Germany's Supply Chain Law
On March 3, 2021, the German cabinet proposed a supply chain law (Lieferkettengesetz) obliging companies active in Germany to ensure that their entire supply chain meets human rights standards. Under the National Action Plan (Nationaler Aktionsplan), Germany has promoted human rights among companies since 2016, but a study in 2020 found that only 22% of responding firms had undertaken the recommended measures. Under this plan, modeled on the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, the German government agreed to consider imposing a mandatory due diligence law if fewer than half of German firms satisfied the human rights monitoring criteria.

Although the cabinet had planned to present a draft of the law in March 2020, Peter Altmeier, the Minister of Economic Affairs and Energy, held up the proceedings. On February 2021, the two ministers driving the law announced that they reached a consensus with Altmeier. Hubertus Heil, Minister for Development Co-Operation, and Gerd Müller, Minister for Labor and Social Affairs, both pushed for more impactful human rights protection, while Altmeier was adamant about safeguarding German economic competitiveness.

What Germany’s Supply Chain Law Imposes

Germany’s supply chain law requires firms active in Germany to perform various due diligence procedures in order to monitor, prevent and ameliorate potential human rights abuses in their supply chains. In its current form, the law would come into effect in 2023 and in its first year only apply to the 600 largest companies, all with more than 3,000 employees. After the first year, it would apply to a further 2,900 companies, all with more than 1,000 employees. By 2026, the government or a contracted body will carry out an evaluation of the law’s effectiveness and, if necessary, provide ideas for improvement.

For suppliers with whom they have a contractual relationship, companies have to set up a risk management system, conduct regular risk analyses and take action against known human rights breaches. They also have to establish a procedure through which to hear complaints. For example, people working in unsafe conditions can theoretically voice their situation through this channel. That being said, many of these people are often not aware of their right to do so, nor are many of them able to navigate the German legal system. To overcome this problem, Germany’s supply chain law grants civil society organizations the power to file lawsuits on behalf of these mistreated workers.

Remaining Problems of the Draft

For suppliers they do not have direct contact with, companies only have to perform risk analyses if they are aware of a potential human rights breach. If, for example, Amnesty International publishes information about human rights abuses in Congolese mines that supply electric car batteries for Volkswagen, then the law requires Volkswagen to conduct a risk analysis.

However, as this demonstrates, companies have less monitoring responsibility for more removed suppliers. Many non-governmental organizations argue that this provides too little protection for the mining industry. Moreover, many direct suppliers of the largest German companies are already located in Germany, potentially limiting the law’s impact abroad.

How Germany’s Supply Chain Law Monitors and Enforces Compliance

The German Federal Bureau for the Economy and Export Control (Bundesamt für Wirtschaft und Ausfuhrkontrolle) will monitor whether companies are complying with Germany’s supply chain law. Companies judged to fall short of what the law demands will face fines and sanctions. Fines will not exceed 8 million euros or 2% of annual revenue for companies with annual revenue of over 400 million euros. If a company receives a fine of more than 175,000 euros, it also cannot compete for public procurement contracts for three years.

Aside from these punitive measures, the law also requires companies to hire or designate an employee who is responsible for evaluating whether the company is abiding by the law or not. The company’s leadership, whatever form it may take, must regularly meet with this employee.

Next Steps

In April 2021, Germany’s supply chain law will enter into discussion in the Bundestag, Germany’s lower chamber of parliament. Non-governmental organizations are trying to galvanize public support in order to convince or pressure parliament into making the law more comprehensive and stringent. In addition to arguing that the restriction to direct suppliers makes the law too small in scope, they have criticized that companies face neither civil nor criminal liability.

Whether they will successfully strengthen Germany’s supply chain law is too early to say. However, the government aims to approve the law before Germany’s elections in September 2021. By then, the extent and potential impact of Germany’s supply chain law on global human rights will be clearer. For now, it is a promising and hopeful, yet somewhat restrained, step in the right direction.

– Alex Vanezis
Photo: Flickr

improving conditions for Vietnam farmersWithin the past years, the Vietnamese agricultural sector has experienced multiple changes and improvements in labor conditions. Considering previous conditions of unsustainable work ethics and disadvantageous labor compensation, many Vietnamese farmers struggled with unstable trade agreements and a lack of farm and production management, leaving workers with uncertainty in their labor. Changes in Vietnam’s federal regulation and farming methodology are expected to improve conditions for Vietnam farmers.

The New Vietnam Labor Code

To start, the Vietnamese government implemented revisions to the Vietnam Labor Code, which are taking place this year. The policy changes include coverage for laborers without working contracts, which widens the new code’s coverage from 20 million workers to 55 million. New policy additions also include laws against gender discrimination and sexual misconduct, protecting employers and providing equal opportunity in the agricultural sector. Employers now have an option for maternal leave if they choose to and law passages define sexual harassment clearly now for better prevention.

The code protects workers from unfair wage contracts, as it enables employers and laborers to negotiate and collectively set wages and conditions. Workers may also join a workers’ organization of their choice, to ensure protection and fair contracts for those represented. Furthermore, the government now establishes previously absent minimum wage and overtime caps.

New Policies to Improve Conditions for Vietnam Farmers

Along with the new labor code, new measures have taken place to better manage production and trade relations, which have sometimes been caught in scams between export companies and incorrect dealing agreements. There have also been cases of exports violating plant safety regulations, possibly resulting in investigations that halt production processes at farms and packaging facilities. To prevent shortcomings and create accountability, the Vietnamese local authorities are working toward structured management of agricultural production, which tries to monitor traceability for pest control and fertilizer sources better and will improve conditions for Vietnam farmers.

In addition to these new management policies, the Vietnamese agriculture sector is looking for new sustainable ways to reuse farming spaces and incorporate advanced technology. An incentive to implement those is the constant instability of weather conditions, which can result in drought and saltwater intrusion. The Vietnamese state continues to combat these threats with freshwater reservoirs and irrigation systems, yet it still affects many farms. In regions with insufficient rice growth, the Vietnamese Department of Crop Production approved the plan to convert these rice fields into fruit-growing plants or for other agricultural activities that acquire a higher income. However, to combat weather inconsistency and its consequences, rice farms have implemented new technologies such as modern combine harvesters and rice processing gadgets for efficient production.

Solar Panels for Farmers in Need

Other new improvements in Vietnam have been implemented to benefit a broader section of farming communities. The UNEP’s EmPower project is a notable change, working on installing solar panels for animal farms that are burdened with bad access to electricity and financial instability. Struggling families and farmers will receive solar power for free and can use the electricity for ventilation systems and incubation equipment used to heat chicken rearings. This introduction of solar power not only alleviates electricity costs for Vietnamese farmers, but also for indigenous populations that take advantage of this source of energy. Furthermore, the ones affected called this new addition a solution to their needs during the pandemic.

In conclusion, various measures and policy adjustments have taken place in 2021 to improve conditions for Vietnam farmers. The Vietnamese government’s newfound regulation of agriculture and management procedures bring about order and stability to Vietnamese farmers, and the implementation of technologies creates greater productivity in several farming districts. Considering the new changes, Vietnamese farmers newly receive a reliable income and accountability in their labor.

– Linda Chong
Photo: Flickr

Informal Employment
Informal economies are a global phenomenon that often goes unmentioned by popular media. From street vendors to unregistered employees in sweatshops, informal workers make up a large portion of a country’s labor. Informal employment refers to workers who engage in labor that is not taxed or registered by the government. Informal economies are popular because of the opportunity to access wealth. While many see informality as a chance for upward mobility, there are many downfalls to this sector which are clearly visible in the case of Argentina.

Argentina has one of the largest economies in Latin America as it has vast natural resources in energy and agriculture. As of 2020, their GDP stood at 450 billion U.S. dollars and the country had significant advantages in the fields of manufacturing and tech industries. While Argentina’s numbers stand strong compared to other countries in the Americas, a closer look into their labor shows a different picture of their economy. In 2018, informal employment was 48.1% of total employment in Argentina. While many in Argentina find that informal employment is the only option for financial survival, this sector brings about serious issues for both individual workers and the larger economy.

Poverty and Informal Employment

The push factors to join the informal economy of Argentina differ based on one’s purpose in this sector. For employers, cheap wages are a major reason to seek unregistered workers. Informality markets itself as a money-saving business model. For workers, informality does not present itself as an option but as a means for financial survival. Argentina’s market does not offer many jobs in the formal economy, leading employees to grab at whatever positions are available.

The link between informality and poverty is hard to explore. Questions remain over whether informality causes higher levels of poverty or if poverty leads to higher levels of informal employment. The World Bank team in Argentina has developed a two-year program to analyze the causes and consequences of informality in Argentina. In their study, it was found that informal work appears to be the most common type of employment among workers in poor households, but the degree and direction of causation are more difficult to determine. Whether poverty causes informality or informality causes poverty is uncertain. The program is finding that prior to Argentina’s economic crisis, the increase in poverty rates appeared to be driven by an increase in poverty among informal households. Such statistics confirm at least a correlative link between the two issues. This serves as evidence for why issues with informality should be at the forefront of anti-poverty efforts.

Dangers of Informal Employment

Informal economies pose several consequences for the welfare of workers and the larger market economy of a country. On the side of workers, informal employment is an opportunity that comes with many risks. The biggest obstacle with informal economies is the recognition of worker’s rights. Given that these workers are not registered, organizations do not have the responsibility to uphold necessary protections. In Argentina, the Confederation of Popular Economy Workers estimates that only approximately 20,000 workers, or about 0.3%, have acquired labor rights so far.  This 0.3% comes from a total of 7.2 million informal workers, thus showing that many of these persons lack access to health insurance, pension, and protection against labor accidents. Consequently, informal workers often find themselves at the margins of society as their work fails to secure a stable income.

Informality also poses a threat to the overall economy of a country. In a personal interview with Dr. Jeronimo Montero Bressan, a full-time researcher for the National Scientific and Technical Research Council in Argentina, he explained the ways in which the informal sector affects the rest of the country. Informal employment is a subsidy to the private sector. Most informal employment falls in the hands of private companies that produce subcontracting chains. This way informal workers can work under formal companies.

For Dr. Montero Bressan, while many come to have a romantic view of informality, the reality presents a chain of exploitation and an overall risk for the livelihood of the rest of the country. Dr. Montero Bressan has attested that because informal workers receive little money, wages will likely diminish throughout the entire economy, thus serving to motivate this type of employment. He has also said, “So, you tell people you won’t hire them because you could get the same labor for half what you pay them.” Informal economies do not just have an effect within a certain sector but come to influence the economy of the entire country. Without stronger regulation, everyone will stand at a loss as the value of labor falls with companies being able to ignore worker’s rights.

What is the response?

As Argentina sees stable numbers in the informal economies, efforts to reform this sector continue to fall short. According to Dr. Montero Bressan, the government of Argentina has done little to improve the rights of informal workers. In recent years, fines for specific sectors were blanketed, preventing companies from being fined when they leave workers unregistered. From his perspective, Argentina has weak labor laws that can provide little security. Dr. Montero Bressan has stated that if one were to be fired from an informal job, the employer could be taken to trial, however, the only likely result would be compensation. Such compensation gives laborers some value for their work, however, one-time compensation will not fix the problem of informality. Employees will find themselves back in poverty and seeking informal employment once the compensation runs out.

Informal employment generates consequences from the very beginning as worker’s rights are denied. For Argentina, the informal sector poses an extensive problem for both informal workers and the larger economy as informality decreases wages in the country. The informal sector has a strong connection with poverty as this means of labor is generally common in poor households. This sector, however, is not sustainable and the government of Argentina must respond by providing protection for workers and holding companies accountable for failing to register their employees.

– Ana Paola Asturias

Photo: Flickr

Increased Information TransparencyThe ready-made garment (RMG) industry is a significant source of growth for Bangladesh’s rapidly developing economy. Bangladesh is the world’s second-largest exporter of garments, and the garment industry in Bangladesh employs 4.4 million workers in more than 4600 factories. However, the size and complexity of the industry leads to poor working conditions and exploitative labor practices. These practices often do not garner attention until a tragic disaster happens, like the Rana Plaza collapse. As such, there is an urgent need for increased information transparency in the garment industry in Bangladesh to improve labor rights and workplace safety for these millions of workers. The digital initiative Mapped in Bangladesh is stepping up to the challenge.

Rana Plaza: Leaving a Legacy of Responsibility

The Rana Plaza building, located in Dhaka, Bangladesh, housed five garment factories that supplied American brands. Its 2013 collapse is one of the world’s worst industrial disasters, killing at least 1,1232 people and injuring 2,500 more. In the wake of the tragedy, activists and consumers worldwide demanded the codification of workplace safety standards. However, the lack of transparency surrounding which brands used the building to produce their garments concealed the companies involved. In fact, people had to dig through rubble for loose clothing labels to confirm which companies worked at Rana Plaza.

As such, the Rana Plaza collapse was an eye-opening example of how a lack of transparency costs lives. It indicated that the first step toward reforming the garment industry in Bangladesh requires greater visibility of workers and their working conditions. Although companies saw a lack of transparency in their supply chain as a competitive advantage, disclosing of supplier factory information actually drives profits. Indeed, 85% of executives from the apparel and footwear industries say that “transparency is either extremely or very important to the industries’ success.”

Consumers’ focus on ethical manufacturing has also driven this call for reform. A survey from Accenture found that when consumers’ values do not align with a company’s position on social, ethical, and environmental issues, 42% of consumers will step away from the brand. Further, 21% will never buy from that company again. In this way, transparency serves as a tool for accountability. It provides consumers with the information they need to make more informed shopping choices and demand more ethical practices. That said, the push for information transparency requires more than shifting consumer preferences.

Mapped in Bangladesh

A promising milestone for information transparency in the garment industry in Bangladesh comes from Mapped in Bangladesh (MiB). Implemented by the Centre for Entrepreneurship Development at Brac University, this initiative has collected and published a comprehensive database of RMG export-oriented factories. It formats this information as an interactive, digital map reminiscent of Google Maps. The initiative came about as a pilot project in response to the Rana Plaza Collapse. As a stakeholder of the RMG industry explained, “If we had such a map during the Rana Plaza tragedy, we could have reacted more quickly.”

Syed Hasibuddin Hussain, the project manager for MiB, outlined their methodology to The Borgen Project. Despite not knowing the exact number of factories, the team determined the general industrial areas where they exist. Because single factories interact with the larger RMG system, they rarely exist in remote villages.

From there, they decided the most effective method would be a door-to-door census on the streets of the industry’s four major districts. Hussain described the process as using “the snowball effect to identify additional factories,” no matter how dispersed individual factories are within a cluster. As of August 2020, the MiB site displays complete data sets from the Dhaka, Gazipur, and Narayanganj districts. The researchers expect to add the last major district’s data in 2021.

Mapping Transparency for Consumers

The project aims to fill the absence of an authenticated and continuously updated method of tracing RMG producers. Additionally, it serves as an alternative to sources with unverified secondary information. Hussain added that MiB can authenticate some data points directly. These include factory name, address, certifications, products made, export countries and worker’s participation committees. However, it is impossible to completely validate information like the number of workers and their demographic breakdown.

MiB’s formal data validation process also involves cross-checking for consistency with both brands and other outside sources. Specifically, it verifies memberships with certain associations and again with the factory at a later date. When MiB finds contradictory information during the verification process, it flags the data. This lets the consumer make the final call for their purchases.

Some factories lie about which brands’ products they manufacture for marketing purposes, but brands themselves also challenge the data. Hussain shared, “Initially, we thought this transparency would be attacked by the local associations, but it was unexpected for us that brands would come in and falsify their reporting,” even when the factories show proof that they do manufacture said brands. These inconsistencies highlight exactly why transparency in the garment industry in Bangladesh is so important.

The Impact of COVID-19 Moving Forward

COVID-19 has hit Bangladesh’s RMG industry especially hard. At the end of April 2020, 1,149 factories reported that brands canceled orders for more than $3.16 billion worth of garments. In the wake of these economic impacts, activists are concerned that progress on worker protections and safety regulations after the Rana Plaza collapse will disappear.

In May and July of 2020, MiB surveyed export-oriented RMG factories to create a COVID-19 specific map. It found that a large part of the garment industry in Bangladesh is back in action. “It seems like things are getting normal, but one of the questions we asked is about how optimistic they are about the immediate future, and we found out that people were extremely pessimistic,” said Hussain. There is a possibility that factories are using their current capacity for orders that were initially canceled and recently reinstated.

Perhaps the pessimism also results from in the market uncertainty facing workers during the upcoming winter season. With the current quarantines in many Western markets, the RMG industry is not working on a natural order pipeline. Though factories traditionally produce knits and coats in the winter season, demand is sure to change with people staying home. With this added unpredictability for workers who already live under extreme financial uncertainty, the garment industry in Bangladesh requires increased information transparency now more than ever.

Christine Mui
Photo: Wikimedia

Poverty in Qatar
Ever since the International Federation of Association Football’s (FIFA) announcement that Qatar would host the 2022 World Cup, migrant flows to the country have exploded. Since 2010, Qatar has sought to bring thousands of workers to its shores in order to assist in the construction of stadiums, hotels and other infrastructure necessary to facilitate the tournament. To meet this demand, migrants from all over the Persian Gulf region, we well as South Asia, have flooded into the country. Migrants hoped to escape dire straits in order to find a stable job and a stable income. In fact, 700,000 workers came from India alone. However, migrant poverty in Qatar has become a significant issue.

Migrants in Qatar

According to Human Rights Watch, the migrant labor force has reached over 2 million, making up approximately 95% of the labor force. However, despite being the second richest country in the world with a GDP per capita of $124,500 in 2017, a lack of labor rights has created widespread poverty in Qatar, especially among migrants.

The reason poverty persists among workers is the kafala sponsorship system. Migrants have to apply for visas from employers, often incurring costs through recruiters to do so. Even if workers do manage to pay enough to get access to a job, employers have broad controls over what workers can do. Employers often take passports from workers, preventing them from escaping brutal conditions. Additionally, some workers have gone with little to no pay. This has led to hundreds of thousands of people living in labor camps, where disease and poverty are rampant.

Solutions

In 2017 and 2018, Qatar’s government passed policies intended to reduce migrant poverty in Qatar. In October 2017, the government established a temporary minimum wage for migrant workers in the hopes of improving the conditions of laborers. One year later, in October 2018, Amnesty International reported that Qatar implemented a support and insurance fund in order to protect workers from lost wages.

However, Human Rights Watch reports that both of these reforms were implemented unevenly, and thus have not had much of an effect. Employers still have a lot of control over workers, and poor enforcement has meant that the kafala structure is still in place.

On August 30, 2020, Qatar announced two new reforms in order to rectify this issue. The first was an increase in the existing minimum wage. The law will take effect in January 2021, and also requires employers to pay workers a stipend for food and housing. The second was a law to allow workers to leave their jobs without having express permission from their employers. This mobility could allow workers to escape dangerous conditions and find better work.

Such reforms could even save lives, as even the lowest estimates indicate that at least 1,200 people have died working on World Cup stadiums due to harsh conditions. International watchdogs have applauded these reforms. Amnesty International argues that these small steps provide some hope that migrant poverty in Qatar, as well as worker exploitation, will soon be on the decline.

– Thomas Gill
Photo: Flickr

Cambodian garment industryThe Cambodian economy is heavily reliant on the garment industry, and the global garment industry is heavily reliant on Cambodia. The nation accounts for 45% of employed garment manufacturers worldwide. As of 2011, the industry was responsible for 80% of Cambodia’s total exports. However, Cambodia is also infamous for its poor treatment of factory workers, particularly in the garment industry. Here are six facts to understand labor rights violations in the Cambodian garment industry. 

Facts About Labor Rights Violations in the Cambodian Garment Industry

  1. Fixed duration contracts lead to worker insecurity. Employers in the Cambodian garment industry have largely shifted from undetermined duration, or long-term, contracts to fixed-duration, or short-term, contracts. The employers said the shift was in the interest of competitive, flexible business. In reality, fixed-duration contracts have resulted in increased job insecurity, reduced enforcement of international labor laws, industrial relation breakdowns and massive strikes. 
  2. Production targets create high-pressure work environments. To meet quotas, workers are often either forced to work overtime or enticed to do so with a small bonus that is usually never paid. In addition, some workers are often too intimidated to take breaks, even to use the bathroom or drink water.   
  3. Gender discrimination is common. More than 90% of workers in the Cambodian garment industry are women, mostly from rural areas with only a primary school education. One example of gender discrimination is pregnancy-based discrimination, which is abundant in the industry. Employers are known to refuse employment to pregnant women, refuse to renew the contracts of women who become pregnant or even fire pregnant women as their due dates approach. Even if pregnant women remain employed, they receive no workplace accommodations and often have to quit due to fatigue.
  4. Factories frequently violate child labor laws. Though the minimum age requirement for employment in Cambodia is 15, many factories employ children between the ages of 12 and 14. Employers often require children to work long past their eight-hour workday maximum and pay them below minimum wage. To hide this violation, some employers tell the children to hide when visitors come to the factory.
  5. The government often busts unions. There were concentrated efforts to bust unions in at least 35 factories from 2012 to 2015. In December 2013, the Cambodian Minister of Labor introduced obstacles to union formation. The challenges included delaying union certification and giving factory management time to retaliate against union members. Similarly, poor government inspection of factories and labor law enforcement makes it nearly impossible for small unions to assert their rights. 
  6. The Cambodian Ministry of Labor is making significant changes. In January of 2019, the Ministry of Labor introduced several labor law reforms. Among these was the introduction of bimonthly salary payments and seniority payments: compulsory, periodic payments made to employees with long term contracts. The government also introduced severance payments, which require employers to pay fixed-term contract employees at the end of a contract. 

Many people in the Cambodian garment industry face labor rights violations due to a lack of enforcement of labor laws. However, the Cambodian government and international fashion retailers are taking measures to improve working conditions. These measures are the first step to creating better environments and living wages for Cambodian garment workers.

– Caroline Warrick-Schkolnik
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Labor Exploitation at Foxconn ChinaFoxconn China is a major factory town in Shenzhen, China. It is a factory town that a Taiwanese company called Foxconn created. Foxconn is one of the largest contract electronics manufacturers in the world. People commonly refer to the town as Foxconn City and it employs over 350,000 workers. Foxconn bans the outside world from entering its large factory town. Major tech companies, such as Apple, Amazon, Dell, Google and Hewlett-Packard, contracts Foxconn to produce electronics. Here is some information about the labor exploitation at Foxconn China.

Labor Exploitation at Foxconn China

In 2010, labor exploitation at Foxconn China came into the spotlight when numerous workers committed suicide by throwing themselves off their dorm buildings. Reports determined that there were 18 suicide attempts and 14 confirmed accounts of death in 2010. One might question if the working conditions changed in 2019.

Labor exploitation at Foxconn China takes on multiple forms. On a surface level, all of the line workers at Foxconn China seem to be full-time employees. What many do not know, however, is that many line workers at Foxconn China are part-time student workers. These part-time workers are usually students from Chinese trade schools who are “interning” at Foxconn’s factories. These so-called internships are usually underpaid line jobs.

These part-time student workers are in danger of labor exploitation at Foxconn China. Oftentimes, these “interns” only receive $3.15 per hour. In 2019, Amazon.com came under scrutiny for violating Chinese labor law concerning these student laborers. In China Labor Watch’s 2019 report, the organization accused Amazon’s Foxconn factory of violating the Chinese student worker laws. Because each intern worker receives a production quota, they must do overtime and night shifts, which Chinese labor law does not allow.

The Reality of Labor Exploitation

The Guardian’s 2017 report gives a glimpse into labor exploitation at Foxconn China. Suicide notes and interviews with suicide survivors reported that workers at Foxconn China experience long workdays, harsh management and minimal pay. The Guardian interviewed a young man named Xu. Xu told the Guardian that the management of Foxconn China is often harsh to its workers. According to Xu, managers of Foxconn factories often publicly humiliate workers for being slow or make promises that they will not keep. In one case, Xu stated that a manager promised to pay double for overtime hours but only gave regular pay. This kind of degradation and inhumane work hours seems to be the root cause of suicides in Foxconn.

In 2019, Apple and Foxconn came under scrutiny for breaking the Chinese labor law. China Labor Watch’s investigation revealed that, as of August 2019, 50 percent of the workers in Foxconn City were temporary workers. According to Chinese labor law, only a maximum of 10 percent of a company’s employees can be part-time workers. In addition, the Chinese Labor Watch accused Foxconn China of making its student interns and workers do overtime. Chinese labor law on student internships does not allow student interns to work overtime or night shifts. While Apple denied many of the accusations, Apple did admit that the number of part-time workers in its Foxconn facilities exceeded the Chinese labor law’s regulation.

The Future for Foxconn Workers

Li Qiang, the director of China Labor Watch, gave a piece of hopeful news in her interview with a software company called Moz. Li pointed to a couple of improvements that Apple made in regards to fostering better working conditions for its line workers. Apple started to issue reports on the state of working conditions for its factories overseas. In addition, some experts suggested that a decrease in iPhone sales might also help the Chinese line workers. Due to the falling sales numbers, Foxconn had to cut back on both employee counts and overtime hours. As a result, many manufacturing employees are quitting their jobs, which may force the factories and management to treat their next round of employees better.

It is true that Foxconn China has not made any major improvements since the 2010 suicides. However, it is clear that major companies such as Apple are making an effort to improve the lives of the Chinese line workers at Foxconn China. While these minor improvements on labor exploitation at Foxconn China might not look like enough, it is the collection of these small changes that can bring about a major change and improvement. As long as there are people who closely monitor the labor exploitation in Foxconn China, there will be future improvements for the workers in China.

YongJin Yi
Photo: Flickr

Labor reforms in Qatar
In the prelude to the 2022 FIFA World Cup, Qatar received relentless criticism on migrants’ working conditions from the international community and mass media, causing the government to transform its labor system and uphold the rights of migrant workers through sweeping reforms.

Kafala System

Qatar’s kafala system ties migrant workers’ visas to their employers by requiring them to obtain their permission (a no-objection certificate) in order to change jobs. This, in turn, gives the employer entire control over the exit visa of his employees. This sponsorship and visa system not only leads to abuses and exploitation of labor practices, including the confiscation of migrant workers’ passports, but it also prevents a local domestic labor market from operating. Thus, radical labor reforms in Qatar are necessary in order for the country to develop itself according to international standards and to modernize its economy.

Recent Reforms

One of the significant steps Qatar made in 2017 was concluding a cooperation accord with the International Labor Organization (ILO). It stated that it would set a minimum wage and promised to repeal the kafala system. Later in 2017, Qatar introduced a temporary minimum wage of 750 Qatari Rial (approximately $200) and plans on introducing a non-discriminatory minimum wage by the end of 2019, making it the first country in the Gulf region to do so. These labor reforms in Qatar will improve migrant workers’ rights significantly, which will not only increase their working conditions but also their motivation to work, resulting in a more efficient and productive economy. In addition, Law No. 13 entered into force in October 2018, stating that migrant workers would no longer need their employers’ permission to enter and exit the country. These laws contribute to transforming Qatar’s current system into a modern industrial relations system.

Ending the Kafala System

However, Qatar still has not abolished the kafala system which caused hundreds of workers to go on strike and protest in August 2019. This is barring the fact that Qatari law strictly bans joining unions and participating in strikes. Protesting workers have reported that they have not received pay for months and are not receiving their renewed working permits from their employers, making it illegal for them to stay in the country. Consequently, Qatar’s Minister of Administrative Development, Labour and Social Affairs announced that the reform ending the Kafala system will enter into force in January 2020, facilitating the efficacy of the other recently introduced reforms as a whole.

Issue of Irregular Migration

Although positive, these reforms and Labor Laws do not cover migrant domestic workers with a local Qatari contract, meaning that the Labor Law does not protect them and they cannot seek assistance from the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs. By excluding migrant domestic workers, Qatar is not tackling the issue of irregular migrants and the illegality of employment, which is a major concern for the local authorities. The Sponsorship Law binds domestic migrant workers to their employers, and so, if they suffer abuse, they are likely to abscond and either seek illegal work in the country or attempt to return to their home country. An underground informal labor market developed in Qatar due to the high number of irregular workers looking for work, which is a predominant issue for the government. Indeed, one of the key objectives included in the Qatar National Vision 2030 is to develop a knowledge-based economy consisting of highly skilled people and reduce Qatar’s dependency on low-skilled foreign nationals. Therefore, the inclusion of domestic migrant workers and resolving the issue of irregular/illegal workers is essential for Qatar’s plan to become a modern economy with highly-skilled people.

The current labor reforms in Qatar are a major step towards improving the human rights of the millions of migrant workers living in the country, in addition to contributing to the development of Qatar’s fast-growing economy. Despite the implementation of these laws seeming interminable, Qatar focuses on long-lasting and profound changes in its labor market with the help and recognition of international organizations such as the ILO and the United Nations.

Andrea Duleux
Photo: Pixabay

Global Infancia

Global Infancia is a nongovernmental organization (NGO) that specializes in protecting children from abuse in Paraguay. It was founded in 1995, “Global Infancia works towards creating a culture which respects the rights of children and adolescents in Paraguay.”

It has attempted to promote the human rights of children in a myriad of ways, ranging from creating a branch of the government tasked with protecting children to founding a news agency focusing on children’s rights. Global Infancia represents the blueprint for a successful NGO because of its ability to form partnerships with governments, influence local communities, and follow through with its goals.

Partnerships with Governments

Studies have estimated that roughly 60 percent of children in Paraguay have been victims of violence. Faced with this fact, Global Infancia worked with the National Secretariat for Childhood and Adolescence along with the Paraguayan Government to pass a law stating “all children and adolescents have the right to be treated properly and with respect for their physical, psychological and emotional well-being. This includes protections for their image, identity, autonomy, ideas, emotions, dignity and individual values”.

Additionally, Global Infancia spearheaded the forming of Municipal Councils for the Rights of Children and Adolescence who have become instrumental in protecting children’s rights throughout Paraguay. Global Infancia’s work is proof of how a successful NGO can form fruitful partnerships with local governments.

Integration into the Local Community

Since the end of authoritarian rule in Paraguay, it has been working to integrate itself into local communities and promote the recognition of children’s rights. In the town of Remansito, Global Infancia is providing supplementary nutrition and school support to over 1,000 children. Approximately 22 percent of Paraguayans live below the poverty line. The child labor force of participation with a rate of 25 percent, shows that the conditions for many children in Paraguay are not ideal.

However, Global Infancia recognized these problems and has created national media campaigns to raise awareness for children’s rights and used training forums around the country to educate the public that violence against children will no longer be tolerated. Finally, Global Infancia has harnessed the power of local communities by “installing an alert system which reduces the demand for childhood labor”. These actions illustrate how a successful NGO employs the power of the communities they are working in.

Accomplishing Goals

At its inception, it was primarily focused on fighting the trafficking of babies and children. Today it has evolved into a children’s rights organization with a bevy of goals. Whether it be their success at establishing legal rights for children in Paraguay or the founding of CODENIS bodies which protect children throughout the country today, Global Infancia has had a considerable impact on Paraguayan society. In a 2017 report by the United States Department of Labor, experts found significant advancement in Paraguay’s fight to end child labor.

However, the current situation still puts many children in danger, requiring more resources to fully end child labor. With the help of Global Infancia and the multitude of other successful NGO’s, there are no doubts that Paraguay will continue to see improvements to children’s rights.

Overall, Global Infancia is a perfect example of how a successful NGO operates. From its crucial government and community partnerships to their impressive track record of accomplishing its goals.

Myles McBride Roach

Photo: Flickr

Labor Unions in MexicoIn May 2019, workers won the right to form labor unions in Mexico. According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), seven out of 10 Mexicans live in poverty or vulnerability. Meanwhile, the country’s minimum wage is $5.40 a day. Below are 10 facts about labor unions in Mexico and the promise of their implementation to alleviate Mexican poverty.

10 Facts About Labor Unions in Mexico

  1. Before the start of labor reform, thousands of Mexican workers went on strike for better pay, safer working conditions and union representation. The strikes shut down dozens of factories, resulting in 48 assembly plants agreeing to the workers’ demands.
  2. By granting workers the right to form labor unions, they can now engage in collective bargaining. This means that workers in Mexico, organized in a union, can negotiate their own pay, benefits and workplace conditions. Furthermore, they can provide a safeguard against workplace harassment and unlawful business practices.
  3. Many Mexican workers are already members of a union. Due to the fact that these unions completely exclude workers from their processes, however, others have dubbed them ghost unions. Employers establish these unions and they largely exist only on paper. Upon hiring, companies make workers join their union, which prevents workers from forming their own union and negotiating terms themselves. In fact, companies in Mexico force nine out of 10 union contracts without the consent, and sometimes knowledge, of their workers.
  4. Mexican President López Obrador implemented the new labor laws. He did this along with both branches of the Mexican congress in order to raise living standards, reduce crime and discourage migration to the United States. The left-wing president promises to carry out a “radical transformation” in Mexico, focusing on the needs of the poor and rooting out corruption.
  5. Wages in Mexico have fallen far behind the rate of inflation. The average hourly wage for a factory worker in Mexico, traditionally a unionized job, is approximately $2. Collective bargaining gives workers the right to negotiate wages, ensuring that workers have the efficacy to reduce the gap between inflation and pay.
  6. Depending on the collective bargaining contract, many unions provide protections against workplace harassment and unjust employee termination. Human Rights Watch (HRW) identifies forced pregnancy tests and mistreatment of migrant workers as areas of particular concern in Mexico. Employee complaints led to no change in business practices, but union contracts give workers the opportunity to push the issue in order to protect the most vulnerable among them.
  7. HRW and Mexican workers cite unsafe workplace conditions. These indicate employees need more robust labor protections. President Obrador campaigned on a promise to improve workers’ conditions through union representation. The need for better conditions is clear; HRW described some workplaces in Mexico as “life-threatening.”
  8. According to the OECD, 71 percent of the value created by corporations in Mexico goes to shareholders. On the other hand, workers receive only 28 percent. Employees in the United States, on the other hand, have a 69 percent share, and shareholders receive 21 percent of the value created. The disproportionate share exists as evidence of a lack of workers’ representation and labor unions in Mexico can help reverse the trend.
  9. The North American Free Trade Agreement included provisions in order to protect workers’ rights. According to HRW, people often ignored those provisions, especially in Mexico. The recent labor reform comes on the heels of a renegotiated trade deal, the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement. The USMCA seeks to, among other things, reduce the gap between workers’ protections in all three signatories.
  10. While labor unions will not completely alleviate Mexican poverty, the country can expect to make some gains. As the share of the value created by corporations becomes more evenly distributed among workers, the Mexican economy will benefit as a whole. Put simply, a larger share of the money will remain in Mexico due to union representation.

Stronger worker protections in Mexico promise to strengthen its middle-class and help the poor. By reducing the degree of poverty, Mexico can also expect to enjoy greater stability. Labor unions in Mexico present an opportunity for economic expansion, foreign investment and an entirely new market for consumer goods.

– Kyle Linder
Photo: Google Images