Conflict & Justice

Labor Lowdown: This week in workers' rights


Relatives of Bangladeshi workers who lost their lives in a garment factory disaster, gather with banners and placards in Savar, on the outskirts of Dhaka on June 29, 2013, at the site of Bangladesh's worst industrial disaster. Activists are set to protest across North America and Europe as they attempt to force the clothing retail giants Gap and Walmart into signing an 'Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh', which holds corporations legally responsible for the safety of garment workers in the South Asian nation.



The US missed out on September employment statistics, among so many other things, and a new report found Gap Inc. responsible for garment factory workers’ abuses in Bangladesh. Meanwhile Russia detained hundreds of migrant workers who built facilities for the 2014 Winter Games.

Here are some continuing issues to keep in mind:


Now well into Day Four, the consequences of the government shutdown are becoming clear. 

The Washington Post reported yesterday that the jobs report released monthly by the Bureau of Labor Statistics would not be released today—its scheduled date—due to the government shutdown.

The Bureau has had to furlough 2,397 workers who will stay home as long as the shutdown is in effect, reducing its workforce to just three employees.

“Due to the lapse in funding, the Employment Situation release which provides data on employment during the month of September, compiled by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, will not be issued as scheduled on Friday, October 4, 2013,” the Labor Department said in a statement on Thursday. “An alternative release date has not been scheduled.”

The Bureau’s monthly jobs reports release the current unemployment rates and employment levels, which economists, investors and politicians watch closely. The data, according to the Washington Post, “can influence economic policies, investment decisions and approval ratings.”


The Pittsburgh-based Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights released a new report Thursday, saying a Bangladesh factory used by Gap and Old Navy  forced workers to work over 100 hours a week. Factory employees also routinely hit employees, according to the report titled “Gap and Old Navy in Bangladesh: cheating the poorest workers in the world”.

According to the report, workers living in poverty earn only 20 to 24 cents per hour, and are frequently fired illegally. Pregnant workers are also denied legal paid maternity leave, and are often forced to work harder, it claims.

Charles Kernaghan, director of the Institute, wrote in the report that the abuses have been ongoing for over two and a half years.

Laura Wilkinson, a Gap Inc. spokesperson, said that the company had received the report and was investigating the allegations, but that “the factory in question has been audited for working conditions and ‘allegations (in the report) don’t align with the audit and worker interviews.’”

“If true, these allegations are in direct violation of Gap’s contract with this vendor,” she added.

Wilkinson told the institute that Gap Inc. conducts “announced and unannounced audits”—performing 563 unannounced and 585 announced audits in 2012 alone.

Other allegations from the 70 Bangladeshi garment factories Gap Inc. employs, according to the Institute include 17 hour shifts seven days a week, they are paid in cash, “off the books and cheated of 15 percent of overtime pay,” and if they make mistakes, they are “humiliated and forced to stand in front of the sewing line.”


Human Rights Watch released a statement Thursday, saying that Russia has detained hundreds of migrants in the soon-to-be-Olympic host city of Sochi—many of the migrants helped to build 2014 Winter Olympics facilities.

The workers have been arrested and detained by Russian officials since early September, for allegedly violating “migration or employment rules,” according to Bloomberg.

Many of the detainees, Bloomberg said, are being held in “arbitrary and inhuman” conditions, while others are being expelled from the Russia Federation.

“It’s outrageous for the migrant workers who helped to build Sochi’s shiny new Olympic venues to be herded into detention and deported,” Jane Buchanan, associate director for Europe and Central Asia. Ilya Djous, a spokesman for Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak, who’s in charge of Olympic preparations, told Bloomberg, adding that that there haven’t actually been any “mass violations” of labor or migration rules.

A less recent Human Rights Watch report from February stated that construction workers had been “exploited and cheated out of their wages,” and some were forced to work 12-hour shifts with “few days off, withheld passports and work permits and refused to pay promised salaries.”