Information and stories on Labor category

workers in BangladeshBangladesh’s economy is mostly dependent on the textile/garment industry. Garments account for around 80% of the country’s exports. Some 3.5 million workers in Bangladesh, 85% of which are women, work long hours with pay too low to support themselves and their families. Not only is the pay low but they also work in cramped, dangerous conditions without any financial protection. Majority-female workers are also subject to sexual harassment and other forms of sexism in the workplace.

Moreover, in the recent global climate, many factories have shut down resulting in layoffs, pay cuts and a struggling economy (not to mention workforce). Many of these factory workers are struggling to make ends meet; forced to figure out just how to survive. Here are three ways that the garment workers of Bangladesh are struggling.

3 Ways Garment Workers in Bangladesh Are Struggling

  1. Working conditions in sweatshops are hazardous and violate workers’ rights. These workers often work long hours and have little time between shifts. They have very little workspace as it is typically cramped with other workers. This makes for quite a dangerous working environment. Making matters worse, factory owners have taken strides to limit and prevent labor unions from forming, even though they are legal. These factory owners are suppressing their workers and taking advantage of the situation.
  2. The Covid-19 pandemic has greatly affected these laborers. Workers in the factories were struggling to get by — even before the pandemic closed many factories and lowered the level of garment exports. Many Western brands have canceled their orders from the factories due to decreased sales resulting from the pandemic. Western companies canceled their orders — a large percentage of them. This hurt both the factories and the workers. Factory owners are no longer able to pay their workers and 58% of factory owners reported having to shut down their factories because of such low demand. Management then consequently lays off many of these struggling workers. Without jobs, they have no way to support themselves and certainly not a family.
  3. Even though women account for 85% of the textile workforce in Bangladesh — they are still given neither the rights nor conditions they deserve. Women face sexual harassment and improper maternity leave. While the government guarantees maternity leave for at least 100 days for their first two children — one report noted that around 50% of all women interviewed in said report never enjoyed the proper break. Many of the women who do get maternity leave have to return to a lower position, regardless of the fact that it is illegal for companies to demote a woman simply because of maternity leave.

Organizations Making an Effort

Global Giving is a non-government organization that aims to educate women working in sweatshops and lift them out of poverty. The hope is that in turn, they would also encourage others to do the same by fighting for their rights. Global Giving is a great organization to support because not only does it directly improve the lives of individual women, it also helps women as a whole become more equal and independent. This may help women stray away from sweatshops.

Workers’ Rights

Bangladesh is facing widespread hardship within its working-class because of inadequate and unfair treatment. Adding to the already unsustainable pay — the global pandemic has caused even more layoffs and pay cuts than pre-outbreak outbreak times. The problem that existed before the pandemic was simply highlighted in these recent months. Sweatshop workers in Bangladesh are of course worthy of fair treatment and should receive the rights they deserve.

Samira Akbary
Photo: Flickr

Homelessness in QatarThough Qatar may be known for its gleaming skyline and booming business hub, there is notable income inequality that leads to downstream consequences, such as an explosion of homelessness within the nation. While perhaps the country evokes images of riches and wealth, the reality is not so for all those living and working within the country. Here are six facts about homelessness in Qatar that warrant everyone’s attention.

6 Facts About Homelessness in Qatar

  1. As a result of the economic boom during the last 40 years in this small nation in the Middle East, Qatar has gone on a massive building spree. To maintain this rapid pace of building, the country has relied primarily on migrant immigrants to help construct the city. These migrant workers have been subjected to repulsive conditions. Worse yet, the Qatari government could historically do more when it comes to basic human needs for these vulnerable, migrant workers.
  2. Many migrant workers, unable to afford accommodation, sleep at the construction sites in which they work. The companies that sponsor these migrant workers for construction projects in the city do not provide sufficient wages. Furthermore, these same employers do not provide any type of housing to support thousands of workers. Therefore, many migrant workers end up sleeping outside.
  3. An Amnesty International report on the construction of the future FIFA World Cup site in Qatar looked into the mistreatment of these migrant workers. Most notably, the report focused on migrant workers’ unfair treatment concerning housing securement. The report identified multiple individuals who were priced out of their affordable rental housing, due to their company delaying salary payments.
  4. Those who are homeless in Qatar face consequences from all angles of society. The government often views these workers as expendable — thrown into subjugated parts of society and subject to threats from criminals and police alike. These actors take advantage of the migrant workers already poor situation. Without proper living conditions, living on the streets can be quite difficult, especially if one lacks the required documentation and visas.
  5. The government of Qatar has been investing in improving labor conditions for workers. In addition, the government is addressing homelessness in Qatar, more broadly. Encampments like “Labour City,” funded by the State of Qatar’s private engineering office, is an area designed to house over 100,000 migrant workers. The new residences are significant improvements from previous accommodations. Some features of these new residences including access to the internet, green spaces and larger living areas — a far cry from a life on the streets.
  6. Private firms have also been investing in migrant laborers’ living conditions. Barwa Al Baraha, a subsidiary of a private property management business in Qatar, has built residences that can house up to 53,000 people in significantly improved living conditions.

Protecting Vulnerable Populations

While the nation of Qatar has experienced economic success in recent decades, there is no guarantee that the fruits of this success will be distributed equitably. In contrast, some marginalized and vulnerable populations (e.g., migrant workers) within Qatari society are at a higher risk of exploitation, simply due to their life circumstances. Through a concerted effort from both public and private initiatives, labor and living conditions for migrant workers are improving in Qatar and these efforts must continue.

Zak Schneider
Photo: Wikimedia

Women's Rights in Nepal
To women in Nepal, the thought of gender equality and the solidification of women’s rights is difficult to imagine. In Nepal, people discriminate against women socially, legally, culturally and physically. In an interview with thinkEQUAL, a project by the World Bank, a woman in Nepal said that “Women have fewer rights. If there was equality, life would be easier for us.” Here is some information about women’s rights in Nepal.

Poverty and Land Ownership for Women in Nepal

Nepal, home of Mount Everest, is a small country landlocked between China and India. In Nepal, gender inequality exists in marriages, property, menstruation and occupations. It also dramatically contributes to the number of impoverished women living in the country. The number of impoverished people in Nepal has steadily decreased from 25.2% in 2011 to 21.6% in 2018. However, women and men are nowhere near equal in terms of poverty.

The Nepalese constitution provides some protection for female citizens. However, the country has not fully enforced this protection. For instance, in Nepal, only 19.7% of women own land, and of that percentage, only 11% have control over their land. Thus, many Nepalese women’s lives fall into the hands of their husbands or fathers. The concept of owning land is essential to provide and promote women’s rights in Nepal. This is because it encourages men to see women as equals rather than a sexual or monetary object.

Marriage and Labor for Women in Nepal

Oftentimes, because women have little autonomy, their families arrange marriages for them. In Nepal, child marriage is extremely common, with 37% of girls merrying before 18 years of age. The pervasiveness of child marriage further diminishes women’s rights in Nepal. Child marriage reinforces traditionally domestic practices like staying home and taking care of young children. This is because these adolescents are often quick to become pregnant.

Since these young women are busy at home with their children, this leads to great disparities in the workplace. This further contributes to women’s poverty and, at times, a lack of respect and dignity from their male counterparts. In Nepal, the female labor force is less than half of the male labor force. Only 26.3% of women are in the workforce. Additionally, the national gross domestic product leaves out a woman’s unpaid domestic work. This further devalues the work that women perform, and further entrenching the patriarchal ideal Nepal runs on.

Menstruation in Nepal

Perhaps the most common instance of gender inequality in Nepal is the surplus of period poverty. Chhaupadi, a menstrual taboo custom in Nepal and other Asian countries, still exists despite its criminalization in 2017 by the Nepalese government. Chhapaudi occurs during menstruation and has existed for hundreds of years, despite many attempts for the practice to dissolve. The word Chhaupadi comes from a Nepali word that translates to some type of impurity. The practice of Chhaupadi forbids women and girls from staying in their homes. It also forbids them from participating in family or daily activities because they are menstruating.

While they are menstruating, people consider these women toxic. Therefore, they must stay in small huts, sometimes smaller than a closet, far from family members and friends. Rocks and mud typically make up the walls of these huts. The women essentially cannot leave until menstruation is over. Yet, due to the construction of these huts and environmental circumstances, at least one female dies every year from Chhaupadi. Oftentimes, it is due to the cold temperatures, animal attacks or smoke inhalation. During menstruation, women cannot return to their homes. This is because the tradition has made them and their families fear that bad fortune will come to them. Despite the efforts for ending Chhaupadi, the tradition is deeply ingrained in the minds of Nepalese people. As many as 89% of menstruating girls face discrimination.

Organizations Helping Nepalese Women

Despite the traditions and societal structure that dampen women’s rights in Nepal, nonprofit organizations based in the U.S. and abroad are hard at work to save, support and uplift Nepalese women. Organizations like the Women’s Foundation Nepal and Womankind Worldwide are making strides for women in Nepal. As a result of the work Womankind Worldwide has done with other Nepalese-based organizations, the Nepali Congress Party has shifted its focus to female leadership, reserving two seats for Dalit (oppressed) women. Additionally, Womankind Worldwide partnered with the Feminist Dalit Organization (FEDO). As a result, three Dalit women trained by FEDO joined the Nepalese Dalit Movement.

Through the Women’s Foundation Nepal, community programs have emerged. These programs provide safe shelter and psychological and legal help to victimized women and children. Since 1995, the Women’s Foundation Nepal has run a women’s shelter that currently houses over 70 women and children.

Nepalese women need more changes to ensure their success and welfare. Until then, several organizations have taken a stand. They will continue to foster a safe, comfortable and liveable environment for Nepalese women.

– Caitlin Calfo
Photo: Flickr

Indian women
The coronavirus is disproportionately affecting women across the globe, setting back progress for global gender equality. Confined inside homes, women are shouldering more of the housework and childcare than their husbands, fathers and brothers. In India, a country where women are expected to fulfill homemaking roles, the gender disparities in housework between men and women are only growing more apparent, especially as more women exit the workforce. For Indian women, domestic unpaid labor consumes hours of their days and limits them to a life of financial dependence on their partners or a life of poverty. In India, two-thirds of the population lives in poverty. With the unemployment rate being as high as 18% for Indian women, compared to 7% for men in India, it’s inevitable that women make up a large percentage of this impoverished population.

Women’s Unpaid Role in India

While men in India complete less than an hour of unpaid labor each day, Indian women spend six hours of their day on unpaid labor. In comparison, men around the world typically spend around two hours a day on unpaid labor, while women spend four and a half hours.

Although the time and energy women put into cleaning and caring for children and the elderly are essential roles in economies, housework isn’t widely recognized as a form of labor. As part of their domestic responsibilities, Indian women must also retrieve water from wells, a chore that spans several hours and multiple trips in one day. Often lacking the aid of technology, Indian women must cook, clean and do laundry by hand.

Because women in India bear the burden of housework, they can’t maintain stable jobs outside their homes. This requires them to rely on their partners. This is in part due to the traditional patriarchal system India upholds. From a young age, Indian women are trained to fulfill roles inside the home. As a result, Indian women are excluded from the workforce, and young girls are pulled from schools to work inside the home, jeopardizing their education.

This reality has only grown over the years, as more and more women have exited the workforce. Over the past decade, the percentage of women in the workforce has dropped from 34% in 2004 to 25% in 2018, compared to the nearly 80% of men who work.

Why Female Employment Is Declining

The decline in female employment directly impacts Indian women’s risk of falling into poverty, as they are unable to financially support themselves. But up to 64% of women said they had to be responsible for housework as there were no other family members who would perform these responsibilities.

With a population of over 1.3 billion people, it’s increasingly difficult to secure a position in the Indian job market, and work positions designated for women are slim. On top of this, upon completing the same job as men, women earn 34% less in wages than their male coworkers. For women who manage to secure a job, their time is stretched thin as they complete both paid work and unpaid work. As a result, they are less likely to spend time on education, cultural and leisure activities.

There are exorbitant economic losses, though, when women are not welcomed into the workforce. According to an Oxfam report on female unpaid labor, the value of global unpaid labor performed by women amounts to at least $10.8 trillion annually, or, as the study suggests, “three times the size of the world’s tech industry.” By putting into context the monetary value of unpaid labor in society, the true economic loss of excluding Indian women from the workforce is undeniable.

In a step toward creating a more inclusive workforce environment for Indian women, the country passed the Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act in 2017. The amendment increased the number of weeks for paid maternity leave from 12 to 26 weeks. But this act hasn’t led to a significant change in female workforce employment. Instead, the act could continue to negatively impact female employment. Newly responsible for covering the cost of additional paid maternity leave, companies may be less inclined to hire female workers.

Combined with the recent growth in female education and declining fertility rates, India’s economy is primed for welcoming women into the workforce. But the country must strike a balance between paid and unpaid labor, a gendered expectation rooted in Indian tradition.

Closing the Gender Gap: One Indian Woman’s Petition

One Indian woman is especially determined to redefine gender roles in India. Juggling unpaid labor at home along with her involvement in a charity for reproductive justice, Subarna Ghosh realized she was shouldering the majority of housework —particularly since the pandemic forced her family to stay home.

In July 2020, Ghosh decided to draft a petition on Change.org and describe her experience as a working woman in India expected to perform the majority of the housework. “Unequal distribution of unpaid household work has rendered the harshest blow to women across India during this lockdown. Yet, women’s care work continues to be invisible and no one wants to address this gross imbalance,” she wrote.

Directing her efforts at India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Ghosh concluded her petition by calling on Modi to encourage Indian men to equally fulfill their share of housework. The petition has received over 75,000 signatures, mostly from women who stand in solidarity with Ghosh and relate to her experience.

Ghosh’s petition reflects the persistent struggle for female equality in India, as one woman’s experience echoes the experience of thousands. Only when women in India are given the same opportunities as men will they be able to earn their own financial independence.

Grace Mayer
Photo: Flickr

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

10 Facts about North Korean Labor Exporting

North Korea, or the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), is the most isolated and closed-off country to the rest of the international community. One of North Korea’s primary sources of foreign income is through their labor exportation. The U.S. Department of State estimates that 100,000 North Korean workers are working as the overseas labor exports of the North Korean government. It is also estimated that the North Korean export laborers generate $1.2 – $2.3 billion for the North Korean government. Here are 10 facts about North Korean labor exporting.

10 Facts about North Korean Labor Exporting

  1. North Korea’s isolated and closed economy is the source of its poor economy and labor export. North Korea’s economy is directly controlled and dictated by its government. The country’s estimated GDP in 2015 was $40 billion, compared to its neighbor South Korea’s $1.383 trillion. Because of the government’s heavy spending on the development of its military and nuclear arsenals, industries dedicated to civilian consumption are severely underfunded. The CIA’s 2019 profile of North Korea highlights the country’s shortage of fuel, arable land, poor soil quality and agricultural machinery. It also points out North Korea’s problem with human trafficking and forced labor.
  2. China and Russia are the primary importers of North Korean labor. Because of the country’s
    macroeconomic conditions and geographical proximity, the North Korean government has sustained economic ties with both the Russian and the Chinese government. According to a 2018 C4ADS report, there were approximately 30,000 DPRK nationals working in Russia. Some organizations also estimated that there were approximately 94,200 DPRK workers in China as of 2015. C4ADS is a nonprofit organization that provides data-driven analysis reports on global conflict and transnational security issues.
  3. North Korean labor exporting is not limited to manual labor. Historically, especially in for the male laborers in Russia, North Korean laborers worked in Russia’s Siberian timber industries. The majority of the female North Korean laborers worked in different North Korean themed restaurants and hotels in Russia and China. A recent investigation done by C4ADS, there is evidence of North Korean agents selling facial recognition software and battlefield radio systems to military organizations and police forces around the world. Many of these sellers when tracked by their IP addresses, seem to be based in Southeast Asia and the Middle East. Some police forces around the world, such U.K.’s police force, may unknowingly purchase advanced software products from organizations run by the North Korean agents.
  4. The Russian government claims that Russia’s employment of North Korean laborers is not contradicting any of the U.N. sections against DPRK. In 2017, the U.N. Resolution 2397 stated
    that all North Korean workers in foreign countries must be sent back to DPRK by December of 2019. The sanction also limited the DPRK’s import of petroleum to 500,000 barrels. Some claim that the Russian government’s employment of the North Korean workers and petroleum export to the DPRK is a form of foreign aid. CNN interviewed Alexander Gabuev, chair of the Russia in the Asia-Pacific Program at the Carnegie Moscow Center. Gabuev claimed that the Russian government’s aid to the North Korean government is a way of not “squeezing” the already desperate North Korean regime too hard.
  5. There is evidence of North Korean workers employed in Europe working in inhumane conditions. In March of 2019, the Worldcrunch investigation interviewed a North Korean worker who claimed that he was sent to the shipyard in Gdynia, Poland by the order of the North Korean regime. Working for a ship part manufacturing company named Crist, the North Korean worker told his story of the inhumane working conditions to which many North Korean workers are subjected. In one account, the worker told the story of Chon Kyongsu, who burned to death at the shipyard because he didn’t have a fireproof protective suit.
  6. Some exported North Korean workers sometimes defect from their workplaces. In April 2016, 13 North Korean restaurant workers from China defected to South Korea. A debate on whether this defection was out of their own free will or a cleverly planned trick by the restaurant manager to have the workers defect is still going on. These 13 defectors were the highlights of many news networks around the globe. Mr. Pak, a North Korean defector who was interviewed by the NK News, is among many other North Korean oversea laborers who defected from their workplace in Russia, China and the Middle East.
  7. Overseas labor is viewed as a privilege by many North Korean citizens. Mr. Pak was sent to Kuwait as a construction laborer by his government. Pak gives a detailed account of how he was selected as an oversea laborer. He met the North Korean regime’s criteria of becoming an oversea laborer by being a party member, married with children, having technical skills and having no previous access to classified information. However, Pak still had to bribe his examiner to have his certification approved.
  8. Many North Korean defectors struggle to adjust to the country of their defection. Even after defecting, the lives of the North Korean defectors don’t get easier. Post Magazine’s 2018 article gives a detailed story of two North Korean sisters living in South Korea after their defection. So Won, one of the sisters, described the cultural differences and prejudices she felt in South Korea. Small differences such as her fashion sense and having a North Korean accent to big issues such as the South Korean people’s prejudice against North Korean defectors made it hard to assimilate. Workers who defect to China risk the danger of getting arrested by the Chinese officials and get sent back to North Korea. If sent back, the consequence of which will be either execution or forced labor in a labor camp.
  9. There are many organizations that serve as Underground Railroad for many North Koreans. Organizations, such as Liberty In North Korea, rescue North Korean defectors by providing them with basic needs, transportations, accommodations and rescue fees for the staff and the partners of the underground railroad. According to the organization’s website, Liberty In North Korea’s rescue program managed to help 1,000 North Koreans in escaping the North Korean regime. Other underground organizations, whose volunteers are South Koreans, run safe houses and create many routes to smuggle North Korean defectors and foreign laborers out of North Korea and other countries.
  10. The South Korean government is taking measures to ensure the safety of the North Korean defectors. Many North Korean defectors go to China, Russia and countries in Southeast Asia before making their way to South Korea. While many neutral countries, mainly in Southeast Asia, serve as a brief respite in their journey to freedom, other countries such as China actively arrest North Korean defectors to deport them back to North Korea. This is because the Chinese government doesn’t view North Korean defectors as refugees. They are viewed as illegal economic migrants. South Korea’s Ministry of Unification, along with many other NGOs throughout the world, works to not only ensure the safety of North Korean defectors but also provide financial support for their resettlement in South Korea. The Ministry of Unification also didn’t completely disclose their methods for the sake of the safety of North Korean defectors.

North Korean foreign laborers face many hardships and dangers. Not only are they economically exploited but they are also suffering under the North Korean regime’s oppression of their rights and freedom. These 10 facts about North Korean labor exporting show that North Korea’s illicit means of sustaining their economy puts many North Korean families in danger of exploitation, human trafficking and violence. While this might look bleak, there are many people and organizations that are bringing the strife of North Koreans to the attention of the global community. They remind the world of how important it is to recognize the strife of people around the globe and do a small part to aid them.

YongJin Yi
Photo: Flickr

Living Conditions in San Marino
In the northeastern part of the Italian Peninsula lies San Marino, one of the world’s tiny micro states surrounded entirely by the country of Italy. Its modern form has shaped since 1463 and the country has maintained its autonomy until today. In fact, it is the world’s oldest republic. Here are the top 10 facts about living conditions in San Marino.

Top 10 Facts About Living Conditions in San Marino

  1. Population: As of 2019, there are 33,683 people living in San Marino. It has the fifth smallest population on Earth. Roughly 15 percent of the population are migrants and 53 percent are individuals within the working ages of 18 to 65. The nation’s official language is Italian. The poverty rate of the country is very low, so the country does not officially measure it.
  2. Education: Education is compulsory until the age of 14 and attendance is free. Almost the entire population has completed secondary school as the country has a 91 percent completion rate. Over 10 percent of government spending goes towards education. Citizens of San Marino mostly pursue college degrees in surrounding Italy or abroad.
  3. Economy:  Economic output relies heavily on finance and manufacturing. The banking sector accounts for more than half of the country’s GDP at roughly 60 percent. Corporate taxes are low in comparison to the EU and the standard of living is high.
  4. Health Care: Life expectancy in San Marino is 83.4 years old. Health care is not free, but a universal system exists parallel to a private system.  The Azienda Sanitaria Locale insurance fund provides the government system. There are six physicians for every 1,000 inhabitants as of 2014. Child mortality is extremely low with only one death in 2018.
  5. Government System: San Marino has nine municipalities and the country is a parliamentary, representative, democratic republic. The legislation is within two chambers and there are two captain regents as heads of state. The country directs foreign policy mostly towards aligning with the EU. Therefore foreign aid policy is similar to that in the European Union.
  6. Social Security: There is social insurance for the elderly and the disabled. Furthermore, there are survivorship benefits for the unemployed and the widowed even though the unemployment rate has reduced in the past years.
  7. Communications: As access to information can make a big difference in human development, an important aspect of the top 10 facts about living conditions in San Marino is the country’s access to this right. Its living standards reflect this. More than half of the population are active internet users and broadband is widely available. There are 38,000 cellphone subscriptions active today which is more than the entire population.
  8. Labor Conditions: The law forbids workplace discrimination for any reason. The state guarantees contracts and the minimum wage is 9.74 euros per hour. In general, labor conditions are safe with an eight-hour working day in guaranteed humane conditions. Meanwhile, as of 2018, the unemployment rate was only eight percent.
  9. NGOs in San Marino: There are no specific NGO projects in San Marino, but a number of NGOs do exist from time to time specially aiding in education and training as well as health. For instance, the British organization, Hope is Kindled, was present in 2006 with a project to advance health through medical and technological research.
  10. The Serene Republic: As a small enclave, San Marino does not have large natural reserves within its territory. Nonetheless, it shares the geography of surrounding Italy which is slightly mountainous and mild. It imports most of its resources and food. To be able to keep its stable political and social system while being dependant on other countries, it must be in good terms with its neighbors and the international community.

These top 10 facts about living conditions in San Marino demonstrate why this small nation has been able to maintain such serenity for more than six centuries. As a result, it has been able to ensure its citizen’s freedom and security in all aspects.

– Diego Vallejo Riofrio
Photo: Flickr

grape industrySouth Africa, a country located at the southern tip of Africa and bordered by the Atlantic Ocean and the Indian Ocean, is home to a vast number of grape plantations. Many of the grapes that come from these plantations are used to make wines first-world consumers enjoy. Popular brands include Capensis Chardonnay, Porseleinberg Syrah, and Ernie Els Signature Blend. But as delicious and luxurious as these wines may be, the grape industry they come from are using unfair labor tactics.

Unethical Conditions

A 2017 study done by Vinmonopolet, an alcoholic beverage retailer in Norway, exposed numerous grape plantations in South Africa where farmers were working under unethical conditions. These conditions include the following:

  • Facilities that lacking regular health and safety checks
  • Employees experiencing verbal harassment and physical harassment
  • Facilities not issuing employees with employment contracts
  • Employees being paid below minimum wage
  • Employers prohibiting employees from joining trade unions
  • Exposing workers to dangerous pesticides
  • Scheduling workers for 12-hour days with no overtime payment

While it is common for reporters to label these unfair labor tactics in the grape industry as “modern-day slavery,” many people do not ask why these exploitative practices from the past still exist. Seeking to start that conversation, the District Six Museum was founded.

Changing the Grape Industry

Built in 2017 in the South African city Cape Town, the District Six Museum’s goals are threefold:

  1. In order to understand how exploitation in the wine industry perpetuates itself, one must have knowledge of what came before.
  2. The first step to challenging the unfair labor tactics in the grape industry is to have conversations about the intergenerational trauma ingrained within this ongoing exploitation.
  3. Colonial-era methods and mentalities continue to influence current labor practices.

As tourism expands in South Africa, so does the wine industry. It is common for tourists to take advantage of the delicious wines during their stay. However, as the District Six Museum notes, the majority of tourists are clueless when it comes to both contemporary and historical unfair labor tactics in the grape industry. Through advocacy and bringing about awareness, the District Six Museum is working to change that.

Being fully aware of what the District Six Museum exposes, Fairtrade Africa, a nonprofit organization that represents all Fairtrade-certified products in Africa, is working to end the unfair labor tactics in the grape industry. Established in 2005, this nonprofit fights for the rights of all African harvesters — whether they be in the grape industry or not.

Through advocacy and various projects, Fairtrade Africa had many successes in their effort to combat the unfair labor tactics in the grape industry. For example, Fransmanskraal, a farm on the South African Western Cape province that supplies grapes to Place in the Sun Wines, was able to use the premiums they received from Fairtrade Africa to improve the quality of their educational and recreational facilities. These premiums, which are not aid but are generated from business transactions, gave school-aged children the opportunity to attend school in their hometown, to participate in local sports matches and to improve nutrition by building vegetable gardens. The premium even helped one woman named Alvercia Juries attend and graduate from the University of Western Cape, making her the first college graduate in the Fransmanskraal community.

Another project Fairtrade Africa took on in the grape industry was reducing the use of coal to generate electricity in the Stellar Organics wine cellars. Western Cape, where Stellar Organics is located, can get very hot during the summer months. That is not good because wine needs to be kept at a certain temperature in order to be made just right. This is why Fairtrade Africa helped improve the insulation of Stellar Organics’ wine cellars, so they wouldn’t have to use so much coal to keep their wines at the right temperature. Ultimately, this allowed them to save electrical costs, be more environmentally sustainable and enhance the quality of their fair-trade products.

Fairtrade Africa encourages advocacy aimed at ending unfair labor tactics in the grape industry and is always accepting donations.

– Emily Turner
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Labor
From 2010 to 2016, Vietnam’s poverty headcount ratio fell considerably from 20.7 to 9.8 percent of its population. Another significant amount of growth is reflected in Vietnam’s GDP, which increased from approximately $6.3 billion in 1989 to an estimated $205.3 billion in 2016. This extensive growth is linked to Vietnam’s reform in economic policy in the mid-1980’s, which in turn prompted labor reform in Vietnam.

Đổi Mới Economic Policy

In 1986, the Vietnam government initiated the Đổi Mới, a series of economic policy reforms that affected the country’s rapid recovery and furthered development.

The reform marked Vietnam’s transition from a centralized economy to an open-market one, otherwise known as an open door policy. The open door policy was intended “to promote a multi-sector economic system, emphasizing the state sector, while encouraging the private sector.”

According to the Social Watch, this change increased the gap between the rich and poor, which threatened the progress of poverty reduction.

Amid these economic policy changes and growing disparities between socioeconomic classes, labor rights came to the forefront in Vietnam’s policy agenda. Below are several examples of the reformed labor rights.

Formation of Labor Unions

The Human Rights Watch reported the formation of “independent trade unions” as a result of activist efforts in October 2006. These unions aimed to “protect the rights of workers” and “disseminate information about worker’s rights and exploitive and abusive labor conditions.”

For example, the United Worker-Farmers Organization of Vietnam and the Independent Worker’s Union of Vietnam supported farmers whose lands were taken. It is important to note that these “independent trade unions” are not officially acknowledged by Vietnam law.

Recorded Improvements

According to the World Bank, the gender gap is lessening. As of 2015, households led by women were “less likely to be poor than male-headed households” while the enrollment rates for girls and boys in primary and junior secondary school were almost equal.

In addition, the World Bank noted that women’s participation in the labour force “is within 10 percent of that of men”, a gap which is smaller than in most countries worldwide.

Labour Reform in Vietnam and Problems Today

Despite advances in labor reform in Vietnam, the move toward independent labor unions was halted when the U.S. left the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). In July 2017, The Diplomat noted that trade unions in Vietnam strongly relied on the financial support and management from the state. Furthermore, Vietnamese laws require contributions to a trade union fund from employers, effectively making trade unions financially dependent on employers.

This is especially concerning in the wake of the U.S. leaving the TPP, as it halted Vietnam’s labor rights reform. The Diplomat emphasized that “many people argued that the need for labor rights reform is gone because there is no more demand for reform from the United States.”

However, there is a solution to the current state of limited labor rights and corrupt workplaces.

Addressing Corruption with a Potential “Đổi Mới II”

Vietnam can counter corruption through reform, coined as “Đổi Mới II,” which focuses on fighting corruption and enhancing institutional legitimacy through increased democratization. By applying the rule of law more rigorously, governance can be improved.

Labor reform in Vietnam, while not occuring rapidly, is experiencing activism, protests, and potential uncertainty. Despite these factors, however, improvements are possible, especially with the “Đổi Mới II” reform policy and initiatives like introducing independent labor unions, which curtail corruption and advocate on behalf of Vietnam’s laborers.

Christine Leung

Photo: Flickr

Women in the Indian Workplace
India is the world’s second largest populated country with over 1.3 billion people living within its borders. Of these 1.3 billion, 60 percent live in poverty. Indian poverty is further exacerbated by a growing income inequality. According to the British charity, Oxfam, only the top 10 percent of people in India own the majority of the country’s wealth (80 percent). This has real-world consequences; three out of every four Indians still live in small rural villages, and seven out of twenty are illiterate. These statistics present serious challenges for India’s development.

If the majority of India’s population is too poor to buy consumer goods, the economy will not be able to grow as quickly. Complex as the issue of poverty in India may seem, there is one relatively simple and effective solution; fully incorporate women in the workplace in India.

How Women in the Workplace in India Will Help the Economy

According to Catalyst, an international nongovernmental organization (NGO) that works to represent women’s interests in the workplace, women access higher education in India at the same rates as men (27 percent). However, the labor statistics are a different story. Only about 29 percent of Indian women work compared to 82 percent of Indian men. This leaves the Indian economy at a developmental disadvantage. If the rate of women in the workplace in India jumped to a mere 40 percent by 2025, India could add $700 billion to its GDP.

Unfortunately, according to The Economist, instead of increasing, the rate of female participation in India’s labor force has been decreasing in recent years. Since 2005, India’s labor force has dropped at least nine percentage points, despite overall population growth. This leaves India with one of the largest untapped worker populations in the world. If Indian women worked just as often as men, the nation would have over 200 million extra workers. According to The International Monetary Fund, this shift would grow the nation’s economy by 27 percent, effectively making India a developed country.  

Why Women in India Are Not Working

There are several factors influencing the drop in women in the workforce. Firstly and primarily, there is the issue of cultural bias against women working. In India, especially after the marriage, most women are expected to remain in the home. In fact, women working is considered a mark of a lower social status. This is why, as a whole, as Indian households become wealthier, fewer women are participating in the workforce.

Secondly, there is the issue of maternal responsibility. Indian mothers are expected to shoulder the burden of household duties on their own. Employers have to provide 26 weeks of paid maternity leave, but there is have no obligation at all to provide paternity leave. On top of this, employers are deterred by the requirement to provide childcare for women returning to work. When combined with the high expectation of caring for the family, these factors create a “motherhood penalty”  for working women.

Finally, regardless of gender, many traditional Indian jobs are disappearing because of industrialization. Because of Indian law, unlike in other developing countries, they aren’t being replaced by women-friendly factories. This scarcity further reduces the opportunities for women in the Indian workplace. A 2012 poll found that when jobs are harder to come by, 84 percent of Indians believe men are more entitled to have them.

How India Is Working To Include Women in the Workforce

The obstacles created by culture, politics and the economy may seem insurmountable, but various organizations have already been putting forth various solutions. The Prime Minister, Narendra Modi launched two programs on the anniversary of former, late, female leader Jayalalithaa. One provides working women with scooters, making their commutes to work easier and safer; the other plants 70 lakh trees to honor the 70 years since Jayalalithaa’s birth.

The Prime Minister also launched Make in India (2014) and Startup in India (2016) in order to not only invest in the people of India by helping to fund small businesses but also to provide jobs that these businesses would bring to India. Both of these initiatives provide opportunities for women to enter the workforce.

Furthermore, another government organization, Women Entrepreneurship Platform (WEP), was launched to encourage women’s participation in business by offering support and collaboration with industry partners while NGOs such as CARE India are mobilizing to support the country’s working women by empowering individuals to be role models for their communities.

In the future, in order to ensure the development of these organizations, India should continue to work to change the social norms that have surrounded women regarding work and maternal responsibilities. The Indian government should look deeply into their development plans and aid working women by changing policies that disproportionately harm them. Only when there is a more balanced amount of women in the workplace in India, can the country develop fully.

Lydia Cardwell
Photo: Pixabay