Posts Tagged ‘chocolate sweatshop’

The NYT, the White House, and Worker Protections

On Feb. 21, the New York Times published an editorial entitled “Immigration Reform and Workers’ Rights.” Below is a response by National Guestworker Alliance Executive Director Saket Soni:

Today’s New York Times editorial is an important affirmation of what millions of immigrant workers know, and what the White House has recognized in its own immigration blueprint: strong labor and civil rights protections have to be the cornerstone of any immigration reform.

The New York Times, like the Obama administration, has stood up for the principles of the POWER Act, including protections for whistleblowers and the right of immigrant workers to organize against employer abuse. U.S. workers need these protections as much as immigrants workers do: without them, immigrant workers become a captive workforce, which drives down wages and conditions for all workers.

The National Guestworker Alliance has exposed employer abuse, retaliation, and blacklisting against thousands of immigrant workers in federal guestworker programs. This includes forced labor by guestworkers at Wal-Mart supplier CJ’s Seafood, captive labor by student guestworkers at a Hershey’s Chocolate plant, and ICE’s collusion with an oil services company to retaliate against trafficked guestworkers.

Without the worker protections in the POWER Act, immigration reform risks creating a permanent underclass of millions exploitable workers. Employers will continue to use immigration enforcement as a weapon against workers who organize for their labor and civil rights.

We look forward to ensuring that strong labor protections, the right to organize, and freedom from fear of retaliation are included in any immigration reform.

Background

Contact: Stephen Boykewich, stephen@guestworkeralliance.org718-791-9162

Walmart Strikes Spread, Build on NGA Victory – The Nation – 11/16/12

Walmart Strike Spreads to Texas as Organizers Promise Massive Black Friday Protest

Josh Eidelson on November 16, 2012 – 9:10 AM ET

This morning, at 10 am local time, Dallas Walmart store workers are headed back to the picket line. Theirs is the latest in a string of strikes that hit a California warehouse Wednesday and Seattle stores on Thursday. There’s more where that came from: On a Thursday call with reporters, union-backed Walmart worker groups said to expect a thousand strikes or demonstrations spread over nine days, culminating in an unprecedented array of “Black Friday” disruptions. That news follows a major legal settlement by a Walmart contractor that organizers credited to a 2011 sit-in at Hershey’s Chocolate.

Dallas striker Colby Harris emphasized that despite issues with low pay and repeated retaliation, he’s committed to remaining a Walmart worker. “If you leave this job, you’re going to face retaliation in some form somewhere else…” he said last night. “If you change Walmart, and you change corporate America, it can really better a lot of people’s lives.”

Harris told The Nation that the main purpose of today’s picketing outside his Dallas store is to send a message to the workers inside: that “you can speak up and not get punished.” What if Walmart retaliates? “We’ll just take more actions…” said Harris. “It will not be accepted or tolerated.” He said that going on strike last month heightened his confidence: “I’m not as nervous to take actions now. I know I’ve done it before…I can do it again.”

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NGA Wins New Protections for Wal-Mart, Hershey’s Supply Chain Workers

WASHINGTON, D.C., Nov. 14, 2012—As the latest victory in a year-long fight by the National Guestworker Alliance (NGA) against supply chain labor abuse, warehouse operator Exel Logistics agreed with the Department of Labor (DOL) on Wednesday to new worker protections for Exel’s more than 300 U.S. warehouses.

Exel, which has $4.1 billion in annual revenue, operates warehouses for major U.S. retailers including Wal-Mart and Hershey’s. Wal-Mart is facing growing pressure and nationwide strikes over supply chain labor abuses as Black Friday approaches.

The DOL agreement came in response to a strike and legal complaints by the NGA over serious labor abuses in a Hershey’s Chocolate packing plant in summer 2011. In previous response to the NGA complaints, the U.S. State Department debarred Hershey’s labor recruiter CETUSA from the J-1 Summer Work Travel program, and overhauled J-1 program rules to add substantial protections for student guestworkers.

The new DOL agreement requires Exel, staffing agency SHS, and labor recruiter CETUSA to pay back $213,000 in illegal deductions from wages to student guestworkers who worked in the Hershey’s plant. It also requires Exel to pay $143,000 in fines for health and safety violations.

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From U.S. Corporations, a Chain of Exploitation – People’s Daily – 8-23-12

The NGA published a commentary on corporate abuse of guestworker programs in the English-language and Chinese-language editions of China’s People’s Daily.

From U.S. Corporations, A Chain of Exploitation

By Jennifer J. Rosenbaum and Julie Mao

August 21, 2012

(Chinese-language version below)

Every year, thousands of students from China come to the United States to take part in the U.S. State Department’s J-1 Summer Work Travel Program, along with tens of thousands of other students from around the world. These student guestworkers are promised a cultural exchange: the chance to meet Americans, practice their English, and experience American culture. Instead, many of them have become low-wage laborers for U.S. corporations.

How has this been possible? Because U.S. corporations have grown so powerful—and so unaccountable—that they were able to turn a cultural exchange program into a source of cheap, exploitable labor. And when human rights abuses like these are exposed, the corporations shift blame down their supply chains, hiding behind layers of suppliers and subcontractors.

A case in point is the Hershey’s Chocolate Company. Last summer, 400 university students from China, Mongolia, Thailand, Ukraine, and other countries paid $3,000-6,000 to take part in the J-1 Summer Work Travel program in Hershey, Pennsylvania. When they arrived in the United States, the students found themselves packing chocolates for Hershey’s under brutal conditions. They performed backbreaking work in round-the-clock shifts for as little as $1 an hour after deductions. They were offered no cultural exchange of any kind. When they raised concerns, supervisors responded with threats of firing and deportation.

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NGA victory on front page of Washington Post – 5/22/12

Foreign students enjoy new summer job protections — but what about Americans?

By , Published: May 22

Across the Washington area last week, young workers from Europe arrived in droves, heading for jobs at community swimming pools. Lugging duffel bags, they filled out forms, picked up safety gear and chatted in a variety of Slavic languages, eager to plunge into a summer experience of new friends, skills and culture.

“Now I can meet many people and see America,” gushed Anzhala Scherbina, 21, a petite student from Ukraine whose family spent $3,000 so she could fly here and enter a U.S.-sponsored work-travel program. “My parents say this will be a very good experience,” she said with a giggle.

The Obama administration is going to great lengths to make sure Scherbina and about 100,000 other foreign student workers are not disappointed. Last summer, the popular program, aimed at creating good will abroad, was rocked by scandal when students working at a candy warehouse in Pennsylvania staged a protest, complaining of isolation and overwork.

On May 11, the State Department issued rules that ban foreign students from jobs that could be harmful, limited them to light, seasonal occupations that are not likely to displace U.S. workers and required closer scrutiny of their conditions.

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