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An Update from Charlie Kernaghan

February, 25 2013 Share

 

The Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights played a major role in exposing Mitt Romney and Bain Capital’s multiple investments in brutal Chinese sweatshops—like the Global Tech factory in Dongguan, which Romney discussed in the infamous hidden-camera tapes.  In 1998, Romney invested $23.9 million in Global Tech, which was the first major outsourcing factory in China!  The young women workers at Global Tech were paid just 24 cents an hour, while being forced to work grueling 15-to-16-hour shifts, seven days a week, going for months without a single day off.  The 5,000 young workers—who were paid less than 2 percent of U.S. wages were housed in crowded, filthy, rat-infested dorms, sleeping on narrow bunk beds without mattresses.  To wash, the workers had to fetch water in tiny plastic buckets to splash water on themselves.  The cafeteria food was rancid.  In protest, workers dumped the food all over the cafeteria.  Exhausted 16-year-old student interns were also forced to work 15-to-16-hour shifts with no overtime pay.

Romney was there when the race to the bottom was launched!  And nothing has changed. 

The Institute is also deeply involved in the fight against the Bain Capital / Sensata Technology shutdown of a very productive and profitable factory in Freeport, Illinois, destroying 170 good-paying manufacturing jobs.  Rather than pay U.S. workers $17 an hour, Bain and Sensata—in which Romney still holds investments—are moving all their work offshore, overwhelmingly to China, where Bain pays young Chinese women just 99 cents an hour to toil 12 hours a day, seven days a week.  The workers have no rights, no union and no voice.  They describe their lives as “meaningless” and “empty.”  Bain and Sensata are so closely tied to the Chinese Government that the government of China built a huge factory for Sensata—free of charge—in the north of Jiangsu Province.

 

In November, the Institute travelled to Bangladesh where we collaborated with Australian television on another documentary film.  Just weeks before, a slight, 15-year-old boy, Khorshed, was crushed to death when a huge metal slab fell on him.  It took 30 workers to lift the slab.  Khorshed worked the night shift, from 8:00 p.m. to 8:00 a.m.  They paid him 30 cents an hour.  We met with and filmed shipbreakers who were paralyzed, unable to move or even sit up because their spinal cords were severed in accidents that should and could easily have been prevented.  In a remote village in the North Bengal region, we met with scores of young shipbreakers who were missing hands, feet, legs, fingers and toes.

 

In December, the Institute released a new report on auto parts manufacturing in Honduras, where Lear Corporation and Hyundai have a joint venture factory, exporting to the U.S.  The workers are paid starvation wages of just 99 cents an hour.  The Lear workers are racing backward into misery, living in hovels, their children going barefoot, and mothers cooking with wood as they cannot afford gas.  When the 3,000 workers at Lear fought to organize a union, all 27 elected union leaders and founding members were fired and blacklisted.  For the last 29 years, the U.S. Free Trade agreements with Central America have dismally failed.  The good news is that we are winning this case!  In response to our report, Lear’s president, Mr. Matthew J. Simoncini, has pledged to “immediately conduct a complete investigation of each and every allegation you raise. Lear is committed to fair labor practices, safe working conditions and workers’ rights to organize without any retribution.”

 

The Institute is also locked in a battle with the VTech factory in China—which is the largest phone manufacturer in the world.  In every way, the workers are mistreated, abused, forced to work grueling hours and paid a starvation wage of $1.00 an hour.  Like Apple/Foxconn, workers at VTech—feeling they have no way out—also jumped to their deaths.  Charlie Kernaghan testified in July before Senator Sherrod Brown and Congressman Chris Smith’s U.S. Congressional-Executive Commission on China.  If working conditions do not markedly improve, we are asking U.S., European and Australian telecommunications companies to pull out.

 

The Institute was in Bangladesh in late November when a deadly fire broke out in the Tazreen garment factory, killing over 112 mostly young women workers.  Many workers were so badly burned that their bodies could not be identified.  Management had purposely locked the exit gates leaving the workers to die.  There were no exterior fire escapes, no emergency lighting, no fire hoses or extinguishers, and no fire drills.  The criminally negligent owner of the Tazreen factory has not been arrested.  The factory produced for Wal-Mart, Sears, Disney and Sean Combs.

 

Finally, the Institute has the Classic Fashion “rape factory” in Jordan on the ropes!  In fact, Macy’s has severed all ties with Classic.  Eleven years into the U.S.-Jordan Free Trade Agreement, the U.S. Trade Representative’s office is just now demanding an end to sexual harassment and rape in Jordan’s export garment factories, improved dorm conditions (including heat, hot water and nutritious food), better health and safety conditions, the right of guest workers to organize and join unions, and that all overtime be voluntary and paid correctly.

 

Solidarity does work!

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