Inflammation and stories on Workplace Conditions

In April 2013, Rana Plaza — an eight-story factory building in Bangladesh — collapsed, killing 1,130 people. The structure housed a number of North American and European brands, including Benetton, Bon Marche, The Children’s Place and Joe Fresh. Bangladesh has the second largest garment industry in the world, valued at $28 billion and ranked just behind China, although it has the lowest wages globally for garment workers.

The disaster, considered to be one of the worst industrial tragedies in history, has led to a call for increased accountability and transparency in the clothing industry. While agreements such as the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh have been put in place in the aftermath of the accident, there are still steps the garment industry can take to repair its broken system.

Companies such as H&M, Walmart and Gap have voiced their interest in improving conditions, yet progress has been a slow and difficult process.

The Building

The Rana Plaza building, based in the Dhaka District, was owned by Sohel Rana, who constructed the factory in 2006 with his father. It was created from poor quality construction materials, while heavy, vibrating machinery operated within its walls. The ground that the building had been set upon had previously been a body of water and was swampy, containing rubbish.

When Rana was developing the structure, the upper floors were added illegally, without a permit, and the creation was not made in consent. Inspection teams found cracks in the building on the Tuesday before, but workers were ordered to return to the unsafe environment the following day. That morning, the factory collapsed, with over 3,000 people inside.

The Aftermath

In the aftermath of the incident, workers protested and coalitions came together to promote rights within the garment industry and take measures towards preventing a future crisis like Rana Plaza. On May 15, 2013, brands, retailers and trade unions — such as Abercrombie & Fitch, American Eagle Outfitters and Fruit of the Loom — signed a five-year, legally binding agreement to create safer conditions in the Bangladesh Ready Made Garment industry, drafting the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh.

The Accord includes an inspection program, as well as the establishment of the right of workers to refuse unsafe work. Funds will be made available to repair any damaged equipment, and all corrective action plans and inspection reports will be publically disclosed.

Most recently, new signatories have continued to show solidarity for the Transition Accord, which extends the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh until after 2018.

Organizations, Brands and Change

In addition, a nine-member coalition including Human Rights Watch and the International Labor Rights Forum created the Apparel and Footwear Supply Chain Transparency Pledge, which demands that companies report on manufacturing sites and pertinent details twice a year.

The Follow the Thread Campaign, a coalition consisting of organizations such as Clean Clothes Campaign and Human Rights Watch, asked retail companies to sign a Transparency Pledge in April 2017.

Brands such as H&M, Walmart and Gap affirmed that they would like to participate in improving worker safety in Bangladesh. While Walmart did not sign the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, the company was one of the founding members of the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, a group of 28 retailers that holds standards and inspections, as well as supporting worker empowerment, among other practices.

Commitment to Transparency

Yet these initiatives have not been enough. Reports by the coalition the Asia Floor Wage Alliance show that many garment buildings in Bangladesh do not have adequate fire exits. According to 2015 research from New York University’s Stern School of Business, out of 3,425 inspections in Bangladesh that were held after the collapse, only eight addressed their violations fully enough to pass final inspections.

A commitment to transparency still remains a vital aspect of progress needed in the garment industry. Workers frequently experience abuse, while earning low wages, with Bangladesh’s minimum wage being 32 cents per hour.

Facing the powerful impact of the Rana Plaza tragedy of 2013, corporations and unions have come together to try to address the dangerous conditions found in Bangladesh’s garment industry (which is one of the world’s biggest). But for factories to move forward, businesses and human rights organizations will have to confront the negligence found within the system and recognize that fashion is not worth such a costly price.

We, as a globe, will need to see increased accountability and responsibility in the manufacturing places of clothing companies to learn from Rana Plaza and see workers’ conditions sustainably improve.

– Shira Laucharoen

Photo: Flickr

latin america genderWorkplace gender equality is vital for economic growth. With women making up 50 percent of the working population, but only contributing 37 percent to the GDP, it’s important to realize that their financial success is crucial for the global economy.

In order to see this success, women will need proper training and economic incentives to be economically stable. One small business owner, Daniel Vàsquez, moved his plantain processing plant from Tegucigalpa to Valle de Jamastràn in order to tap into the markets of smallholder farmers, both male and female alike.

Vàsque’s business, Dartma, processes the plantains that are used to make chips and other snack foods throughout small convenience stores in rural Honduras. His business model prioritizes gender equality throughout the workplace and was created by TechnoServe, a nonprofit that focuses on business solutions to poverty.

Dartma purchases produce from male and female farmers, and has a gender-balanced sales and production staff—individual talent determines who works where.

Vàsquez explains broadly, “There’s balance. Women are more creative in some areas, they’re detail-oriented, they’re better at product quality control. Men are better at activities requiring physical strength, like carrying materials.”

After implementing TechnoServe’s goals towards gender equality in the workplace, Dartma saw a 20 percent increase in revenue after one year. With more growth, he hopes to one day provide parental leave to his female employees.

According to global management firm McKinsey Global Institute (MGI), advancing women’s roles in the workforce can contribute $12 trillion in global growth by 2025.

For women to contribute more to the economy, there must be more gender equity at work. This requires adequate training that provides the skills females need to perform well in higher-productivity jobs, along with equal benefits and pay from the employer.

An MGI report states that in order to achieve gender equality at work, there must be economic development and a change in society’s attitude towards gender equality.

Over the last 30 years, these social attitudes have already improved, which has contributed to a 19.7 percent increase in female workforce participation last year, according to the same report. If this growth is maintained, nearly 240 million people will be added to the world’s labor force by 2025.

Daniel Vàsquez shares why he values the women who work for him and supports gender equality in the workplace. He states, “The main benefit of buying raw materials from women is that they deliver a higher quality product, they always deliver the right order and on time. The other benefit is that the money reaches their hands and they invest it in their children.”

Kelsey Lay

Sources: McKinsey Global Institute, TechnoServe
Photo: Latin Correspondent

As Americans prepare for another season of holiday gift-giving, it is important to consider where and how items are produced. Questions about fair trade products, ethical sourcing and supply chains are not always on the average consumer’s mind—but they should be.

For items produced both domestically and overseas, were they produced using sustainable practices? Did the employees working at all levels of the company receive fair pay? Is the company’s supply chain transparent and ethical?

These considerations can have consequences for many working people around the world. Companies selling products on American shelves can have traces of child labor, conflict minerals, forced labor and human trafficking.

The employees at these companies might make a wage that keeps them from extreme poverty yet binds them to a working poor, in-work poverty status.

To make gift-giving easier this holiday season, here is a list of poverty-fighting gifts and ethical companies that utilize sustainable practices, are fair trade and pay workers fair wages, thus keeping them from in-work poverty.

Chocolate companies receiving cacao beans from West Africa often have supply chains tainted by child labor, forced labor and human trafficking. Organic, fair trade chocolate is ethically sourced.

According to the Slave Free Chocolate organization, chocolate produced by companies such as Taza, Green and Black’s, Newman’s Own, Honest Artisan and Aldi are produced without child labor and meet the guidelines for fair trade. The full list can be found on the Slave Free Chocolate websitepoverty-fighting_gifts

While many companies pay garment workers in Southeast Asia wages that leave them in working poverty, The Good Trade has compiled a list of companies producing clothing and jewelry that are fair trade. Some companies selling in the U.S. include prANA, Eileen Fisher, EleganTees and Patagonia.

Fair trade coffee ensures that companies pay the coffee farmers fair wages and use sustainable practices. According to Fair Trade USA, coffee farmers selling fair trade coffee earned, on average, 40 cents more per pound than farmers not selling fair trade coffee.

Some popular fair trade coffee companies include Wild Harvest, Wolfgang Puck Coffee Company and Dunkin Donuts. Coffee sold at grocery stores such as Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Wegmans, Weis Markets, The Fresh Market and Aldi are also fair trade certified.

Tea companies that pay workers a living wage include Celestial Seasonings, Honest Tea, Keurig, Numi, Stash, Traditional Medicinals and The Republic of Tea.

Sports Gear
Sports balls produced by Senda Athletics are free of child labor and provide workers with fair wages and safe working conditions, whereas many other companies produce sports balls using child labor in India. With regards to sports and outdoor apparel, companies such as L.L. Bean, Vaude and REI are considered sustainable.

Products from companies with ethical supply chains
Corporations that have transparent supply chains and engage in sustainable, ethical business practices on an international level are more worthy of one’s holiday shopping dollars than companies that don’t support their workers.

Sedex is an organization whose members meet standards for labor, health and safety, the environment and business ethics. Members include Barbour, Bacardi, Hallmark, Miller Coors, P&G, and Unilever.

Resources such as Slave Free Chocolate, The Good Trade, Fair Trade USA and Rank a Brand can be very helpful in choosing a gift that is sustainable this holiday season. To help support workers all over the world, it’s important to be just as mindful when choosing a gift based on how it is made as when we consider the gift-receiver.

Priscilla McCelvey

Sources: Fair Trade USA, The Good Trade, Oxfam, Rank a Brand, Slave Free Chocolate
Photo: Flickr1, Flickr2

Scottish co-operative Bala Sport, an organization dedicated to improving the lives of Pakistani factory workers, has launched a crowdfunding campaign aimed at importing thousands of fair trade footballs from the Pakistani city of Sialkot.

The campaign has raised over $120,000 from donors, who in turn earn membership to Bala Sport and stakes in the organization’s future. The organization works primarily with manufacturers in Sialkot, which accounts for 70 percent of the world’s hand-stitched football production. The ball-making industry’s 40,000 laborers produce tens of millions of footballs every year for corporations like Adidas, which provides the official balls of the quadrennial FIFA World Cup.

For those working in Sialkot’s ball-making industry, labor has historically been characterized by low pay (workers earn an average annual wage of $1,100) and subpar working conditions. In 2006, Nike terminated a deal with local ball manufacturer Saga Sports over concerns of “significant labour compliance violations,” which included the alleged utilization of child labor and which were often found in cases where manufacturers had outsourced jobs to Pakistani households.

According to Bala Sport co-founder Angus Coull, the difference between fair trade-certified and traditional Sialkot factories is stark.

“We visited four factories producing balls under fair trade agreements. You could see that they had fire escapes, fire extinguishers, health and safety notices, proper ventilation and everything you’d expect to find in a U.K. factory. The workers had face masks and eye protection,” Coull said of his visit to Sialkot in 2014. “But when we went to another factory there was nothing like that. It was underground in the basement of a building, and the only ventilation was from holes in the ceiling.”

While current investors include schools in the Scottish cities of Paisley, Renfewshire and Irvine, the lack of a major retail distribution deal has been a setback for the organization’s distribution goals. Though certain fair trade products like sugar, coffee and tea have become popular among Western consumers, fair trade footballs have yet to gain similar traction.

“The biggest problem we’ve had has been price. If you have a big chain selling two balls for [$10.91], we’re not going to try to compete with that, because the people who suffer are the men and women who make the balls,” Coull added. “They’re after a Nike or a Mitre ball, and the shop staff doesn’t have the time to explain to them what a fair trade ball is all about.”

Suppliers of fair trade-certified footballs sold in the U.K. guarantee that laborers are paid a fair wage and experience fair working conditions. Bala Sport also pays a 10 percent premium on manufacturing costs, which goes to community development projects, healthcare and educational training for workers and their families.

According to Coull, however, the crowdfunding campaign (being hosted on is giving the organization hope for growth without resorting to large-scale private investors.

“We don’t want to have a handful of fat cats who get to control the shots,” he said.

If fair trade campaigns like that of Bala Sport realize financial success, organizations will continue to be able to improve working conditions in poor and developing regions. As working conditions in these areas become safer and stronger for laborers, the economic argument for companies outsourcing American jobs will be weakened, thus benefitting American workers and the American economy as a whole.

Zach VeShancey

Sources: The Guardian 1, The Guardian 2, Bala Fairtrade Sports Balls
Photo: The News

Textile Industry in Bangladesh
In Bangladesh, there has been a trending migration from the Ganges Delta region into the cities. Governmental research teams estimate that around 1.5 million of Dhaka’s 5 million inhabitants have moved north from the Bay of Bengal delta region. The absence of agricultural work has forced Bangladeshis to relocate into the cities in search of factory and industry jobs.

Both domestic and foreign industries have taken notice of this in state migration and have made efforts to diversify and broaden Bangladesh’s economy. The intensified demand for factory jobs has caused an increase in competition and a desperation for work. Influxes of other ventures have made a significant impact on the Bangladesh economy. One global market that has benefited from these conditions is the textile and garment industry. Such businesses now command 80 percent of exports, 45 percent of the industrial workforce and 15 percent of the GDP in the country.

A recent phenomenon in the global garment industry is “fast fashion,” which utilizes cheap materials and labor to maximize production and minimize costs. In order to achieve these results, the industry is outsourced to foreign countries. There are currently over 4 million Bangladeshis working in textile and garment factories. Workers typically make less than $40 U.S. per month and are often subjected to overcrowded working conditions and long hours. Routinely considered modern slavery, destitute Bangladeshis are often underrepresented and easily taken advantage of in textile factories.

Since 2005, there have been over 2,000 deaths related to garment factory accidents. In April 2013, the Rana Plaza factory collapsed, killing over 1,100 workers. The factory was built on swampy marshland, completely unfit for any structure of its size. Investigations revealed that the foundation of the eight-story building was cracking and in need of serious repairs. Additionally, it appears that the top three stories were added illegally. Unfortunately, most garment factories in Bangladesh are in similar condition to the Rana Plaza factory.

While the Rana disaster was certainly not the first garment factory accident, its magnitude has garnered worldwide attention. Activists from 75 different countries have joined together to create “Fashion Revolution,” a group focused on providing resources for retailers, brands and consumers to educate themselves about the state of textile workers. The organization has worked to make the anniversary of the Rana Plaza collapse, April 24, “Fashion Revolution Day.” On this day each year, world citizens are asked to wear their clothes inside out in an effort to recognize the origin of their garments.

Global retailers and brands, such as H&M, Walmart and Gap have called on Bangladesh to overhaul the industry. They have advocated for the institution of reforms and oversight procedures on factories and the workers’ rights. In response, the Bangladeshi government has received global recognition for their realignment efforts. The International Labor Organization (ILO) in Bangladesh has taken the initiative to set up a global fundraising campaign for the victims and families affected by the tragedy. In total, $21.5 million has been raised as compensation.

Additionally, the ILO has implemented governmental measures to streamline the initiation and registration of workers unions. In 2012 there were just over 100 worker unions, and there are currently under 500. The government has also instituted mandatory inspections of the 3,500 factories exporting clothing. So far, 35 factories have been shut down for violations ranging from building safety to working conditions.

Recently, the Bangladeshi law enforcement also pressed combination charges of murder and construction violations against Sohel Rana, the owner of the Plaza, and 41 others. This is a significant development, as garment factory owners in the past have been untouchable because of their influence economically. These efforts and changes made domestically and internationally could hopefully signal a new era of accountability and protection for the textile workers of Bangladesh.

– The Borgen Project

Sources: The Guardian 1, The Guardian 2, The Guardian 3, Business Insider, Ecouterre
Photo: Inquirer

Bangladesh has become synonymous with low paid garment workers. Bangladesh boasts more than a $20 billion garment industry that employs four million workers in 4,500 factories. Most of the workers are women—who make up 80 percent of the garment workforce.

Garments produced in Bangladesh export to western clothing stores like Wal-mart and H & M.

Serious accidents within the factories, as well as strikes and protests, have brought the plight of garment workers to a more international level. Specifically the collapse of the Rana Plaza building in April 2013—in which 1,120 garment workers were killed—which caused national and international outrage.

This incident led the Bangladeshi government to increase the minimum wage by 77 percent, up to 5,300 taka ($68) a month. Workers are also now allowed to form unions without factory owner consent.

Even with this pay raise, Bangladeshi garment workers are some of the lowest paid in the world and many are calling for better regulation in terms of workers safety and physical health.

Change is slow though, as this past January, news reports showed that almost 40 percent of garment factories were not paying the promised wage increase of $68 a month.

Strikes, accidents and failure to increase monthly pay are apparently the norm when it comes to garment workers in Bangladesh.

However a small victory was won this weekend when an 11-day hunger strike successfully received the back pay and holiday bonus workers were demanding. The strikers represented 1500 workers from five different factories in the Dhaka’s Badda district that all belong to the Tuba Group.

The strike was not completely uneventful as last Thursday workers were forced out of the factory where they were staging the strike. Police used tear gas and batons to remove the 400 strikers.

But this past Sunday the workers finally received their back pay. The strike began on July 28 and luckily only had to last 11 days.

This is only a small victory within the larger fight of fair wages for garment workers. The garment industry is central to the Bangladeshi economy and the global supply chain forces large companies to demand competitive wages.

Bangladesh competes by offering extremely low wages that companies can pay their workers. So although the success of this strike is a step in the right direction, Bangladesh has a long way to go if it wants to begin treating its workers with fairness and dignity.

Eleni Marino

Sources: Wall Street Journal, Reuters, CBS News, The Express Tribune, Australia News Network, The Guardian
Photo: The Guardian

Mexican Auto Industry
Brazil’s rule as Latin America’s auto king is coming to an end as Mexico positions itself for a dramatic increase in factory output over the next 10 years. Brazil has enjoyed its decade at the top of the auto industry in Latin America but is currently experiencing a slump in domestic consumer demand. A simultaneous boom in U.S. demand — the primary export market for the Mexican auto industry — has paved the way for Mexico to speed past Brazil in auto production.

Brazilian-made cars are typically not shipped abroad due to high labor costs and taxes, meaning that the South American giant’s auto market is driven mostly by domestic buyers. Output in Brazilian auto factories has fallen 17 percent this year already, and light-vehicle exports have fallen 52 percent since June 2013. Brazil‘s exports to its top trading partner Argentina plummeted nearly 30 percent in May, according to Anfavea, Brazil’s automaker association. Additionally, a weakened economy and tight credit are dissuading Brazilians from purchasing new vehicles.

On the other hand, Mexico’s promising growth in the auto sector is due in large part to its proximity to the United States. New and prospective plants in Mexico are predicted to add 1.5 million units of vehicle capacity through 2019, increasing vehicle production from nearly 3 million units in 2013 to almost 4.5 million units by 2019. Much of this 50 percent increase will be oriented toward U.S. consumers.

Auto companies Nissan, Mazda, Toyota, Honda, Audi, Mercedes-Benz, Infiniti and BMW are all expanding into Mexico, drawn by cheap labor and available capacity for compact and subcompact car production. European companies are particularly lured by free trade agreements with Mexico that create favorable climates for export to Europe.

The real drive behind the Mexican boost in auto production, however, comes from across the northern border. Car makers in Mexico earn 20 cents for every dollar made by U.S. laborers.

Joe Langley, the chief analyst for North America vehicle production forecasting at IHS Automotive observes, “Because these new models are lower-priced vehicles, the factories need to be in a market where labor is inexpensive, which Mexico’s certainly is. But they still need to be very close to the main market, which is the United States.”

The surge in auto production in Mexico, fueled by U.S. demand for cheap labor and small cars, involves significant foreign investment and has the potential to boost Mexico’s economy tremendously. However, Mexican factories, known as maquiladoras, have a reputation for dropping the ball on worker’s rights. The debate continues on whether more jobs with meager pay, harsh hours and poor working conditions are better than no jobs.

– Kayla Strickland

Sources: BusinessWeek 1, BusinessWeek 2, Automotive News
Photo: The Detroit Bureau

Bollywood, the large Hindi-language film industry based out of Mumbai, India,  is speaking out against rape and the abuse of women. Seeking to spread awareness about these issues within and without the industry, the campaign’s targeted audience is all people throughout the country. The initiative is led by a top radio station, with actor John Abraham as its ambassador. The entire movement utilizes the slogan, “Now the nonsense ends, change begins.”

The focus is on women’s safety at work, at home and in public spaces, which builds on previous campaigns emphasizing the need to change sexist language and to stop acid attacks against women. Bollywood is attempting to draw pressing issues within Indian society into the spotlight.

On the radio, celebrities like Abraham have begun to use their influential positions to voice their backing for the anti-rape movement. This comes as a pivotal change because in the past, stars normally avoided speaking on any pressing social issues.

The public outcry and protests after the 2012 gang rape and death of a young woman in Delhi are in large part responsible for the change in attitude. While a number of celebrities were advocates for social change before, the shocking Delhi incident resulted in a dramatic increase in the number of movie stars and individuals in the general public taking a stand against rape culture.

Celebrities’ participation in the anti-rape effort helps maintain the pressure to change both social and political views on rape. In India, like in many countries, rape is a critical problem. The number of reported cases increased by 902 percent from 1971 to 2012. Due to social stigma and shame, many cases still go unreported.

Although the backbone of India’s anti-rape movement remains predominantly with the public and the media, Bollywood stars’ involvement is helping to strengthen and sustain it. For example, actor and director Farhan Akhtar is using many different media outlets to lead the MARD, Men Against Rape and Discrimination, which seeks to redefine the perception of masculinity.

Others are making movies that directly address the issue of gang rape, such as producer Siddhartha Jain’s film “Kill The Rapist?” Scheduled to premiere in October 2014, the movie allows audiences to participate in deciding what should happen to the rapist in the story. The overarching message of the film aims to deter potential rapists and engage the public about the need to report rapes.

And all of these efforts appear to be bringing change. In the capital alone, the number of reported rape cases increased dramatically from 433 in 2012 to 1,036 in 2013.

The film industry, though, has often reaffirmed misogynist culture on screen by objectifying women and even, at times, condoning sexual harassment in their movies. Despite the fact that not all of Bollywood has completely shed its sexist and male-dominated ways, the stance many stars are taking demonstrates that both the industry and all of India can change their attitudes about women.

Although completely redefining public opinion about rape and the role of women in society will not occur overnight, the positive steps taken in the public, the media and in Bollywood have made the issue part of the mainstream dialogue. With continued efforts to raise awareness and encourage conversation, the people of India seek to better protect and value the rights of women.

– Kathleen Egan

Sources: Aljazeera, The Scotsman, The Washington Post
Photo: Curry Culture

Modern slavery is a major concern for our developing world. Modern slavery exists as a person being deprived of their freedom and rights. This is the right to leave a current job or workplace and the control over one’s own body. There are over 28 million people trapped in modern slavery.

Modern slavery can take the form of forced labor and human trafficking. All of these are forms of slavery and must be stopped. Countries like Russia and China have over 76 percent of the population trapped in some form of modern slavery.

The Walk Free Foundation is a driving force to end modern slavery in this generation. The foundation uses research and the help of businesses to gain a solid ground on the subject of modern slavery. The Walk Free foundation will look at the countries with high numbers of people in slavery and enlist partners to identify strategies to make a lasting impact on slavery.

New information provided by The Guardian states that it is possible that store-bought shrimp that lands on dinner tables across America is employed with forced slave labor. The shrimp is sold by major companies like Wal-Mart and Costco.

 Thailand’s forced slave market is connected to the global shrimp chain. These ships enslave many unsuspecting workers by beating them and at times even ending up in death. Most of the shrimp slave workers are captured to work without pay, and threatened with violence and death. There is no escape when at sea on these ships.

The slaves are forced at sea for years with shifts lasting over 20 hours. At times these men witness horrific and brutal execution-style killings of other slaves. These workers are coerced with hopes of finding work in factories, but are sold to boat captains, most likely to never return.

One victim states to The Guardian that at one time “20 workers were murdered in front of him.”

Aidan McQuade, director of the Anti-Slavery Movement, states that “if you buy shrimp from Thailand, you are purchasing a product of slave labour.”

Over half a million people are trapped in globalized slavery, even sex trafficking at Thailand’s borders. 300,000 of these victims of modern slavery are migrant workers tricked into the slave trade for fishing boats. The demand and pressure for cheaper fish and prawn from America and Europe creates a drive for even cheaper labour: slavery.

The possibility that Thailand’s sea port industry relies so much on forced slave labour that without it the industry would collapse. Wal-Mart and Costco both agree to require audits and proper corrective actions to be in effect towards the ending of the supplier’s slave trade.

Thailand’s fishing industry will be soon forced to change with new audits and anti-slavery actions taking place. The International Labour Organization will be conducting changes to ensure slavery free supply chains, especially those from Asia countries.

There are several companies that have been placing workers in unsafe working conditions and slavery. It is not just Thailand’s fishing industry committing these unethical practices. Companies compete for cheaper prices as the market grows for consumers. The correct process is on companies and consumers alike to make ethical decisions for workers around the world to receive humane and fair treatment.

– Rachel Cannon

Sources: Walk Free Foundation, Global Slavery Index, The Guardian
Photo: Eureka Street Australia

It is difficult to consider that America has fallen behind in achieving a balance between family and workplace life. Most western nations, particularly in Europe, have a mandate for employees’ paid vacation time. The United States does not mandate these benefits, nor does it mandate paid maternity leave for mothers. Other countries that do not offer maternity leave are Papua New Guinea and Swaziland. These are the only three countries in the world that do not provide such benefits to employees. Although each and every country is distinct, several countries have advantages that make them better than others in terms of livelihood and work.

Germany holds a high standard of living and is one of the strongest and most powerful economic systems in the European Union. According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, Germans work about 27 hours per week and still deliver a solid economy. Germans ranks 7th out of the 36 countries for time spent on leisure activities and are also the most traveled, with extra time to spare in other countries. Germany is high on the list for best countries to work in.

Bulgaria is one of the best countries to start a family in while working. Bulgarians receive over 400 days of paid maternity leave with almost 100 percent of the mother’s salary. There are also paternity benefits offered to the father and even grandparents if necessary.

Finland offers 40 days of paid vacation to its employees, and on average, less than .04 percent work more than 50 hours a week. Finland ranks high on the happiness indicator because of these employee benefits.

The Netherlands has a healthy gross domestic product rating and high standard of living. The employees working in the Netherlands work the least compared to other countries, and the economy remains stronger than ever. Employees receive 28 paid vacation days per year, and 16 weeks of paid maternity leave with full salary. This high standard of living is reflected in high levels of childhood satisfaction and high literacy rates.

The U.S. ranks 33rd out of 36 countries for time spent on leisure activities. Currently, there is a severe lack of balance between work and family life in the states. The typical American spends 60 percent of the day on working, leaving a mere 14 percent for spending time with loved ones.

One way the U.S. can improve the livelihood of its citizens is by helping reduce working family poverty rates. This can be done by concentrating more on a child’s early years and providing both maternity and paternity leave. Such changes can often yield a better and stronger economy. The U.S. is one of the only nations that does not offer strong benefits to employees, and as a result, the country is falling behind economically with a low overall happiness rating.

– Rachel Cannon

Sources: Fast CoExist, Equal Times, OECD Better Life Index
Photo: Amsterdam