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Reports of forced labor in Hawaii too familiar The Associated Press released a six-month investigative report on human trafficking and severe labor abuse among seafood workers in Hawaii on the supply chains of Whole Foods, CostCo, and Sam’s Club. Below is a statement by National Guestworker Alliance Organizing Director Jacob Horwitz, released on Friday, Sep. 9, 2016: The Associated Press reports of human […]
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 […]

Medium

October 19, 2016

The Question 55 Million American Workers Have For The Next U.S. President

By Saket Soni

On Wednesday, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton will share the stage for their last debate before the presidential election. Donald Trump is sure to face questions about the allegations of sexual assault he faces from more than a dozen women. Hillary Clinton is certain to face continued questionsover her private email server during her time as Secretary of State. But there’s another question both candidates should both face — one that affects of tens of millions of Americans and makes national headlines nearly every day, but has yet to draw comment from either candidate.

The question is: how do you plan to guarantee economic security for workers in our nation as work changes and America’s workers become increasingly insecure?

The American economy is undergoing a fundamental transformation. As President Obama has himself acknowledged, the old deal between workers, employers, and government is breaking down. Workers can no longer count on the kinds of permanent full-time jobs that brought benefits and long-term stability to previous generations. American voters know this: the insurgencies in both major political parties during the primaries were in part an expression of public frustration with our country’s broken social contract.

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Open Democracy

October 6, 2006

Voices from the supply chain: an interview with the National Guestworker Alliance

Beyond Trafficking and Slavery speaks with JJ Rosenbaum of the National Guestworker Alliance on ways to protect workers in global supply chains, including a global minimum wage.

BTS: So, JJ, could you tell us why this year’s ILC was particularly important?

JJ: This year the ILC took up the issue of global supply chains for the first time. Global supply chains are increasingly the way that the world economy is organised. So it is fundamental for the ILO to speak about them and to bring a workers’ perspective to the issues that they raise.

BTS: What did you want to see result from this year’s ILC?

JJ: I thought it important that the dialogue this year be a first step towards a broader process of standard setting for working conditions in global supply chains. We know that supply chains involve significant exploitation of migrant workers, of women workers, and of others, and we know that there are problems with wage levels and with freedom of association. So national supply chain standards are no longer enough – what we need is something global.

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Medium

October 4, 2016

Bringing Stability to the United States of Anxiety

Michelle Miller, Sarita Gupta, and Saket Soni

The gig economy isn’t new. Day laborers, domestic workers, construction workers, and many other workers — frequently low-wage people of color — have been living in it for decades. But with the rise of app-based labor platforms like Uber, TaskRabbit, and Handy, and with traditional companies laying off formerly full-time workers en masse only to rehire them as freelancers, the gig economy is provoking national anxieties like never before.

That’s why it’s time to develop a new generation of employment benefits and protections that meet the challenges of the gig economy.

Workers on app-based platforms still make up a small part of the total U.S. workforce, but they’re part of a full 40% of the American workforce that is now in non-traditional work arrangements of one kind or another, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office. That includes agency temps, direct-hire temps, on-call workers, part-time workers, day laborers, and subcontracted workers.

What’s more, several of the technology companies that employ workers through apps have already transformed their industries. Uber and Lyft have dramatically disrupted the taxi business, while localities have struggled to regulate them. In the hotel industry, AirBnB’s current $10 billion valuation is bigger than that of global hotel chains like Hyatt. Apps like Task Rabbit have brought day labor corners online, and “crowdsourcing” platforms like Amazon’s Mechanical Turk plunge tens of thousands of workers into an entirely unregulated market for as little as a dollar an hour.

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TakePart.com

September 29, 2016

The Explosion on West Delta 32 E

The fallout from an accident two years after Deepwater Horizon reveals safety is still an issue for Gulf oil workers.

by Justin Nobel

At 7 a.m. on Nov. 16, 2012, as the morning’s first rays spilled across the Gulf of Mexico, nine Filipino men began their workday on an oil platform about 10 miles off the coast of Louisiana. To these skilled laborers, in the U.S. on temporary visas, it was perhaps just another day out on the cobalt-blue Gulf, working a foreign nation’s offshore oil patch so they could send money back to their families 8,000 miles away. But Ellroy Corporal, Jerome Malagapo, and Avelino Tajonera had a difficult task that morning: upgrading a pipe that helped pass oil pumped from beneath the seabed into Louisiana’s vast network of shore-bound pipelines. The job involved welding, which on an oil platform means spraying bits of fire onto a deck loaded with explosive fuel.

West Delta Block 32 Platform E looked like an extremely complicated swim dock, stacked with pipes and tanks. Using a pneumatic saw, one of the men cut away a two-foot section of pipe. Exposed edges were smoothed using an electric grinder. A pair of metal flanges would allow new piping to fit seamlessly into the old section. One worker held the first flange, another squared it, and the third was to weld the piece into place. Before the welding torch was lit, one of the men asked the others if they smelled a gas-like odor. Neither responded.

The offshore oil and gas industry calls welding hot work, which requires a special permit outlining safety precautions. But the appropriate permit for hot work that day on West Delta 32 E was never issued. Two portable gas detectors that should have been taken to the platform were broken. The Filipino men were working for an oil industry service provider called Grand Isle Shipyard. According to an investigation by the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, which oversees the U.S. offshore oil and gas industry, a GIS supervisor told the men not to worry and suggested they “hang the non-functioning gas detector up like a ‘decoration’ so everyone could at least see that they had one.” Another contractor had told the workers that the pipes had been purged and that West Delta 32 E was safe. In fact the pipes they were about to apply a welding torch to were laced with flammable hydrocarbon vapors. The platform was a ticking time bomb.

Black Elk Energy Offshore Operations, the platform’s operator, had hired Wood Group PSN, a large oil services firm registered in Scotland that operates in more than 50 countries, to manage operations. A senior Wood Group officer was supposed to attend a morning safety meeting in the galley. This individual could have told the men the pipes had not been purged of vapors or asked why a hot work permit had not been issued. Instead a lower-level Wood Group employee attended the galley safety meeting, but “merely out of coincidence,” according to the BSEE report. The man sat eating his breakfast and didn’t pay attention.

Some electromagnetic waves can circle the earth seven and a half times in one second. Your brain’s nerve signals can cover 22 miles in that time. A radio signal can travel to space and back. By comparison, fire travels slowly. And in the way time seems to halt when the brain is faced with danger, fire must seem especially slow when it’s spreading right in front of your face.

The welding torch was lit. Hydrocarbon vapors ignited. One one thousand. A string of fire ran through the piping and into a set of three oil tanks.

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On September 20, a Thailand court found human rights researcher Andy Hall guilty of defamation for a report he published on abuse of migrant workers on Thailand’s global food supply chain. The following is a statement by Jacob Horwitz, Organizing Director of the National Guestworker Alliance:

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The Associated Press released a six-month investigative report on human trafficking and severe labor abuse among seafood workers in Hawaii on the supply chains of Whole Foods, CostCo, and Sam’s Club. Below is a statement by National Guestworker Alliance Organizing Director Jacob Horwitz, released on Friday, Sep. 9, 2016:

Ana and MarthaThe Associated Press reports of human trafficking and brutal labor abuse among seafood workers in Hawaii are shocking—but far too familiar for members of the National Guestworker Alliance who have endured similar abuse in Louisiana and around the United States.

Like the workers in Hawaii who have faced squalid conditions, sub-minimum wage pay, and forced labor, NGA member Ana Rosa Diaz faced forced labor at a Louisiana Walmart supplier. And just as the workers in Hawaii who are trapped by their immigration status, seafood workers around the U.S. are trapped by threats of retaliatory deportation when they speak up against abusive employers.

According to the AP report, the products of forced labor in Hawaii are being supplied to Whole Foods, CostCo, and Sam’s Club. This too is no surprise: the NGA has documented widespread labor abuse on the U.S. seafood supply chains of these retailers and others. NGA’s recent report to the International Labor Organization highlights abuse in New Bedford, Massachusetts, and along the U.S. Gulf Coast.

Forced labor and other abuses on U.S. seafood supply chains will only stop if major retailers like Whole Foods, CostCo, Walmart, and Sam’s Club agree to meet with workers and set real, enforceable standards to keep them safe. The big retailers set the standards that the whole supply chain follows. Right now, those retailers are responsible for the brutal exploitation on their supply chains across the United States. That also means they have the power to stop it.

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.

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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:

 

 


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