The International Labor Rights Forum and SweatFree Communities just wrapped up an exciting and productive three-week long speaking tour that featured ILRF’s Deputy Director, Trina Tocco, and worker representatives from Bangladesh and Pakistan, Kalpona Akter and Zehra Bano respectively, taking a stand against tax dollar support for sweatshops. The traveling trio began their journey in St. Paul, Minnesota, visiting various universities, chapels and conference centers along the Midwest before completing the tour right here in DC with a special Mother’s Day International Labor Day briefing on Capitol Hill.
YOU CAN VIEW THE PHOTO GALLERY HERE.The tour would not have been such a success if it wasn’t for the riveting testimonies that our international colleagues were able to provide. Kalpona Akter, a former child factory worker from the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity, told of the grave working conditions occurring in the garment factories of Bangladesh. From poverty wages not being able to cover half the expenses for one person to the threatening and dismissal of workers who try to organize, Kalpona gave all an inside look at the neglect to worker’s rights and safety that the Bangladesh Parliament has for the many factories they own. Kalpona also reminded everyone of the tragic Garib & Garib Newaj Bangladesh factory fire that killed 21 employees and injured 50 others this past March. Workers’ efforts to escape proved to be both futile and fatal as factory doors had been previously locked.
Likewise General Secretary of the Home-Based Women Workers Federation of Pakistan, Zehra Bano, spoke out against the unfair treatment that many home based garment workers, bracelet craftsmen and soccer ball stitchers in Pakistan face. Although such workers use their homes as a factory, they are not paid for the additional electricity or other costs that arise from using their homes for work. As informal workers, these women are prohibited from forming unions and filing court cases since they are not recognized as workers by law. Such status prevents home based workers from receiving the fair living wages, health benefits and job security that come with being a registered worker. Zehra, along with the Labor Education Foundation, has been fighting hard to change the law while educating women workers of their labor rights and sensitizing the middlemen they work for.
ILRF also had the pleasure of hosting César Estacio, President of the Foundation for Sustainable Social Development (FUNDESS) in Ecuador, for the last day of tour events in the DC area. As a former flower worker, César had witnessed the sexual harassment and occupational health and safety hazards that his fellow workers endured on a daily basis. Furthermore, staff had to bear the ridicule that came when new management began to flaunt their large salaries while workers didn’t make nearly enough money to provide for their families. In an effort to take a stand, César became a predominant union organizer within his company, only to later be fired and blacklisted by the flower plantations in the Cayambe region. His stories gave audiences a glimpse into the discrimination that workers who fight for their rights unfortunately are forced to face. Today, FUNDESS works to promote human rights and labor rights to flower workers as well as environmental conservation in Ecuador.
On behalf of all of us here at ILRF, we would like to thank our guest speakers for having shared their life experiences with us so as to promote change for all workers facing injustice. Your dedication for a dignified workplace is truly empowering. We would also like to thank SweatFree Communities, our various hosts, local labor organizers and all those who participated in our events.