Category: News

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.

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:

 

 

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

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.)

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The Hill

November 03, 2015

Lifting the floor in the next American economy

by Saket Soni and Sarita Gupta

The deeper we get into presidential election season, the more questions the candidates face—and should—about how they’ll combat income inequality and increase economic opportunity.

They should start by protecting the most vulnerable workers in the U.S.: low-wage immigrant workers.

Shellion Parris was recruited to come to the United States from Jamaica on an H-2B guestworker visa and clean luxury condos on Florida’s Emerald Coast. She was trapped by crushing program-related debt, overpriced company housing that left her with zero-dollar paychecks, and retaliatory threats of firing and deportation when she and fellow workers went on strike. U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services said it added up to involuntary servitude—but still denied the workers protection from deportation as victims of a serious crime.

Jose Adan Fugon and Gustavo Barahona were waiting for a ride to work when local police near New Orleans racially profiled them and detained them without charge. Jose and Gustavo were improperly transferred to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which scheduled them for deportation—in spite of a Department of Homeland Security civil rights review that confirmed the racial profiling and recommended the workers be released. National pressure forced ICE to release Gustavo, but the agency had already deported Jose.

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Facing South

August 26, 2015

Organizing for a true reconstruction in the Gulf Coast: An interview with labor leader Saket Soni
by Allie Yee

Saket Soni is a national labor leader and an organizer of day laborers, immigrant workers, guest workers and others in New Orleans, the South and the country. He is the executive director of the New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice and the National Guestworker Alliance, which were formed in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina to organize vulnerable workers in the city’s reconstruction.

Soni, who has written about his own experiences as an undocumented immigrant, has organized several successful, multiracial campaigns since Katrina, including an eight-year campaign that culminated in a $20 million settlement earlier this year for guest workers from India against shipbuilding company Signal International in Mississippi. Signal was convicted in February of human trafficking and other labor violations. The Workers’ Center and its affiliates have also achieved significant wins on immigration issues and living wage campaigns and have expanded their work across the country and internationally.

Facing South recently caught up with Soni to get his take on progress made since Katrina and lessons learned since the storm hit the Gulf Coast 10 years ago this week. This interview has been edited for clarity.

What brought you to the Gulf Coast after Katrina in 2005?

When Katrina hit, I was a community organizer in Chicago. I was knocking on doors and talking to low-income renters in Chicago’s South Side … When the levees broke, I remember it shattering the myth that people were doing OK. I was just trying to make sense of how a disaster like that could happen in the United States and how it could be followed by such extraordinary inaction.

In order to make sense of it, I came down to New Orleans. … In many ways, I came down in search of an organizing tradition that I had heard about, which was the tradition of Ella Baker and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. Many of my mentors post-Katrina in the Gulf Coast ended up being the people who were shaped by Ella Baker. I ended up staying and founding the New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice in the midst of that and trying my best to follow that tradition.

What was the situation for workers in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast after Katrina hit?

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The Hill op-ed

August 8, 2015

Life as Donald Trump’s guestworker
By Saket Soniguestworkers_201_350

What’s it like being a guestworker for Donald Trump?

I don’t know firsthand. But as director of the National Guestworker Alliance, I’ve met and organized thousands of guestworkers in the same federal visa programs Trump used to apply for over 1,000 foreign workers for his companies since 2000. So I’ve got some pretty good guesses.

If Trump’s guestworkers are like the overwhelming majority of workers in the H-2A, H-2B, and H-1B programs, they were lured by recruiters in their home countries who promised them steady work, good pay, and the chance to provide for their families.

Maybe they’d heard stories from friends and relatives who’d gone to the U.S. as guestworkers with high hopes, only to face brutal conditions, stolen wages, threats of physical violence by bosses, sexual harassment and even assault.
But they must have decided it was worth the risk—likely because the prospects at home were even grimmer. Many guestworkers, especially in the H-2A and H-2B programs, come from areas wracked by economic desperation and violence, such as Mexico’s Sinaloa region, home to the drug cartel that U.S. authorities call the most dangerous in the world.

It would have felt like another world at workplaces like Trump’s Mar-A-Lago Country Club in Florida, which has obtained 350 visas for H-2B waitstaff, cooks, and housekeepers since 2009, according to U.S. Department of Labor records. “Located within 20 acres of perfectly landscaped gardens and with ocean views, Mar-a-Lago is truly the crown jewel of Palm Beach,” Trump says in a welcome message on the club’s website.

But the website’s promises of an “incomparable, royal lifestyle” in “the greatest mansion ever built” wouldn’t extend to Trump’s guestworkers. They would have arrived in the U.S., like all guestworkers in the H-2B program, with two strikes against them.

First, they would be bound to the Mar-A-Lago by program rules. If they left their employer for any reason, they would be immediately out of status and facing deportation. Second, they would be facing crushing debt in their home countries from program-related fees and recruitment costs, and no way to pay them back. In essence, no matter what kind of workplace abuse they might face—from the wage theft and threats of blacklisting faced by H-2B guestworkers at other Florida resorts, to the forced labor exposed by H-2B workers on Walmart’s U.S. supply chain—they’d be trapped.

Any abuse they faced wouldn’t just hurt them. One of the reasons low-road employers love guestworker programs is that by trapping guestworkers in exploitation, they can drive down wages and conditions for the U.S. workers in the same industries. With more than 24 million U.S. workers work alongside guestworkers in the core H-2B industries of hospitality, construction, landscaping, and food processing, that’s a problem that touches just about everyone.

Otherwise, low-road employers can use guestworker programs to simply replace U.S. workers with cheaper, more exploitable workers—as did Disney late last year, laying off 250 IT workers to replace them with H-1B guestworkers, but requiring the local workers to train their replacements first. Employers seeking guestworkers are technically required to certify that no U.S. workers are available for the job, but there’s virtually no way to hold them to their word.

So why is Donald Trump, while promising to be “the greatest jobs president that God has ever created,” relying on programs that are rife with abuse and forced labor, programs that drive down wages and conditions for millions of U.S. workers—or else deprive them of jobs altogether? Why is he seeking H-2B guestworkers, 80 percent of whom come from Mexico, then defaming Mexican migrants as “rapists”? We know Trump’s not afraid of tough questions. So we’d like to hear his answers.

And it’s one thing to guess at what life is like for Trump’s guestworkers. But we’d like to ask them ourselves. It won’t be easy for them to speak up: if the bosses at Trump’s workplaces are like those at many other guestworker employers, they may be holding captive audience meetings with Trump’s guestworkers right now, threatening them with firing, deportation, and blacklisting if they speak up about abuse.

Of course, Trump could just plead ignorance about the whole thing—however out of character that would be.

But at the end of the day, shouldn’t a man who claims his business experience is the reason he should be the next president of the United States be able to answer for how, and with whom, he runs his businesses?

What do you say, Donald?

Soni is executive director of the National Guestworker Alliance and New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice.

http://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/labor/250599-life-as-donald-trumps-guestworker


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