SEATTLE, Washington — A United Nations report found that more than one-fourth of those participating in the workforce in developing nations are the working poor. Since most people living in poverty only have their labor as an asset, this is a huge problem. Most strategies that focus on employment do not address equity, security, dignity and freedom which are all key parts of successful, poverty-reducing employment. While there is a lot of work to do in order to address this issue, a new bill in the U.S. Senate, the Global Labor Support Act, aims to take a step in the right direction.
The Situation in Bangladesh
In 2013, the collapse of the Rana Plaza in Bangladesh killed over 1,100 garment workers. The poor working conditions of these workers sparked an investigation. The findings of this investigation inspired the introduction of the Global Labor Support Act.
The Rana Plaza incident in Bangladesh is only one example of workplace tragedies that have occurred throughout the world. These tragedies highlight the poor working conditions of low-wage workers. Workers in these places cannot have safe, healthy and decent working conditions as long as they lack the ability to organize and demand better working rights. In a Senate report on the progress that occurred since the 2013 tragedy, researchers found that while there had been structural changes to make workers safer, there were instances of “increased intimidation, threat, and violence” being used as retaliation against workers who attempted to organize.
The findings in this report generally showed that workers were worse off in terms of worker safety than they were before the Rana Plaza tragedy. Not only have instances of sexual abuse against female workers risen, but in 2016, over 1,500 workers lost their jobs for participating in union activities. All of this led to the introduction of the Global Labor Support Act in the U.S. Senate.
New Legislation Introduced
Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) introduced the Global Labor Support Act on June 17, 2021. In his statement, Senator Menendez said the tragedy at Rana Plaza demonstrated what can happen when workers do not have permission to organize. He stated that this bill “authorizes significant increases to funding for labor rights and union strengthening programming and boosts our diplomatic engagement on labor rights.”
One of the biggest impacts this bill would have would be to increase funding for labor rights programs. Passage would establish a Global Labor Rights Fund and appropriate $30 million annually to prompt labor rights. It would extend the current Global Labor Program for five years. It would also appropriate no less than $13 million per year through 2028. After that, the Global Labor Rights Fund would appropriate an additional $30 million annually to various labor rights programs. All of these appropriations would be effective through 2028.
Since the events in Bangladesh spurred the introduction of the Global Labor Support Act, the U.S. government is aiming for provisions to deal directly with the situation there. The bill would appropriate no less than $3 million per year through 2028 to promote labor rights in Bangladesh. It would also require that the U.S. President work directly with the Bangladeshi government to update labor rights policies.
The Bill’s Other Impacts
Beyond funding, the bill would establish an Ambassador-at-Large for Global Labor Rights. This position would be responsible for working with foreign governments and organizations to promote labor rights all across the world. It would also require that the Secretary of State submit an annual report on labor rights by country. Moreover, the bill would sanction countries found responsible for human rights violations of workers.
Human rights inextricably link to social justice. The only way to deal with global poverty is to also address labor rights issues for those living in poverty. The introduction of the Global Labor Support Act would provide necessary funding and oversight to begin addressing these issues worldwide.
– Taryn Steckler-Houle