Category: News

On February 9, 2017, the Trump administration released an Executive Order addressing transnational human and drug trafficking. The below is a statement by Saket Soni, Executive Director of the National Guestworker Alliance (NGA):

“The Trump administration’s Executive Order on transnational human and drug trafficking falls dramatically short of protecting vulnerable workers and preventing human trafficking. The order is a fundamental policy regression from gains the anti-trafficking movement has made in recent years. It takes the United States government back to a myopic approach focused only on prosecution. It also reflects a particularly distorted immigration enforcement-focused vision, with the racially motivated subtext that traffickers are only foreign nationals, and that all human trafficking is transnational. The policy outlined in the order completely ignores root causes and the conditions of vulnerability that allow trafficking to flourish. It makes no mention of the responsibility of corporations whose supply chains profit from forced labor, and it fails to address victim protections and victim services.

“The U.S. government’s policy approach to fighting trafficking has centered on a ‘four Ps’ paradigm of prevention, protection of victims, prosecution of perpetrators, and partnership with civil society and business. The first three of these are enshrined in the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA), the guiding and still operative legislation on this issue. The new order represents a radical departure from this holistic approach, and one that is likely to contribute to the vulnerability of immigrant and non-immigrant guestworkers, whose immigration status is often exploited by traffickers to keep them in modern-day slavery.

“Our experience on issues of labor trafficking shows why this executive order is exactly the wrong approach. For the last decade, the NGA has worked closely with trafficked workers on labor supply chains, helping them fight for their workplace rights and human dignity. In each case, a U.S. employer benefited from the trafficking, and the fear of immigration retaliation kept workers in forced labor. In 2008, we helped 200 H-2B workers from India escape a racially segregated labor camp at Mississippi at the oil services company Signal International. The workers were criminalized and hunted by immigration authorities when they spoke out against the company. Eventually the company’s collusion with immigration authorities was exposed in a lawsuit. The workers were vindicated by U.S. government agencies and the company was hit with a $14 million verdict in federal court.

“Our organization also exposed forced labor conditions among H-2B guestworkers on Walmart’s U.S. seafood supply chain in 2012. In that instance, a U.S. employer on Walmart’s supply chain threatened immigration retaliation. These cases and others show that an immigration-enforcement approach to human trafficking only adds to vulnerability by handing traffickers and employers the ability to retaliate against whistleblowers.

“The U.S. government should be implementing policies that protect workers’ freedom of association, and giving them the means to report discrimination and abuse without fear of retaliation. We need policies that let worker leave abusive employers without losing their immigration status. We need the U.S. government to robustly implement the nation’s labor laws, including protections around health and safety and wage theft that would combat the broader conditions that allow trafficking to take root.

“Yesterday’s short-sighted and misguided order stands in clear violation of our most cherished American values. At the end of the day, the order represents a victory for human traffickers, and yet another blow to the interests of workers in America. The opposite of trafficking and forced labor is freedom at work—and this executive order contributes to the coercive environment that too many workers already find themselves in.”

CONTACT: Stephen Boykewich, stephen@guestworkeralliance.org, (323) 673-1307

Penn Live

January 30, 2017

Do we really want an anti-labor Labor Secretary?

By Kati Sipp

What will life be like for working people if President Donald Trump’s labor secretary pick Andy Puzder gets confirmed? Pennsylvanians already know.

In 2013, readers of this newspaper learned about brutal labor exploitation at fast food restaurants in Harrisburg, Lemoyne, and Camp Hill–including sub-minimum wage pay, unpaid overtime, work shifts that lasted up to 25 hours straight, and for some workers, overpriced company housing where eight people were packed into a single basement room.

Some of those workers were student guestworkers who came to the U.S. on J-1 visas expecting a “cultural exchange program,” but instead faced abuse and wage theft at the central Pennsylvania McDonald’s restaurants.

When the student workers spoke up, their boss threatened to fire and deport them.

It wasn’t just student guestworkers facing abuse. Local Pennsylvians were being exploited and robbed of their already low wages right alongside them.

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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.

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.”

 

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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