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Today is human rights defender Gaspar Matalaev’s 36th birthday, but he will not be able to celebrate with his family and friends. He has been imprisoned since October 2016 for his work documenting state-run forced and child labor in Turkmenistan’s annual cotton harvest.
On May 23, 2018, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions found that the arrest and deprivation of liberty of Gaspar was arbitrary. The UN Working Group called on the Turkmen Government to “release Mr. Matalaev immediately and accord him an enforceable right to compensation and other reparations, in accordance with international law.”
The U.S. State Department’s 2017 Trafficking in Persons Report on Turkmenistan, highlighted that “Authorities allegedly tortured Matalaev and forced him to confess to taking and distributing photographs of the cotton harvest; Matalaev was sentenced to three years in a labor camp and remains imprisoned.”
Help us grant Gaspar’s wish for freedom on his birthday!
- Join our social media campaign using the hashtag #FreeGaspar! You can write your own post or use our links to share on Twitter and Facebook.
- Sign our petition demanding Gaspar’s freedom! If you have already signed it, pass the link on to friends. We will collect signatures on a rolling basis, delivering it to the Turkmen government at every opportunity until Gaspar is released.
We are calling on the Turkmen government to release Gaspar. It is a critical time to build international pressure in support of Gaspar’s freedom. Please help us today!
Thank you for your support,
Cotton Campaign Coordinator
June 12, 2018
Today, as we commemorate World Day Against Child Labor, we are calling on policymakers, consumers, corporate leaders and individuals everywhere to redouble their commitment to the fight to end child labor. The global community has made great progress over the past twenty years, but recently that progress has slowed. In 2016 the International Labour Organization (ILO) reported there were still 152 million child laborers – which is exactly 152 million too many. Those are children who are losing out on their childhood, their education, and their future.
Twenty years ago, ILRF was deep in the thick of the Global March Against Child Labor. Our founding director, Pharis Harvey, joined the march in India and the over seven million people expressing solidarity for the Global March across five continents. Bama Athreya, my predecessor at ILRF, helped engineer the complicated logistics that come with such an endeavor. Bama, now a Labor and Employment Rights Specialist at USAID, recently posted a blog analyzing how far we’ve come in the past twenty years.
The Global March, led by 2014 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and former ILRF board member, Kailash Satyarthi, did much more than raise awareness and mobilize activists. It helped drive significant policy change and the adoption of ILO Convention 182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labor. The March also set a positive example by making sure children, many recently freed from bonded child labor, were in the lead, demonstrating actively their interest and ability to organize for change. I met one of those former child laborers, Basu Rai, at the ILO annual meetings last week. Basu, pictured above as a child with Satyarthi, is now a full-time activist and he recalls having been freed from child labor in Nepal and participating in the Global March’s arrival at the ILO in Geneva in 1998. Basu recounts standing on desks at the ILO and chanting “No more tools for tiny hands. We want books. We want toys.” Basu is giving back to Nepali society as an organizer and changemaker, his commitment to ending child labor unwavering.
In 2012, the ILO reported a 22% decrease in child labor over the previous four years. But from 2012 through 2016, the percent decrease was less than 10%. What’s worse, the decline in hazardous child labor – the most dangerous and debilitating form of child labor – has slowed even more, decreasing by 26% between 2008 and 2012 and by only 15% between 2012 and 2016.
The fight to end child labor is a global goal that needs to be addressed country by country and industry by industry. Nearly every global supply chain is affected, which means everyone has a role to play in ending child labor. The ILRF-housed Cotton Campaign was instrumental in ending nationwide state-sponsored child labor in Uzbekistan’s cotton sector, but continued activism is needed to transform the industry into one with decent pay and working conditions. In Liberia’s rubber sector, local trade unions won collective bargaining rights, thanks to transnational support and pressure on Firestone. They then went on to negotiate better wages and working conditions, which significantly reduced child labor in the sector.
Additionally, ILRF’s long time campaign to end child labor in West Africa’s cocoa sector is finally gaining traction and we have recently seen a significant shift in the chocolate industry. For 18 years, ILRF campaigned for chocolate companies to help stop child labor by ensuring farmers’ access to a livable income, but the industry responded with an emphasis on improving farmers’ yields, with no tracking of their impact on net income and family livelihoods. In late 2016, however, the World Cocoa Foundation President, Rick Scobey, started acknowledging the need to address farmer incomes and cooperate more closely with NGOs.
Yet there are still many chocolate companies not fully onboard with a holistic approach to addressing both child labor and cocoa farmers’ poverty. Ironically, one of the most high end chocolate companies – Godiva – is lagging furthest behind in their commitments and urgently needs an added push to improve. Green America is hosting a petition to Godiva, supported by ILRF, which asks Godiva to ensure the farmers in their supply chain are lifted out of poverty and to establish effective child labor monitoring and remediation programs.
Signing the Green America petition is one small way readers can support the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal of ending child labor by 2025. It would be a major victory if one of the most popular luxury chocolate brands in the world won’t committed to lifting cocoa farmers out of poverty and ending child labor]. As Kailash Satyarthi said during his recent speech at the ILO, “These are human beings. These are all our children.”
Unsustainable fishing practices drain the oceans of fish and subject vulnerable workers on fishing vessels to severe forms of labor exploitation. As news of horrific abuse on fishing vessels continue to shock the public, the number of initiatives attempting to address human rights abuses in seafood supply chains has proliferated. While some of these initiatives claim to have a worker voice component, the freedom to associate and collectively bargain that underpins respect for human rights is conspicuously absent.
ILRF is calling for a new way forward – one in which binding agreements ensure retailers and seafood brands take responsibility for conditions in their supply chains and crew are empowered to secure effective remedy when their rights are violated.
This vision is outlined in a blog ILRF released today, which is a preview of a report ILRF will release in one week. Taking Stock: Labor exploitation, illegal fishing and brand responsibility in the seafood industry documents the results of ILRF’s Independent Monitoring at Sea (IM@Sea) project, and lays out a path forward for industry actors and government agencies aiming to fulfill their human rights responsibilities in the seafood sector. In addition to providing principles and lessons learned, Taking Stock is a call to action for companies all along the seafood supply chain, and governments with oversight responsibility to adopt effective, worker-centered tools and policies to ensure respect for human rights in the global seafood trade.
The report launch event will be an opportunity for stakeholders and practitioners from labor, government, industry and civil society to discuss how the principles and proposals detailed in the report might be implemented. We hope it will serve as a platform from which to launch worker-driven solutions for a more just trade in seafood.
Senior Legal and Policy Analyst
|Join Our Team!
ILRF is looking for an energetic campaigner to help us build worker power and promote social justice in global agricultural commodity supply chains. Please see more details at this job description. Applications due April 23.
|The Fight for Dignity in Honduras
In Honduras, defending your rights at work can cost you your life. If you are in Washington, D.C., join us for this event, which will highlight how workers in Honduras are standing up to corporations that exploit, harm and impoverish people in the name of profit. We will examine U.S. policy, violence against worker rights activists, and the root causes of the current migration crisis. Meet Honduran trade unionist, Tomas Membreño, and learn about how we can support workers in Honduras who are fighting for justice in their workplaces!
Thursday, April 19, 2:00 – 3:00pm | Solidarity Center, 1130 Connecticut Ave NW #800, Washington, DC 20036
|Day of Action at Abercrombie & Fitch
During the week of April 18-24, 2018, leading up to the fifth anniversary of the Rana Plaza collapse, students, union members, consumers, and activists around the world will join in a Global Week of Action calling on laggard apparel brands to sign the 2018 Accord. A&F must sign the renewed Accord and recommit to protecting the lives of the people who make their profit possible. Join ILRF, Workers United (SEIU), and United Students Against Sweatshops in the streets to send a message to Abercrombie: the risk of another factory fire is too high.
|New ILRF Report Highlights “Wrong Turn” in CAFTA Arbitration Decision
Despite finding that the Government of Guatemala repeatedly failed to effectively enforce its labor laws, as required under CAFTA, the arbitration panel concluded that the U.S. failed to prove these violations occurred “in a manner affecting trade,” letting Guatemala off the hook. Our new report takes the panel to task for its narrow, economistic approach to the case, including its refusal to consider reports from the International Labour Organization, United Nations, and prominent NGOs with overwhelming evidence of the government’s widespread failure to enforce its labor laws. It concludes with recommendations on how to fix NAFTA and other future trade deals so that labor standards are enforceable in practice.
|Legal Attacks Against Human Rights Defenders in Thailand
Migrant rights advocate Andy Hall has been ordered to pay 10 million baht ($321,000) in civil damages to the pineapple company Natural Fruit Co. Ltd. Hall was a researcher on a report published by the Finnish NGO FinnWatch that documented egregious labor exploitation at factories owned by Natural Fruit, which then brought two criminal cases and two civil cases against Hall. Litigation to silence human rights defenders who expose human rights violations in business operations continues to be a serious problem in Thailand. You can send a message in support of 14 migrant workers facing similar charges for exposing conditions of forced labor at a chicken farm here.
|What Is the Significance of China’s #MeToo Movement?
As feminist activists popularize the #MeToo movement in China, sexual harassment at work is getting more public attention. Journalists and Foxconn workers alike are calling for greater scrutiny and safeguards against harassment. This conversation, which features ILRF’s Kevin Lin, looks at the legal, workplace and civil society solutions, and their challenges and risks.
|What Has Changed Since Rana Plaza?
Just two weeks before the fifth anniversary of the Rana Plaza building collapse – the deadliest disaster in the history of manufacturing – scholars, journalists, human rights advocates, and corporate and labor leaders from the U.S., Europe, and Bangladesh came together at the Ford Foundation in New York City to assess the state of workplace safety and labor rights in Bangladesh’s massive garment industry. Check out a short video clip from Mem Akter, General Secretary of the Dress and Dismatic Workers‘ Union, or watch the full event livestream here. The event has been covered by news sources like Racked, Fashionista and Women’s Wear Daily. You can also read the reports distributed during this event here and here.
|Get Your Tickets for the 2018 Labor Rights Defenders Awards
Please join us this year on May 9th in Washington, DC to honor the bravery and dedication of four leading labor rights defenders:
Can’t join us on May 9th? Please show your support for ILRF by sponsoring the 2018 Labor Rights Defenders Awards or by making a tax-deductible donation. All donations support the International Labor Rights Forum as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, in accordance with IRS regulations.
107 years ago, 146 garment workers – mostly teenagers and young women, nearly all immigrants – died in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. This Friday, Workers United/SEIU (ILGWU) will present the Official Commemoration at the site of the fire in downtown Manhattan. Even if you’re not in New York, visit the Remember the Triangle Coalition’s website to find ways to support the coalition.
Until six years ago, the fire of March 25, 1911, had been the deadliest in the history of the global garment industry. Since then two tragedies – one fire and one building collapse – in South Asia have surpassed the death toll.
That is why, for ILRF, this anniversary is a time for action as well as reflection. It’s time to urge all companies to put strong safety measures into place! All year we have been encouraging apparel brands and retailers to sign onto the three-year renewal of the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety – a legally binding agreement signed with two global unions and eight Bangladeshi unions. Already more than 120 companies have done so – including Zara, H&M, Fruit of the Loom, and Tommy Hilfiger – but others have refused.
One leading brand that signed the original Accord, but is refusing to renew their commitment to worker safety in Bangladesh, is Abercrombie & Fitch.
We thank all our supporters who have sent emails to A&F through our online action. But that has not been enough. That is why today we are launching a plan for a day of action at Abercrombie stores around the country, on Saturday, April 21st. The day of protest will be part of a Global Week of Action.
Would you please let us know if you’ll show up at an Abercrombie & Fitch store near you?
Over 100 organizations have now joined the call for an end to the politically motivated prosecution of Cambodian human rights defender Tola Moeun, since a letter to the Cambodian government was published last month. Tola is the Executive Director of the Center for the Alliance of Labor and Human Rights (CENTRAL), and is a renowned advocate for labor rights in Cambodia. These charges are an attempt to silence and punish one of the country’s leading independent voices for worker rights.
The initial letter was co-written and signed by four global unions and more than 30 national and international human rights and worker rights NGOs, after prosecutors in Cambodia sought criminal charges and an order for pre-trial detention against Tola and two other prominent civil society leaders. Since the letter was published, many additional organizations from around the world have signed in support, including Amnesty International, all calling for the Cambodian government to respect fundamental human rights and to immediately drop the charges against Tola and his two co-defendants.
This year, ILRF will honor the work of CENTRAL and Tola at our annual Labor Rights Defenders Awards. You can meet Tola at the awards ceremony on May 9th in Washington D.C., and hear firsthand his story of organizing for human rights in the face of repression. Click here for tickets and more information.
International Women’s Day was initially established to commemorate a 1908 garment workers‘ strike in New York, where women walked out of factories to protest working conditions. Today, we want to remember the day’s roots in the struggle of working women, and place the spotlight firmly where it belongs: on international women organizing for change.
To that end, we’re launching a series of multimedia profiles of some of the incredible women worker leaders in our network. These are courageous women who have spent years upon years organizing their coworkers, facing repression and retaliation from governments and corporations. They are the ones who, without fuss or fanfare, have dedicated their lives to making space for women to organize in low-wage industries.
In our first profile, you can get to know Iris Munguia. Iris started working on a Chiquita banana plantation in her native Honduras when she was 18 years old. More than three decades later, she went on to become the first woman coordinator of a regional banana union confederation in Latin American history. Now, she runs programs that put more women in the position to lead collective bargaining, handle grievances for themselves and their coworkers, and negotiate union contracts that have specific mechanisms to support women in the workplace.
We’ll post more profiles in the coming weeks – because one day could never be enough to tell the stories of these powerful and inspiring women.
Made to work 20 hours a day. Identity documents confiscated. Illegal wage deductions. Restricted movement. Being forced to sleep with chickens.
These are the conditions reported by 14 migrant workers in Thailand who managed to escape from the Thammakaset poultry farm in Lopburi, Thailand, in June 2016. They brought their case to the Thai Department of Labour Protection and Welfare, and were awarded nearly $54,000 in compensation. Yet a year and a half later, they have yet to receive any of that money.
Even worse, these workers now face jail time for reporting the conditions of abuse! They will go on trial tomorrow on charges of criminal defamation, brought by the employer who exploited them. Tell the Thai Government it must take immediate action to protect these workers, and ensure that migrant workers are able to report on abusive and illegal working conditions without fear of retaliation!
This injustice is only possible because Thailand is failing to live up to its obligations to respect and protect worker rights. Migrant workers are particularly vulnerable to abuse because complex and expensive immigration processes leave workers reliant on brokers who can easily trap them in debt bondage. Furthermore, work permits bind them to employers so it’s hard to leave even in cases of severe abuse, and a mixture of weak enforcement and police corruption make it nearly impossible for them to access justice. Laws in Thailand like criminal defamation, which United Nations bodies have condemned as an attack on freedom of expression that should be universally abolished, also empower abusive employers to prosecute workers who speak out.
Thailand cannot claim progress in respecting its obligations under international law as long as it continues to work hand-in-hand with abusive employers to cover up cases of worker exploitation. Tell the Thai government to act NOW to protect the migrant workers on trial this week, and all migrant workers who seek justice!
Labor rights defenders are frontline human rights advocates, fighting for economic justice and human dignity. Labor rights defenders like Tola Moeun and the staff at the Center for Alliance of Labor and Human Rights (CENTRAL), work tirelessly to improve local labor laws, run worker support centers, and report on abusive employers. They play an essential role in holding governments and global corporations accountable.
CENTRAL, and groups like them, are vulnerable because winning the fight for workers’ rights will necessarily come with a cost to global brands and the anti-democratic governments that prioritize the brands’ needs over workers’ rights and dignity. This year, ILRF is thrilled to honor the Center for Alliance of Labor and Human Rights (CENTRAL) with a 2018 Labor Rights Defender Award.
CENTRAL works to advance better working conditions, collective bargaining for increased wages, and policies that benefit hundreds of thousands of Cambodian workers. The organization has provided training and legal support to thousands of workers, mostly women in the garment industry who are supplying US and European consumers.
Cambodian civil society organizations, unions, human rights defenders, opposition political parties and media outlets have been experiencing an alarming escalation of repression over the past year. CENTRAL is a powerful force leading Cambodian working people to demand transparent and accountable governance for human rights and labor rights – and that power has made them a target. Tola Moeun, CENTRAL’s Director, is now facing falsified and politically motivated charges in an attempt to undermine the work of this grassroots organization and the country’s human rights and labor movement more broadly. If convicted, Tola could face imprisonment for up to 3 years. ILRF strongly condemns these accusations and actions against Tola.
CENTRAL is a strong advocate for Cambodian workers and it’s an honor to give them a 2018 Labor Rights Defender Award. Please support CENTRAL ahead of the ceremony, which will be held this spring in Washington D.C., by signing our petition urging the dismissal of the charges against Tola.
P.S. See below for some of the congratulations for CENTRAL and Tola that are already pouring in. Tweet your own congratulations to @centralcambodia and @Tolamoeun , or post it on Facebook tagging https://www.facebook.com/CentralCambodiaOrg/.
“I am very pleased that Tola Mouen and the Center for Alliance of Labor and Human Rights (CENTRAL) will receive the 2018 Labor Rights Defender Award. It is an honor extremely well deserved. CENTRAL strives every day to protect and empower vulnerable workers in Cambodia – advocating for their rights and providing direct assistance to abused, trafficked and exploited workers.” – Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (D-IL)
„It’s wonderful that ILRF has decided to honor Tola Moeun, who is one of Cambodia’s most dedicated and courageous defenders of workers‘ rights, and CENTRAL, the organization he directs which is making such an important difference helping thousands of women garment workers. Cambodian workers know they can depend on Tola and his team for support when facing rights abusing employers and conniving government officials. Whether it’s fighting for reinstatement, protesting against labor law violations, demanding factory supervisors stop sexual harassment, or pressing for better wages and working conditions, Tola and CENTRAL are always in the workers’ corner, ready to help.“ – Phil Robertson, Deputy Asia Director, Human Rights Watch
„Tola and CENTRAL deserve a hearty congratulations for receiving this award, but more importantly they deserve our support. Tola’s work bridging the gap between the labor rights movement and the broader human rights community has had a profound impact in Cambodia – so profound that the government is now after him with trumped up, politically-motivated charges. Tola scares power, and for me that’s an indicator of a job well done.“ – Maina Kai, United Nations Special Rapporteur 2011-2017