Today, at a briefing on Capitol Hill, Congresswomen Jackie Speier and Jan Schakowsky introduced a resolution expressing that the United States should support and protect “the right of women working in developing countries to safe workplaces, free from gender-based violence, reprisals, and intimidation.” The bicameral resolution was introduced in the Senate by Senator Patty Murray, cosponsored by Senators Sherrod Brown, Ed Markey, and Barbara Mikulski.
Cathy Feingold, Director of AFL-CIO's International Department, said: "The AFL-CIO applauds this resolution, which is an important initiative for advancing protections for workers' rights in global supply chains and addressing gender-based violence in the workplace."
The briefing also served as the Capitol Hill launch of the new report by the International Labor Rights Forum, Our Voices, Our Safety: Bangladeshi Garment Workers Speak Out, which provided inspiration for the resolution. The report describes a chilling web of social relations of intimidation and violence that spans factories and apparel companies, workers’ communities, government agencies, law enforcement, and even their families. More than 70 workers were interviewed for the report, speaking passionately about the ways they and their coworkers are silenced and excluded from meaningful participation in matters of their own safety, sometimes violently and brutally, and often more subtly. The report reveals excessive production quotas and wages so low that workers are effectively trapped in abusive conditions, and sexual harassment and abuse for which the victims are blamed.
“I am in awe of the workers who had the courage to speak out about brutal conditions despite forceful attempts to silence them,” said Bonnie Grabenhofer, Vice President of the National Organization for Women. “NOW wants to add our voice to theirs, as well as to the organizations and legislators here today – advocates who are taking steps to increase awareness and address the unsafe conditions, and the abusive, and sometimes violent, brutal treatment that pervades garment factories and other industries in developing countries.”
“This month we commemorate the 1,134 lives lost three years ago in the Rana Plaza building collapse,” said Judy Gearhart, Executive Director of the International Labor Rights Forum. “Fire, electrical, and structural improvements in garment factories are essential and will save lives. Yet the next phase of reforms must instill the lessons that respect for workers is as important to safety as fire exits and additional reforms are needed to end the reprisals against workers who make their voices heard and to promote safe working environments where workers are respected.”
“The women working in these factories abroad sew the clothes we wear, cut the flowers we buy, and assemble the electronics we use. The least we can do is support these women when they speak out against violence and dire workplace conditions,” said Congresswoman Jackie Speier. “The Rana Plaza tragedy awoke us all to the horrible conditions that workers – who are predominantly female – experience in export industries. Almost three years later, however, many of the factories that produce clothing for Western retailers remain hostile workplaces, and in many cases, deathtraps and tragedies waiting to happen. As a nation, we must stand with women who are fighting for their rights to a safe workplace, free from sexual harassment and violence.”
“All women should have the right to work in a safe environment, without the threat of violence, discrimination, or other abuses,” said Sen. Murray. “This is particularly urgent for women in developing countries who too often face sexual harassment and unsafe working conditions while trying to earn a living for themselves and their families. I’m proud to support this resolution that would make clear that we stand with working women everywhere and support their rights.”