Big Six in Denmark sign Bangladesh Safety Deal

Bestseller, IC Companys, DK Company, PWT Group, COOP Denmark, and Danish Supermarket all agreed to back the Bangladesh Safety Deal following a meeting organised by the Danish Ethical Trading Initiative (DIEH) bringing together, NGOs, unions and government officials. The Danish Trade Minister Pia Olsen Dyhr urged the companies to add their names to the agreement which aims to improve safety conditions in Bangladesh’s garment factories in the wake of the Rana Plaza factory collapse that claimed 1,129 lives.
The Accord brokered by IndustriALL and UNI Global Union in a strong alliance with leading NGOs, the Clean Clothes Campaign and the Workers Right Consortium, now covers around 2000 of Bangladesh’s 4000 garment factories.
Andy York from N Brown Group, one of the companies which has already signed the Accord and who is part of the Implementation Secretariat spoke to the Danish companies and explained why signing the agreement was the right thing to do.
IndustriALL Global Union General Secretary Jyrki Raina welcomed the new signatories, “The Danish trade unions, including IndustriALL affiliate 3F, have worked well in convincing the Danish market leaders into joining the Accord. The momentum continues building the Accord and continues to further alienate those brands remaining outside.”
UNI Global Union General Secretary, Philip Jennings observed, “We had a lively and informal exchange with the retailers present. We welcome the decision by these six “Great Dane” retailers to sign the agreement. This is another important day for the Accord which continues to grow in scope. The retail sector is answering the call for a socially responsible supply chain.
We know that lives depend on it, with the will to succeed shown by the Danish companies and the 60 plus brands who have signed the Accord we will achieve the goal of making Bangladeshi garment factories safer places to work. Trade Minister Pia Olsen Dyhr and the Danish government should be applauded for driving the Accord forward in Denmark. During discussions with the Trade Minister I was impressed with her determination to get all Danish retailers on board. Other European governments should take note and get behind the Accord as should politicians elsewhere, notably in the United States.”

Jennings said that the global brands, unions and NGOs were making rapid and constructive progress to implement the Accord. He concluded, “There can be no excuses in terms of cost or process to not join the Accord. The Danish companies took their time and have made the right decision. The decision by certain U.S. brands, led by Walmart, to refuse to sign, is looking more and more like a serious error of judgement.”
The Accord provides for a binding programme of fire and building safety reforms based on independent inspections, worker-led health and safety committees and union access to factories, signatories commit to underwrite improvements in dangerous factories and properly confront fire safety and structural problems. The Accord grants workers the right to refuse dangerous work, in line with ILO Convention 155.

May Day Marchers Spread Their Wings

Many in the crowd of San Francisco May Day marchers wore butterfly wings; the Monarch butterfly migrates to Mexico and then back to the U.S. every year. Credit: Judith Scherr/IPS

SAN FRANCISCO, California, May 2 2013 (IPS) – More than 1,000 people marched under the brilliant San Francisco sun on May Day. Their signs, such as “Work in America/Live in America/Dream in America. Immigration reform now,” their songs, chants and speeches wove together the twin themes of the day: worker justice and immigrant justice.

Alphonso Pines of the hotel and restaurant workers union Unite HERE put it this way, speaking to the crowd before the march: “We’re marching for our families; we’re marching to honour the sweat and the contributions of each and every working person. We’re marching to honour the beauty of each and every family – queer or straight, immigrant or born here. We’re marching because together we can make history.

“People are getting separated from their families every day. We want a stop to that immediately.” — Kitzia Esteva of Causa Justa


“Together we can win immigration reform that includes all workers and all families. Together we can stop the pain of deportation.”

In all, there were some 85 marches calling for worker and immigrant rights around the U.S., including a march of 700 in Oakland, California, 2,000 in Los Angeles and several thousand in New York.

Seattle-based journalist Mark Taylor Canfield told IPS that unions brought large numbers of people out to a peaceful march of several thousand in Seattle. A break-off group broke windows and damaged property. Police reacted with “large amounts of pepper spray and flash-bang grenades,” he said. There were 13 arrests.

In San Francisco, Tessa Levine was getting ready to march with Mujeres Unidas. Like many in the crowd, she wore butterfly wings. The Monarch butterfly flies to Mexico then back to the U.S. every year, she said, explaining, “It’s really a symbol that migration is beautiful, that migration is natural.”

Still, migration is regulated by law. And at this point, no one knows exactly what the new immigration law will look like – or if one will actually make it through both houses of Congress and on to the president’s desk.

A number of demonstrators told IPS they had serious questions about the bill known as the Bipartisan Framework for Comprehensive Immigration Reform scheduled for consideration by the Senate Judiciary Committee on May 9.

A primary concern with the bill is the 13 years it would take most immigrants in the U.S. without documents to become citizens. The positive aspect is that, during the waiting period, they would be able to work legally. However, during that time, they would be excluded from social services, including the right to purchase health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

“We want a fast and just path to citizenship,” said Kitzia Esteva, of the advocacy organisation Causa Justa.Just Cause, noting that immigrants’ taxes pay for these services.

Emily Lee, with the Chinese Progressive Association, expressed similar concerns. Noting that one million out of the 11 million undocumented persons living in the U.S. are Asian-Pacific Islanders, she asked, “What does that mean when you’re paying back taxes, and you’re expected to contribute to the society, but you’re not receiving the benefits?”

But even getting onto the path for citizenship under the Senate bill under discussion could be impossible for people who have worked informally as day labourers or domestic workers, since the applicant is expected to show proof of having worked in the U.S.

“These are men who are working every day,” said Emiliano Bourgois-Chacon, with the San Francisco Day Labor Program and Women’s Collective. But because they are undocumented, they don’t have paperwork to prove they have been working, Bourgois-Chacon said.

Keeping the family together was another concern of May Day demonstrators.

The bill in the Senate would make it more difficult for families to sponsor siblings. “Family reunification has been a cornerstone of immigration in the U.S.,” Lee, of the Chinese Progressive Association, said. “And to start chipping away at that…is very problematic.”

Many people in the Chinese community wouldn’t otherwise have been able to come to the U.S., she added.

Deportations that rip families apart are of great concern to a number of demonstrators IPS interviewed. There have been some 800 deportations from San Francisco since 2009, with the introduction of Secure Communities or “S-Comm”, the programme where local police share arrest information with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, according to Estava of Causa Justa.

Across the Bay in Alameda County, the Oakland-Berkeley area, there have been 2,000 deportations since 2009.

“People are getting separated from their families every day,” Estava said. “We want a stop to that immediately. We are fighting to get local police to stop the collaboration between police and ICE, and we have that same demand on the national level with immigration reform.”

Deportation has also heavily impacted the Arab immigrant community, said Lara Kiswani of the Arab Resource and Organizing Center. “There’s obviously racial discrimination and systemic criminalisation of Arabs and Muslims here in the United States, which leads oftentimes to deportation,” she said.

Like Estava, Kiswani said the high number of deportations comes from collaboration between local and federal law enforcement. “There should be an end to S-Comm so that there’s more accountability to local law enforcement and so that people aren’t unjustly targeted and deported for various misdemeanors,” she said.

Another problem with the current and proposed law is the E-verify programme through which an employer can verify a person’s social security number. ICE can request an employer perform an E-verify audit.

Olga Miranda, president of Service Employees International Union Local 87, said a few years ago several hundred of her union janitors were targeted by an E-verify audit, fired, and “lost everything overnight”.

Esteva pointed to another problem with the proposed law: putting resources into enhanced law enforcement on the border.

ICE and the border patrol have the most law enforcement money in the country, Esteva said. “Instead of putting that money into border enforcement, we could see a lot more social services and resources for the community. We think that money would not be well invested in protecting the border.”

Nancy Mackowsky marched the two-mile route holding an American Federation of Teachers banner. She teaches English as a second language at San Francisco City College and said some of her students work from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., then come to her class in the evening four days a week.

“They have goals, they have dreams and they deserve to be able to fulfill them,” she said.