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GENEVA — Textile and apparel labor leaders and workers in many poor nations were victimized last year by killings, violent attacks, threats and arbitrary dismissals, according to a new report.
The annual survey of the International Trade Union Confederation tracked violations in 143 countries and documented human rights abuses by textile and apparel companies in export processing zones — industrial areas with special incentives set up to attract foreign investors — in 34 countries including Bangladesh, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, India, Kenya, Jordan, Turkey, El Salvador and Honduras.
“The ongoing globalization of the world economy, coupled with the global financial and economic crisis, put inordinate pressure on labor markets, working conditions and workers’ rights everywhere,” said the report by the Brussels-based umbrella group, which represents 170 million workers in 157 countries, with 312 national affiliates, including the AFL-CIO. As a result, “Workers continue to be threatened by employers with relocation, outsourcing and downsizing, with inevitable negative consequences for the effective exercise of their trade union rights.”
Worldwide last year, 76 trade unionists were killed for defending fundamental workers’ rights — from 91 the previous year, although the number of killings in Colombia increased by 10 to 49 — 50 received deaths threats, and some 100 were assaulted in 25 countries. A total of 7,500 worker dismissals were recorded in 68 nations, the report said.
“Hundreds of millions of working people are denied the fundamental rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining,” said Guy Ryder, the confederation’s general secretary.
China still bans independent unions, the study said, and last year, China and eight other nations, including Burma, Cuba, Iran and Turkey, imprisoned trade unionists for their pro-worker actions.
In Bangladesh, which has 4,000 apparel factories employing about 2.2 million workers, mostly women, the report said a ban on strikes in the EPZs due to expire at the end of October has been extended effectively until the end of October 2010. And in Bangladesh last year, antiunion activity and worker exploitation intensified, especially in the apparel sector.
The study said that in many factories in Cambodia, trade unionists “continue to face repression of all kinds, including beatings, death threats and blacklistings.”
The president of the Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia, Van Sou leng, the report noted, said in August he considered union strikes to be “the garment industry’s HIV.”
Apparel industry trade unionists and workers were also beaten last year in Sri Lanka, Jordan and Egypt, the report said, adding many were unfairly dismissed from factories in Indonesia and Thailand.