Entries in Labor (2)


Labor Organizer Who Exposed Dangerous Working Conditions Is Tortured, Killed

Worker Rights Consortium(NEW YORK) -- A labor organizer who helped ABC News expose dangerous working conditions at garment factories in Bangladesh was tortured and killed last week, according to authorities.

"All indications are that Aminul Islam was murdered because of his labor rights work," said Scott Nova, executive director of the Worker Rights Consortium, an American group working to improve conditions at factories abroad that make clothes for U.S. companies. "This depraved act signals the deterioration of an already-grim labor rights situation in Bangladesh, which is now the fourth-largest exporter of apparel to the U.S."

Islam had been serving as a senior organizer for the Bangladeshi Center for Worker Solidarity (BCWS), and had most recently been involved in efforts to organize workers at garment factories owned by a company called the Shanta Group. According to shipping records, the company makes clothing for numerous well-known American companies, including Tommy Hilfiger, Nike and Ralph Lauren.

Islam had also helped arrange interviews for ABC News with survivors of one of the deadliest recent factory fires in Bangladesh -- interviews featured in a recent report that aired on Nightline and focused on designer Tommy Hilfiger and the parent company that manufactures his clothing line, PVH Corp.

Bangladesh is currently the cheapest place in the world for garment manufacturers to make clothing. Workers can make as little as 21 cents an hour, and according to labor organizers, shoddy wiring and locked gates are frequent at Bangladeshi clothing factories despite their highly flammable contents. Over the past five years, nearly 500 workers have died in a series of gruesome fires.

Islam was last seen Wednesday evening outside the offices of BCWS, after having closed the office early because he believed the office was being monitored by Bangladeshi officials, according to information gathered by Nova. Two days later, a photo of Islam's body appeared in a Bangladeshi newspaper alongside a report about unidentified remains having been discovered. His wife recognized the photo.

Islam's body bore signs of brutal torture, according to local police and to a statement issued jointly by two American groups, the Worker Rights Consortium and the International Labor Rights Forum. The release states that labor rights organizations in Bangladesh and the United States believe the killing is associated with Islam's work on behalf of apparel workers who sew garments for suppliers to major U.S. retailers and brands.

One reason for their suspicions is that Islam had been previously detained and tortured in connection with his efforts on behalf of workers, according to Nova. Two years ago, Islam told his colleagues that he had been detained and beaten by Bangladeshi intelligence officials. He said the officials demanded that he write a letter implicating his colleagues at BCWS in instigating unruly labor protests that damaged some factory buildings. Islam refused, but told colleagues he had managed to escape his captors.

One of those implicated in the protests was Kalpona Akter, the head of BCWS, who told ABC News in a recent interview that she was concerned that her group and others could face intimidation or even jail time if they continued to fight for safer working conditions and better pay in Bangladesh.

In her interview, Akter told ABC News that she was willing to accept the risk involved in fighting for better working conditions.

"I was the worker," she said. "I have experienced [working] 23 days in a row…I was sleeping in shop floor. I was taking sometime shower in toilets. I was drinking unsafe water. I have been slapped by the supervisor. So I don't want to see anymore workers go the same way."

Nova told ABC News he believed that U.S. companies should use their leverage inside Bangladesh to improve conditions for workers.

"For two years, labor rights groups have been calling on Walmart and other companies that produce in Bangladesh to use their power to protect the BCWS staff, and other labor rights advocates, from the government's campaign of repression," said Nova. "Instead, they just increase their production in the country, which sends exactly the wrong message to the government and the factory owners."

PVH Corp., Nike, Ralph Lauren and Walmart did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Kindling the Middle East's Economic Fire

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- As violence erupts in Cairo’s streets, this might be the ideal time to talk about the economic kindling that his helping fuel the fire of dissatisfaction in the Arab world. Young men and women all over the world are suffering the consequences of generations of economic neglect and the bitter fruits of the global economic crisis.
According to the UN’s International Labor Organization 40 percent of the world’s 211 million unemployed -- about 81 million people -- are young people between the ages of 15 and 24. Another 152 million of their young neighbors have work, but live in households that make less than $1.25 per day.
Denied the dignity of a day’s work and a living wage, this legion of unemployed and underemployed young people are most likely to take to the streets. In many cases, they are fed up with economic disparity and corrupt regimes which enrich their partisans while ignoring the plight of the underclass. The Middle East is especially burdened with an entrenched class of young unemployed people who see little hope for change.
According to data from the UN’s International Labor Organization 2010 Global Employment Trends for Youth report, Arab countries see a 30 percent unemployment rate for their 15-24 year old citizens, more than double the global average (14.4 percent).

In Egypt, the UN says, it takes more than 2 years (29 months) for a young person to find a satisfactory job after they leave school. Is it any wonder they are turning out by the thousands to effect change in their leadership?
But it’s not just Egypt facing this problem with unemployed youth. Jordan, Libya, Saudi Arabia and the Palestinian Territories all have youth unemployment rates higher than Egypt. If the fire starts to catch, there is certainly a lot of kindling ready to burn.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio