Conflict & Justice

Labor Lowdown: This week in workers' rights


Protesters marched during an anti-government demonstration in Copacabana near where Pope Francis attended the Via Crucis on Copacabana Beach on July 26, 2013 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Protest leaders said the demonstration was calling for an end to corruption and better public services in the country.


Buda Mendes

Brazilian lawyers have filed suit against Samsung Electronics for poor working conditions, Russian President Vladimir Putin is detaining migrant workers in Moscow’s first detention camps for illegal immigrants, the United States' newly confirmed Labor Department head is worrying some businessmen and Qatar’s treatment of foreign workers is called into question as it prepares to host the 2022 World Cup.

Here are some of this week’s updates to keep an eye on:


Prosecutors in Brazil filed a lawsuit against Samsung Electronics, accusing the manufacturer of violating the local labor rights of its factory workers.

The lawsuit,  reported tech site UberGizmo, said Samsung’s factory employees work 10 to 15 hour days, on their feet, without any breaks. Many Brazilians employed by the company work for up to 27 days in a row.

Local officials discovered the poor working conditions in two separate inspections at the factory in Zona Franca de Manaus. Some of Samsung’s largest factories are in Brazil.

A Samsung spokesperson said they would “fully cooperate” with Brazilian authorities following notification of the case, and will perform a complete analysis of the workday of their local employees.

The lawsuit is reportedly seeking $100 million in damages.


Russian President Vladimir Putin has officially opened Moscow’s first detention camp for illegal immigrants, according to Bloomberg, as migrants become the predominant concern among voters who are preparing for the city’s first mayoral election since 2003.

Putin’s protégé, acting Mayor Sergei Sobyanin, is “pulling out all the stops to beat challengers including protest leader Alexei Navalny and show the world the Kremlin’s dominance.” By creating a camp with enough tents to hold 600 people, surrounded by a 26-foot fence, Putin is looking to prove he still has control over Europe’s largest city—and the center of his opposition—leading up to the September 8 election.

“The Kremlin needs a rematch here in order to strengthen its power,” Valery Fedorov, head of the state-run VTsIOM research center in Moscow, told Bloomberg. “Muscovites see migrants as a threat. Politicians make use of that.”

Since the end of July, officers have already detained a minimum of 5,750 migrant workers from the Caucasus—Russia’s most volatile region—central Asia and Vietnam. Sobyanin said the arrests are an effort to “clean up markets and rid the city of criminal gangs.” Over 2,000 migrants have been detained in cities throughout the rest of the country, the Interior Ministry reported.

Navalny has said that Moscow would ideally be “squeaky clean, without a single migrant,” like the city of Cheboksary.

He has also accused municipal authorities of employing migrants as street cleaners and plumbers “to pocket as much as half of their wages,” and proposed “a ban on migrant labor at state agencies, including for contractors who employ them.”

On July 31 alone, officers arrested and detained1,200 illegal migrants from Vietnam who were employed by a textile factory. The government is reportedly planning to establish a network of 83 detention centers across the Federation.

United States

The Senate confirmed Thomas Perez as head of the Labor Department last month, in a move that has made business leaders concerned about coming victories for labor advocates.

The agency is now expected “to unleash a flurry of new regulations that have been bottled up for months,” and rehash debates over long-awaited rules, some which have been stalled for over two years.

Some new rules, reported the Washington Post, would increase employment for veterans and the disabled, and grow wages for home-health-care workers. The rules would also “set new limits” for exposure to hazardous silica dust in the workplace.

Some of the agency’s more contentious rules and activities would include helping labor unions to organize campaigns and allowing union officials to participate in safety inspections at non-union companies.

“The general view of the business community is that there will be an activist enforcement agenda,” Michael Lotito, a San Francisco lawyer who represents employers in labor disputes told the Post. “That means there are going to be more lawsuits and the regulatory agenda is going to be alive and well.”

Republicans who opposed Perez’s election have said that his record as head of the Justice Department’s civil rights division “was one of ideological activism,” but labor advocates refer to him instead as “a champion for workers’ rights.”

“American workers have an advocate in the Labor Department who will protect and defend workers’ rights — from collective bargaining to workplace safety to retirement security,” said President of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Lee Saunders.


As protests against the World Cup persist in Brazil, labor rights issues are newly brought to light in Qatar as they prepare to host the tournament in 2022.

Last month, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) sent a letter to FIFA’s Joseph Blatter, has stated, to make clear that the preparation for the World Cup in Qatar should in no way infringe upon the rights of workers.

The FIDH reminded Blatter of “the sports organisation’s responsibility to investigate and remedy reports that workers are being subject to unfair payment practices, excessive work hours, racist violence, and work conditions that can amount to forced labour.”

Long known labor abuses in Qatar have been enabled in the past by a lack of legislation to protect 94 percent of the country’s work force, comprised of foreign workers.

The FIDH’s letter to Blatter reportedly quoted a statement from the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), which estimated that Qatar will have to recruit one million more foreign workers in order to prepare for the World Cup.

The Qatar Foundation, however, has drafted rules, which demand contractors pay for foreign workers’ travel to and from Qatar, and three vacation weeks per year. Human Rights Watch commended the move but said “legislating such rules are not enough if they are not put in practice.”