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Help Build a Fairer World: Support the Institute Today!

December, 13 2013 Share

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Dear Friends:

You've never met Taniya Begum. But as someone who cares about decent work and human rights, you need to know what she has endured-and what has enabled her to fight for justice.

Taniya, 24, worked as a supervisor at Next Collections, a Gap and Old Navy supplier in Bangladesh. When she asked this year for the paid maternity leave the law entitles her to, the company demanded she resign. Managers threatened to have her husband, Mazharul Islam, falsely arrested or killed. When both Taniya and Mazharul continued to insist on her legal rights, Mazharul was locked up and beaten badly by the factory's managing director and others. The company then had police take Mazharul to jail, where he stayed for two days until union leaders succeeded in obtaining his freedom.

Most of us in North America have never experienced the kind of blatant human rights violations or brutal retaliation faced by workers like Taniya and Mazharul. We have no direct contact with the millions of women, men and children who toil obscenely long hours, in degrading and dangerous conditions, earning starvation wages. When you hear of a horrific building collapse, a factory fire where workers died behind locked doors, or fatal chemical and dust exposure, you may wonder if anything you do can help to end these outrages, halfway around the world.

How can you make a difference for the brave workers who are fighting for their basic human rights even at the risk of being fired-or worse?

When you buy clothing, a new piece of electronics or a toy, you wonder about the workers who made it. When you look at the country of origin label, you think of what they endure. But from thousands of miles away, it is hard to see how to help them, how you can make any difference.

Here's how. The Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights makes it possible for people like you who understand the injustice of the global economy to take action for real change. When you support the Institute's work, you help build a fairer world.

The Institute's dedicated, knowledgeable staff makes a real difference:

 

  • We record workers' experiences and help them make their case in the most powerful way.
  • We collect evidence: labels, pay stubs, production documents and management directives. We help workers photograph and document violations and dangerous conditions.
  • We provide tools, strategies and protection for workers who investigate undercover in factories.
  • We sustain workers who are fired for demanding decent working conditions.

 

Most important, the Institute's work forces abusive companies to face international denunciation-and breaks through the isolation of workers like Taniya as they fight for their fundamental rights. Over and over, people struggling for justice have told us our support helps them find the strength to continue.

The Institute is an essential element in the struggle for a fair global economy because we have earned the trust of people in every part of that system. Workers in Bangladesh, China, Honduras, Jordan and elsewhere: they know that when we say we'll share their stories, we will. When we say we'll bring resources, we do. Labor, religious and human rights activists around the world: they know that when we say we'll find local leaders, we will. When we say we'll document precisely how global industry relies on exploitation, we will.

CBS, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, USA Today, Associated Press and other media: they know that when the Institute brings a story, the details will check out. And Wal-Mart, Lear, Gap, Microsoft and other corporate giants: they know that when the Institute says thousands are holding them responsible for abuses, the letters will indeed come pouring in.

Even Women's Wear Daily, the industry trade publication, calls on the Institute's Charlie Kernaghan to propose corporate reforms, because they know his knowledge of factory conditions is unparalleled.

Our reputation for accuracy and follow-through is inextricably linked to the breadth and depth of our work. We are a small organization with limited resources, but we have developed an understanding of local conditions in many countries. And once we start working with an issue and a community, we stick with them over years. The Institute's work has shown that concentrated and unrelenting effort to expose these injustices-and sophisticated dissemination of the facts-can change discourse and change corporate practices.

For example, the Institute helped awaken millions of Americans to the fact of child labor and global exploitation when we exposed the Honduran sweatshop making Kathie Lee Gifford's celebrity clothing line for Wal-Mart. We brought Wendy Diaz, a 15-year-old Honduran worker, to the U.S. to share her story. Gifford initially reacted with denial (including angry tears broadcast on TV), but later apologized and supported government initiatives against child labor and sweatshop conditions. Probably more than any other, this high-profile case made global labor rights a daily household question.

Years later, the Institute continues to have an impact beyond its size. Here are some examples of how the Institute made a difference in 2013:

Bangladesh: The Institute was a critical resource for Dhaka workers after the garment industry's deadliest disaster ever: the collapse of Rana Plaza in April. Building inspectors had evacuated the structure, but garment factory bosses threatened to withhold a month's pay from workers or fire them if they did not work. Because of the owners' greed, 1,132 young Bangladeshi workers died, and some 2,500 more lost arms and legs, became paralyzed, or suffered head injuries.

A recognized union could have protected these workers from threats and retaliation-could have saved thousands of lives and family livelihoods. For many years, just a block away from Rana Plaza, the Garment and Industrial Workers' Federation has worked with the Institute's support to organize workers and demand a collective voice. When tragedy struck, the Institute worked day and night with the Federation to help the workers and their families. The Institute became a major channel for workers and the Federation to get the facts out to the Western public, fostering comprehensive, accurate media coverage on the tragedy. We also became a channel for assistance to flow the other direction, raising over $26,000 from people like you to help severely injured workers and their families reconstruct their devastated lives.

The challenge after Rana Plaza is to change the future, so lives will not have been lost in vain. Unions and workers in Bangladesh have rededicated themselves to demanding change, and they depend on us to help put pressure on every point in the system. No one is better positioned than the Institute to bring home to Western corporations the need for internationally recognized labor rights. In October, Charlie joined Rep. George Miller at the Women's Wear Daily CEO Summit, "Bangladesh: The Fallout," challenging corporate leaders to implement reforms that would afford real protections for workers' rights-including the right to organize and bargain collectively. 

 

Jordan: The Institute earns trust from the world's most downtrodden workers, and we live up to their trust by relentlessly pursuing change. The Institute has spent years documenting the vicious sexual abuse of South Asian women workers in Jordan's largest garment export facility. Before our campaign, these abuses were routine, unchallenged, and not even spoken of. Now, for the first time, the Jordanian government has acknowledged the sexual harassment and abuse of these young, highly vulnerable guest workers. A 2013 "Implementation Plan" signed by the U.S. and Jordan includes a commitment to end workplace sexual harassment and to protect guest workers' right to organize. We know that without dogged, persistent follow-up, such commitments can prove hollow. So we will continue working with partners in Jordan to demand that official words lead to concrete action.

Honduras: Late last year, the Institute issued a report on the severe labor rights violations at a Lear auto parts plant in San Pedro Sula, Honduras. The facts we documented gave teeth to the demand of the Lear workers and their union, Central General de Trabajadores (CGT), that Lear must respect their right to organize. In August, the Institute helped organize a delegation to Honduras with top-level representatives of the United Steelworkers, United Auto Workers, and the AFL-CIO Solidarity Center. We met with the workers, Honduran media, the U.S. Ambassador to Honduras and the Honduran Minister of Labor. Even the Honduran Maquiladora Association (owners' organization) sought a meeting with the delegation. While this struggle is far from resolved, the progress to date shows the impact of informed, concentrated international pressure combined with courageous, forceful workers' organizing.

Lear workers participate in delegation press conference, shrouding faces with their work smocks.

 

Guatemala: Institute staff recently returned from Guatemala, where we are working with a group of workers who sewed clothing for some of America's best-known retailers and high-end labels. This spring, the factory shut down, owing the workers thousands of dollars each in unpaid wages and benefits, and pocketing millions owed to the Guatemalan government's Social Security pension and healthcare system. The Institute will shortly be publishing a report documenting years of these abuses, and the international retailers' willingness to turn a blind eye to them. The Institute will demand that the U.S. companies and government take responsibility, make the workers whole, and put in place protections from future abuses.

China: The Institute works with several undercover teams of highly sophisticated researchers and worker advocates, who document violations of worker rights in factories that produce electronics and other consumer goods for leading international brands. Cases documented by the Institute and testimony by Charlie Kernaghan have been critical resources for U.S. congressional committees, including the Congressional-Executive Commission on China. The Institute is now preparing a series of new reports on China to be released in 2014.

Each one of these countries has its own legal, economic and cultural factors, but across every single one there is a constant: workers fighting for justice, organizing unions and seeking international support and help to hold companies accountable. The Institute makes a difference, over and over, by helping workers bring their stories to the mainstream media and to people who will stand with them: international unions, people of faith, educators and students. And-with your help-the Institute makes a difference by demanding that corporations respect worker rights no matter where in the world their products are made.


If you contribute to the Institute's operations, here's how your support will make a difference:

  • Your contribution of $25 provides a month of necessary supplies for one of our offices abroad, where workers meet to identify the best strategies for obtaining their rights.
  • Your contribution of $50 covers three months of cell phone use for one of our undercover researchers-an essential tool for someone working 16-hour days while keeping our team informed of conditions in the plant.
  • Your contribution of $100 enables a worker fired for activism to support her family for a month, permitting her to continue fighting for justice for herself and her fellow workers.
  • Your contribution of $500 pays for our team members in remote cities to travel to Institute regional headquarters, where they share valuable information and are trained for increased responsibilities.
  • Your contribution of $1000 funds the preparation of an Institute report and press advisories following a major research trip.
  • Your contribution of $5000 covers one month of dangerous undercover investigations in China.

If you have given to the Institute recently, we thank you for understanding how vital this work is, and how your support makes it possible.

If you have not, please contribute to the Institute today. Over 30 years, we have earned respect for our rigorous research, sophisticated media outreach, strong relationships with labor, women's and human rights organizations, and our ability to put effective pressure on companies and government officials both in the U.S. and abroad.

But none of this is possible without your help. Your support is essential to end child labor, maiming and deaths, starvation wages and grueling hours. It is long past time for workers worldwide to have their fundamental human rights! Help us turn that dream into reality.

In Solidarity,

Charles Kernaghan Barbara Briggs Sabrina Liu

 

 

 

 

 

 

P.S. We know we don't need to remind you that workers everywhere are connected. Job loss and declining work conditions in Western countries go hand-in-hand with worker exploitation in the developing world.

When we stand with our brothers and sisters overseas, we are standing for each other, and ourselves. We must not rest until every hour of labor, everywhere, is an hour of dignity.

 

 

Donate Now

This holiday season, give a gift that will make a difference. Instead of buying a sweatshirt made in Bangladesh or a tablet made in China, make a donation in honor of someone special as your present to them.

 

 

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