USDOL issued a new Administrative Interpretation (AI) from Wage and Hour Administrator David Weil reminding business entities that they may be jointly liable for minimum wage and overtime obligations towards workers even where they are not the “employer” for purposes of payroll or other common law definitions.  The AI follows six months after USDOL’s guidance on independent contractor misclassification and the National Labor Relations Board’s decision in Browning-Ferris Industries of California, which expanded the NLRB’s joint employer standard.

Learn more ...

On Wednesday, January 20, 2016, the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division released guidance on joint employment: the increasingly common situation of a worker having two or more employers who are simultaneously responsible for complying with labor law.

The following is a statement by National Guestworker Alliance Director (NGA) Executive Director Saket Soni:

“Today’s guidance by the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division is an important step toward protecting some of America’s most vulnerable workers. As division administrator David Weil points out, it is becoming more and more common for businesses to source workers through temporary staffing agencies and independent contractors, in fields including construction, agricultural, janitorial, distribution and logistics, staffing, and hospitality.

“When these workers face labor abuse, staffing agencies try to shift the blame up the chain, and the employers on top try to shift the blame down, each claiming they’re not the ‘real’ employer. The result is that abuse goes unpunished, and wages and working standards fall for all workers.

“Today’s guidance clarifies that in joint employment situations like these, both employers are responsible before the law. As the guidance says, the Fair Labor Standards Act and Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act were specifically written to ‘prevent employers from using “middlemen” to evade the laws’ requirements.’

“With the rise of contingent work, this matters to every worker in America. When employers can evade liability for abuse by claiming they’re not the ‘real’ employer, wages and conditions fall for all workers. But when workers can hold their employers responsible, they can fight for better workplaces for themselves and those alongside them—the way that subcontracted NGA worker-members in Louisiana shipyards and New Bedford seafood processing plants are fighting right now.

“We applaud the Wage and Hour Division for issuing this important and timely guidance.”

CONTACT: Stephen Boykewich, stephen@guestworkeralliance.org, 323-594-2347

Tech companies, labor advocates, and think tankers of all stripes call for sweeping reforms to the social safety net

But is it possible to let tech-enabled companies offer some benefits to independent contractors, without eroding those of traditional employees?

Learn more ...

Buzzfeed News

November 11, 2015

Companies Sued By Workers Want To Find A Way To Protect Them

by Caroline O’Donovan

An open letter was published today — on Medium, of course — that calling for a portable benefits system for workers. The letter was signed by a coalition of tech founders and CEOs, venture capitalists and funders, and non-profit and foundation executives, as well as a few representatives from the alternative labor movement.

The document argues that, in the face of a workforce that is increasingly likely to include self-employed individuals working for multiple entities, the U.S. needs to fundamentally reimagine how benefits — “such as workers compensation, unemployment insurance, paid time off, retirement savings, and training” — are distributed. Traditionally, it has been the responsibility of an employer to provide these programs. But today, the letter argues, considering the way digital platforms have fragmented the labor force, that system no longer makes the most sense.

The letter is supposed to demonstrate a sense of solidarity around the issue of benefits for gig workers, an issue that unites such strange bedfellows as labor organizations and San Francisco tech startups. The letter itself is relatively toothless; it doesn’t make specific policy recommendations, and so far it hasn’t been officially endorsed by any regulators. It does, however, confirm that issues of workers’ rights have a broad momentum right now. What the letter doesn’t address — and what may eventually divide those who signed it — is whether actually providing benefits to these workers ultimately falls to labor organizers or private entities.

Many of the companies that signed this document are the very same companies responsible for the fragmentation of the workforce in the first place. The founders of Lyft, which hires independent contractors to drive cars, signed it. So did the CEO of Handy, which dispatches contract workers to clean houses. The CEO of Instacart, which relies on a team of drivers and shoppers to deliver groceries to customers, is also on there. Partners from the venture capital firms that fund these companies (or those like them) — Homebrew, Greylock Partners, Union Square Ventures and Second Avenue Partners — also signed on.

And many, in fact, are being sued by workers who say they were misclassified as contractors and are owed compensation for the pay and benefits they thereby missed out on. (Note that this is not true of all signatories; the CEO of Etsy also signed, for example, and while that company does profit off the work of self-employed crafters, it’s not currently being sued by any.)

Learn more ...

POWER Act Will Lift Floor for All Workers

Bill by Rep. Judy Chu provides crucial whistleblower protections for immigrant workers & U.S. workers alongside them

WASHINGTON, DC, November 5, 2015—On Thursday, Rep. Judy Chu (CA-32) introduced the POWER Act (Protect Our Workers from Exploitation and Retaliation) to the U.S. House of Representatives. Co-sponsors included Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chair Rep. Keith Ellison (MN-5) and Rep. Robert Scott (VA-3).

Below is a statement by Saket Soni, Executive Director of the National Guestworker Alliance and the New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice:

“Every worker in the U.S. needs the POWER Act. More and more, U.S. workers face the same kind of vulnerability and instability that immigrant workers have long faced. The POWER Act ensures that when vulnerable immigrant workers stand up to blow the whistle on workplace abuse, employers can’t retaliate by threatening them with deportation. By helping immigrant workers expose abuse, the POWER Act also helps lift the floor for the tens of millions of U.S. workers alongside them.

“Without the POWER Act, an immigrant worker like Shellion Parris can be recognized by the federal government as a victim of involuntary servitude, and still face deportation. Workers like Shellion deserve immediate protection from deportation when they blow the whistle on employer abuse, and deserve the ability to work while they pursue their claims. The POWER Act would provide it.

“The POWER Act would help protect high-road employers too, by making sure that they are not at a disadvantage to exploitative employers. It would also lets law enforcement agencies do their job by ensuring that witnesses and victims of workplace crimes aren’t deported in the middle of an investigation.

“By lifting the floor for every worker in the U.S., the POWER Act provides a crucial first step toward combating income inequality and expanding opportunity for all.”

The bill was endorsed in a sign-on letter by 72 civil, labor, and human rights organizations, including the National Guestworker Alliance.

CONTACT: Stephen Boykewich, stephen@guestworkeralliance.org, 347-594-2347


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