In February 2017, garment workers in Myanmar, who were enraged by abusive and illegal working conditions, stormed their factory and smashed $75,000 worth of equipment. The worker revolt revealed the broken promises of international clothing brands that sweatshop apparel production would lead to better lives and “empowerment.”
Last month, California’s Department of Industrial Relations (DIR) proposed revised and stronger regulations for oil refineries in the state after a 4½-year joint campaign by labor unions, environmental and community organizations. The successful strategic coalition is a powerful example of how health and safety regulations can be improved despite an industry’s wealth, power and political influence.
The Trump Administration is gearing up to make Federal OSHA as under-resourced and ineffective as it can. Our strategic response has to be more than simply defending the status quo ante; we have to rebuild the social movement that was powerful enough 50 years ago to force another right-wing Republican president, Richard Nixon, to support and sign the OSH Act in the first place.
Mass firings, blacklisting of fired workers, indefinite detentions of union leaders and worker rights advocates in Bangladesh threaten the fragile gains in workplace health and safety in the garment industry. International clothing brands and retailers are being petitioned to reverse the firings, release the detained, and respect the basic rights of garment workers.
A just published book – Refinery Town: Big Oil, Big Money and the Remaking of an America City – describes how a decade of local organizing and year-round campaigning has resulted in impressive local victories in a Black, white and Asian town dominated by Chevron corporation. Richmond, California, has set an example and registered successes by local left wing campaigners that contain important and hopeful lessons about uniting allies and successfully defending health, safety and democratic rights.
New investigations by the Workers Rights Consortium and the Fair Labor Association reveal sweatshop operations in Vietnam by a major Korean factory operator. The garments produced are sold by dozens of international clothing brands. The sweatshops exist despite “audits” by the $80 billion global “corporate responsibility industry.”
A free, two-month course on global supply chains is being offered on-line by the Global Labour University starting on January 12, 2017. The course is being taught in English by Penn State University Professor Mark Anner, one the leading labor-oriented researchers on the global economy.
A new report by four leading workers’ rights group shows just how hard it is to get international clothing brands to fix problems in their global supply chains despite the fact that 1,100 workers were killed in an instant in an unsafe garment factory in Bangladesh. Three and a half years after the Rana Plaza building collapsed in Dhaka, Bangladesh, five major clothing brands – Walmart, Gap, VF, Target and Hudson’s Bay – were found to have continuing hazards and dangerous delays in fixing them.
The Honduras Independent Monitoring Team (EMIH) won the 2016 International Award of the Occupational Health and Safety Section of the American Public Health Association at the APHA’s annual conference in Denver. Lynda Yanz, Executive Director of the Maquila Solidarity Network, based in Toronto, Canada, accepted the award on behalf of EMIH at the November 1st awards luncheon.
Workers’ wages in China are now deemed to be “too high” by consumer product brands seeking to “source” their products in Asia — so Vietnam has become the new “promised land” for international brands selling clothes, electronics and sports shoes, among other products. Vietnamese workers are now facing sweatshop working conditions, like Chinese workers before them, in the global corporations’ “race to the bottom” in wages, working conditions and rights.