AFL-CIO Presents Resolution at Ralph Lauren Shareholders’ Meeting

Hasan Raza/Associated Press

Unions, joined by religious organizations, demand Ralph Lauren
Respect the human rights of Bangladeshi Garment Workers

August 7th, 2014 (New York, NY) –This morning, unions and religious organizations rallied outside Ralph Lauren Shareholders’ meeting while inside, the AFL-CIO sponsored a shareholder resolution calling on Ralph Lauren to conduct a human rights risk assessment. The AFL-CIO resolution was seconded by New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer.

The AFL-CIO sponsored shareholder resolution was presented by Nazma Akter, President, Sommilito Garments Sramik Federation. Akter, who worked at the Tazreen Fashions factory that had a tragic fire in 2012, pushed for Ralph Lauren to explain why it has refused to join the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, which would help protect the safety of garment workers who produce Ralph Lauren apparel.

Akter called on Ralph Lauren to conduct a human rights risk assessment.

“It is all the more important because Ralph Lauren—an iconic brand in the world of fashion—sources garments produced by women like me in Bangladesh. Human rights risks for companies doing business in Bangladesh have become a central concern after the tragedy at the Rana Plaza on April 24, 2013. On that fateful day, 1,138 garment workers were killed and 2,515 more were injured.”

Akter continued, “Companies and trade unions came together to create the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh. More than 180 apparel companies have signed the Accord, a binding and enforceable agreement that represents a new model in supply chain accountability and risk management… But Ralph Lauren—a company that has always stood for the highest quality—has not joined the Accord… I urge you to improve Ralph Lauren’s reporting on human rights risks wherever the company sources goods, and to take steps to mitigate human rights abuses in Bangladesh by signing the Accord on Fire and Building Safety.”

The Rev. David Schilling, Senior Program Director, Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, spoke at the rally in support of the AFL-CIO resolution and the broader campaign for international human rights for all workers. Rev. Schilling noted that,

“The Accord on Fire and Building Safety is the best solution to help prevent future workplace disasters in Bangladesh and to foster a culture of compliance and respect for international human rights norms.  The Accord guarantees that global brands and retailers can source apparel manufactured in factories with adequate health and safety standards and where international labor rights are respected.”

103 years later: profits are STILL more important than people

triangle_shirtwaist

Cartoon refers to the Triangle fire and depicts a woman weeping over a grave, and asks the reader: "How soon will they be all forgotten?"Today marks the 103rd anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, when 146 garment workers were trapped behind locked doors.  Some of the young women burned to death; others died of smoke inhalation; still others jumped out of windows to certain death.

The good news is: this year even some mainstream media outlets are remembering the anniversary.

The bad news is: workers are still dying on the jobBangladeshChina … Pakistan … Nigeria… Italy

… even, still, here in the United States.  About 150 American workers die each day from workplace accidents or occupational illness.  (Yes, you did read that right: 150 each day.  But since they don’t die in the same place, from the same thing, these deaths don’t make the headlines.)

When will we stop thinking of profit margins as more important than people?

[Be warned: this video is graphic and may be disturbing]

Labor Rights Are Human Rights (Blog Action Day 2013)

Triangle Fire

Today is ‘Blog Action Day’.  Once a year thousands of bloggers around the world come together to bring awareness to one common theme in their own special way.  This year the Blog Action Day is focused on ‘human rights’.   Below is my post for this year’s event.

 

Labor Rights Are Human Rights

Everyone should have the right to work in a safe place. Safety in the workplace is one of the biggest issues facing workers around the world.  There are too many examples of workers being hurt or killed on the job.  Unsafe working conditions are just one of the reasons workers have always turned to unions.

In the early days of the industrial revolution corporations were only focused on one thing, profits.  Many of these jobs were in the factories and mills, producing textiles.  They would pack hundreds people in rooms with little to no space to move.  These workers, mostly women and children, would be forced to work for 16 hours a day.

The perfect example of this was the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York City. March 25th of 1911 started like any other day for hundreds of women at the Triangle Shirtwaist factory.  Over 500 workers piled in to work early in the morning and began their 16-hour day.

Around 4pm a fire broke out on the sixth floor of the Asch building. The seventh floor was the main manufacturing floor where the majority of the workers were located.  The sixth floor was used to store rolls of fabric.  It did not take long for the entire sixth floor to be engulfed in flames.

Triangle FireTo protect themselves from theft the mill owners decided to lock all the exits on the manufacturing floor.  This prevented the workers from being able to escape the rapidly growing fire.  To escape the fire, workers jumped from seventh floor windows.  Many of them knew they would probably not survive the fall, but they knew they would never survive the fire.

When the fire was finally put out, 146 people lost their lives in this devastating fire. 

Workers Protest after Triangle Shirtwaist Fire

Workers Protest after Triangle Shirtwaist Fire

After the fire, workers in other textile mills joined together with union organizers to fight for better safety regulations.  These regulations mandated maximum room occupancy, fire extinguishers, and escape plans.

Many people know the story of the Triangle Shirtwaist fire.  In the United States it became a driving force for labor rights and workplace safety for decades.  Unfortunately the United States cannot regulate other companies.

Hasan Raza/Associated Press

Hasan Raza/Associated Press

In November of 2012 over 100 workers lost their lives in a textile factory in Bangladesh. The fire was eerily similar to the Triangle fire.  Workers were trapped inside with no way to escape.   Fire inspectors actually found that none of the emergency exits opened to the outside.

Once again we see that corporations are more interested in profits than worker’s safety.  It begs the question, what is a human’s life worth?

This is where labor and human rights merge.  Labor has always put workers safety above all else.   Thanks to labor we now have regulations and an entire government agency (OSHA) devoted to protecting workers.

We have much more to do.  Organizations like Global Labor and Human Rights Organization are focused protecting human rights through strong labor rights.

“As workers across the developing world fight for their right to work in dignity, in healthy and safe workplaces, to earn a living wage and to organize independent unions, the Institute will provide solidarity and international visibility to support their efforts, and we will continue to demand that corporations be held legally accountable to respect core internationally recognized worker rights standards.”
From the Global Labor and Human Rights

Workers rights are human rights. Stronger organized labor will lead to higher regard for human rights in the workplace.

 

For more information about Blog Action Day click here

AFT Applauds President Obama Suspending Trade Privileges To Bangladesh

AFT Logo

WASHINGTON—Statement of AFT President Randi Weingarten on the U.S. suspension of preferential trade privileges for Bangladesh.

“The American Federation of Teachers applauds the announcement that the United States is suspending preferential trade privileges for Bangladesh. Since 2007, we have joined with others in the U.S. labor movement in calling for the withdrawal of such preferences until Bangladesh makes real advances in workers’ rights, health and safety issues, and the ability to form and join independent trade unions.

“More than 1,100 workers died in the Rana Plaza garment factory collapse in April, and the death toll in such incidents over the last eight years exceeds 1,800. This action by the U.S. government is an important step toward ensuring that those lives have not been lost in vain.

“But other actions are needed to enforce international standards for factory safety and labor rights in Bangladesh. The major U.S. garment brands and retailers that work with Bangladeshi suppliers must take steps to make sure the goods they sell are produced under safe conditions. This is why I have called on the directors of Gap Inc. and other U.S. companies to sign the international accord on fire and building safety to protect garment workers in Bangladesh.

“Those workers must have a voice in shaping the reforms that will be required before trade privileges can be restored. And U.S. trade officials must continue to press the Bangladesh government for the political and economic follow-through necessary to implement needed changes. Workers in Bangladesh—so many of them young, poor women—deserve good jobs, a voice in the workplace, and safe working conditions.”

Richard Trumka Is Glad The President Is Doing Something On Bangladesh

Richard_Trumka

The AFL-CIO welcomes news that the U.S. government will suspend Bangladesh’s trade benefits granted under the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP).  Bangladesh’s egregious labor practices have been under review for more than six years now, and the Bangladesh Government has repeatedly failed to comply with the minimum GSP requirements to afford internationally recognized labor rights to its workers.

The decision to suspend trade benefits sends an important message to our trading partners:  Countries that benefit from preferential trade programs must comply with their terms. Countries that tolerate dangerous – and even deadly — working conditions and deny basic workers’ rights, especially the right to freedom of association, will risk losing preferential access to the U.S. market.

Since 2005, over 1800 workers have died in preventable factory fires and building collapses in the Bangladesh garment industry, including the most recent collapse of the Rana factory. Workers died because the government and industry violated safety standards to cut costs, while global apparel brands demanded production at the lowest prices in the world. The suspension of GSP benefits, together with the binding commitment made by over 50 brands to improve fire and building safety in factories, are important steps to improving dangerous working conditions. The global workplace cannot be a deathtrap for poor workers producing products for the global economy.

Bangladesh’s workers, many of them young women, need good jobs with strong worker protections, a voice at work and safe work places.  The AFL-CIO hopes that the suspension of GSP benefits will be a catalyst to accelerate an effective process involving the government, employers and workers of Bangladesh to achieve these goals. International trade with strong labor rights enforcement plays a key role in ensuring that workers as well as their employers can benefit from increased prosperity and transnational trade and investment. With a demonstrated commitment to defending workers’ rights and improving working conditions, Bangladesh can earn reinstatement of GSP benefits.

AFL-CIO President Trumka Calls For Immediate Action Needed In Bangladesh

Hasan Raza/Associated Press

Working people around the world are watching in horror and disbelief as the number of workers who have needlessly died in Bangladesh rises. Now, over 800 brothers and sisters, husbands and wives, friends and loved ones have been confirmed dead in a tragedy that never should have happened – and hundreds more remain missing. There is no doubt that the collapse of the Rana Plaza building and factories in Bangladesh will be known as one of the worst workplace catastrophes in history. We must collectively as a nation and as a world, together with Bangladesh, take immediate steps to prevent these kinds of disasters in the future.

First and foremost, the AFL-CIO encourages the unions and corporations throughout the supply chain to negotiate, sign and implement a binding agreement regarding workplace fires and building safety in Bangladesh. The proposed Fire and Building Safety Agreement, already accepted by two major brands, guarantees worker participation, recognizes the role of government and takes measures to combat corruption by requiring rigorous inspections, transparent reporting of audits and public oversight of results. This agreement offers an integrated and sustainable solution. Agreements like these are needed in many countries where major brands and retailers have chosen to produce their goods under a low-wage and no-rights model, but the many recent and needless deaths and injuries in Bangladesh make that country the most urgent priority right now. Companies that say they want to improve conditions in Bangladesh must join the brands that have signed this agreement, rather than seeking an alternative with less transparency and accountability.

We call on the U.S. government to immediately withdraw, suspend, or limit Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) benefits for Bangladesh until it fulfills its most basic duties to workers. As the AFL-CIO has maintained since filing a GSP petition in 2007 (and in earlier years), suspending trade benefits is a crucial mechanism to pressure the Bangladeshi government to take clear and concrete actions to afford workers their internationally recognized worker rights. Clearly, the pace of progress has been inadequate to date.

Over 80 percent of garments produced in Bangladesh are exported to the United States and the European Union. This creates shared responsibility for finding a sustainable solution to the lax conditions and weak workplace protections. Major brands and retailers in the United States, Europe and elsewhere have made millions from high profit margins based on low wages and dangerous conditions. We call on the retailers not to leave Bangladesh, but to take an active role in improving conditions by pressuring the government to implement reforms and by negotiating with workers and local employers. People outside Bangladesh must insist that retailers, brands, investors, and our governments use their power to promote sustainable development and shared prosperity for workers in Bangladesh who produce our clothes.

NH Letter Carrier Risks His Own Life To Save Another From A Burning Building

TonyMeme

Letter carrier have always held a special place in our hearts. It is the letter carrier who delivers our mail six days a week, but a letter carrier is much more than that. To children they can be like Santa Clause bringing gifts in the mail. To others they provide lifesaving medicine. For some the letter carrier is the only person they see every day.

For many years letter carriers have been our friends. We thank them with gifts and treats in our mailboxes at Christmas. We thank them for doing their job every day now matter what the weather may throw at them. Every day the mail gets through.

Letter carriers are also a part of our neighborhood watch program. Notifying the police if an elderly resident does not come to the door, or see that nobody has been at the house in days. They notice little things like a dog barking frantically, which alerts them to a possible problem.

On Saturday, Bill Kelly will be ever grateful to his letter carrier Tom Sapienza.

“Several people, including a mailman, ran into a burning building on Merrimack Street on Saturday looking for residents feared trapped in a fire…” (Union Leader)

Tom, a member of the National Association of Letter Carriers risked his own life to run into a burning building to look for residents. Not many people would think of the mailman as the first person to run into a burning building but that is exactly what Tom did. Then when it was over he went right back to doing what he does every day, delivering the mail.

TonyMeme“Sapienza, after being treated, returned to his postal truck, saying he wasn’t allowed to talk to reporters but wasn’t planning on going right home.

“I have to get back on my route,” Sapienza said. (Union Leader)

After risking his own life, he delivered all of the mail in his truck, all be it with a little delay.

Thank you Tommy for being an everyday hero.

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The Cost of Cheap Clothing

Hasan Raza/Associated Press

 

Hasan Raza/Associated Press

More than 100 people have died in a fire at a nine-story garment factory outside Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Most of the workers who died were on the first and second floors and were killed, fire officials said, because none of the exits opened to the outside.

Sound familiar?  About a century ago, 146 garment workers were killed in the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire in New York City.  [This video includes images of a 2010 fire in a different Bangladesh garment factory. Be warned the video is graphic and may be disturbing]

The Bangladesh factory that burned yesterday employed about 1,500 workers, making T-shirts, polo shorts and fleece jackets. It had sales of $35 million a year.

Babul Akhter, president of the Bangladesh Garments and Industrial Workers’ Federation, said mid-level management of the garment factories are mostly concerned with how many clothes can be produced and forget the safety issues.

Bangladesh garment industry workers have been battling for union rights for years.  The fight is becoming increasingly violent. Just eight months ago, the “tortured body” of an organizer for the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity was found near the police station of a city outside Dhaka.

Read how the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire transformed American worksites here.

Read more about efforts to improve working conditions in Bangladesh here.

And when you are shopping this holiday season, think about the true cost of what you’re buying.  According to press reports and labor activists, the factory that burned yesterday makes clothing for Walmart, as well as other retailers.