Asia is the workshop of the world: Our clothing, toys, electronic gadgets, even our food is often produced in Asia. But at what price? Workers often are obliged to ruin their health, become victims of forced labour and have no social protection. However, in some factories there is growing resistance to such exploitation. Solidar Suisse supports Asian workers with lobbying and emergency aid.
Many of the products we buy are produced in global supply chains, often in Asia. The transfer of production, together with jobs, to Asia has continued since the 1990‘s in a climate of increasing globalization. More recently we have seen that Chinese investors are more and more controlling Asian manufacturers of branded products and capital goods. This bodes ill for worker’s rights and the protection of employee health and safety. Although there are laws protecting Asian workers, they are often not enforced.
Increased capital mobility demands stronger networking of unions
When workers respond with protests, strikes and political actions to workplace grievances they are threatened with repressive measures. Or, the investors simply transfer the production to another country. The increasing capital mobility and the accompanying increase of worker mobility (a.k.a. labour migration) require new approaches for the protection of workers’ rights. Effective collaboration and networking by Asian grassroots organizations and unions, as well as international lobbying and educational work, will become more important to ensure workers’ rights, health and safety.
Solidar Suisse supports the networking of Asian grassroots organisations standing up for worker protection. This is done through its partner, the Asia Monitor Resource Center (AMRC), which has been documenting economic development, investment and its effects on workers in Asia for many years. Their current program includes three key topics:
- Studies of the impact of investment flows in Asia on the workers, in particular the growing Chinese cross-border Belt & Road Initiative.
- Networking of Asian grassroots organizations actively treying to improve working conditions in palm oil plantations, especially in Malaysia (Sabah and Sarawak), where many Indonesians work. Most of them are clandestine and, therefore, easy victims of exploitation by the palm oil companies. One of the project’s goals is to facilitate workers’ access to the local unions. AMRC also investigates working conditions in the plantations. They recently published a study of working conditions on the Indonesian farms of the Sinar Mas company.
- In the area of occupational health and safety, Solidar Suisse supports the AMRC effort to definitively forbid the use of asbestos in Asia. This includes support and increased networking of the national Ban Asbestos campaigns in southern Asia (Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka) as well as improved access to diagnostic tools for asbestos related diseases. This increases the chances that victims will be compensated for their suffering.