May Day Statement
May 1, 2013 | Share
Over 400 Garment Workers Killed in Bangladesh Factory Collapse
Making This the Worst Disaster in the History of the Garment Industry
It Does Not Have to Be This Way.
Did you know that then-Senators Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, Byron Dorgan and 22 other Senators, along with 175 Members of the House of Representatives, signed onto the Decent Working Conditions and Fair Competition Act, which, if passed, would have ended sweatshop production and guaranteed workers their legal rights?
Passage of the Decent Working Conditions and Fair Competition Act, introduced in the 110th Congress in 2007 (as S 367 in the Senate and HR 1992 in the House), would make a world of difference for both American workers and workers across the developing world-including by helping to avert tragedies like the recent factory collapse in Bangladesh, where the death toll may well reach 1,000. (Over 420 are confirmed dead. 1,000 are still listed as missing.)
The proposed legislation does not set wage standards, which can only be determined by workers in their own countries.
What this legislation will do is to guarantee that workers are afforded the International Labor Organization's core labor rights standards:
- No child labor,
- The right to freedom of association,
- The right to organize and to form an independent union,
- The right to bargain collectively,
- No forced labor, and
- Decent and safe working conditions.
If the core ILO labor standards-which the whole world claims to adhere to-are violated, then the product cannot be imported into the United States, exported from the U.S. or sold in the U.S.
We all know now that so-called corporate codes of conduct and voluntary monitoring do not work.
When passed, the Decent Working Conditions and Fair Competition Act will empower workers in the U.S. and across the world, especially in developing countries.
The factories in the illegal Rana Plaza building, where over 400 workers were tragically killed, would never have been allowed to export their sweatshop products to the U.S. If factories want to export to the U.S., they must adhere to the ILO's internationally recognized worker rights standards. This is how we can lift all ships!
In a 2006 Harris Poll, the American people spoke out: "76 percent of Americans believe that workers should be protected, just as corporate trademarks and products are in the global economy." A full "75 percent of all Americans want their member of Congress to support legislation to protect human rights in the global economy by prohibiting the import or sale of sweatshop goods."
There is actually a strong precedent for the Decent Working Conditions and Fair Competition Act to protect worker rights. It is the Dog and Cat Protection Act of 2000.
One day, as we were checking the labels on coats at a Burlington Coat Factory store in New York City, we discovered that the content included "dog fur and cat fur." Dogs and cats were being killed and skinned in China to make the fur collars on Burlington Coat Factory coats.
Word spread very fast, and the United States Congress flew into action. Members scrambled to beat one another to the microphone to speak out, and within days the bill had passed in both House and Senate. The new law reads:
"It shall be unlawful for any person to (A.) import into, or export from , the United States any dog or cat fur products, or (B.) introduce into interstate commerce, manufacture for introduction into interstate commerce, sell, trade or advertise in interstate commerce, offer to sell, or transport or distribute in interstate commerce in the United States, any dog or cat fur product."
Now that the U.S. Congress has protected dogs and cats, can we hope that Congress will do the same to protect the rights of workers?
The only way we will be able to break the sweatshop cycle is to enact laws to protect the fundamental, internationally recognized rights of workers.