GENEVA — Thousands of trade unionists were arrested, jailed, tortured, fired or intimidated — and 223 were murdered or disappeared — across the world in 2001, the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions contended in a report released last week. A large number of reported abuses took place in textile and apparel factories, the study said.

This story first appeared in the June 25, 2002 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

The ICFTU survey, which draws on data from 132 countries, concluded that over 4,000 trade unionists were arrested, 1,000 injured and 10,000 fired. It identified that the stubborn anti-democratic stance of certain nations and the fierce competition in the global economy as factors fueling the violations.

Violations were particularly severe in many export-processing zones, it said.

“Pressure to compete in a global marketplace is no excuse for governments and employers to cut back and repress workers’ basic human rights,” said Guy Ryder, secretary general of the ICFTU.

“In places like Belarus, Zimbabwe and China, we find that undemocratic governments target trade unions first when their legitimacy is challenged,” said the ICFTU chief, whose umbrella body represents 157 million workers in 225 affiliated organizations in 148 countries.

The 237-page report documents a long list of abuses, including many in textile and apparel plants in Asia, Africa, Latin America and also in developed nations like the U.S.

Juan Somavia, director general of the International Labor Organization, said the report showed that while labor advocates have worked for decades to improve the treatment of workers, “the situation in many countries today shows that the struggle continues.”

The study alleged that management of JAR Kenya, a clothing maker in Nairobi that does business with Wal-Mart Stores Inc., embarked on “a hostile attack on the Tailors and Textile Workers Union.”

It said active union members were “constantly harassed and intimidated.Some were locked up in the factory cell and handed over to the police on fabricated charges.” The report added that some were fired solely for joining the union.

The survey pointed out that trade union rights are severely violated in many Far Eastern countries. It said police have attacked workers protesting in state-owned textile plants in China.

“Any attempt to form a free trade union can be rewarded with huge prison sentences and even life imprisonment,” it said.

The ICFTU survey also documented harsh anti-union policies by management of garment and footwear factories in Indonesia, Pakistan and fierce anti-union tactics in export-promotion zones in the Philippines, Sri Lanka and other countries.

With regards to the Americas, the report concludes hostility toward trade unions in a recurrent problem in many Central and South American countries.

In Guatemala, it said, freedom of association “is virtually nonexistent” and added that employers in textile factories or the big multinationals refuse to recognize trade unions.” No Guatemalan textile or apparel plants are currently unionized.

In the case of the U.S., the report estimated that “80 percent of employers engage consultants to assist in anti-union campaigning.”

ICFTU analysts alleged in the report that “some of the most extreme exploitation” takes place in territories controlled by the U.S. such as the Northern Mariana Islands.

The report argued the conditions there amount to a system of servitude: “Local authorities permit foreign-owned companies to recruit thousands of foreign workers, mainly young women from Thailand, China, the Philippines and Bangladesh.”

The report contended workers in that region must sign contracts that stipulate they must refrain from asking for wage increases, from seeking other work or from joining a union. If they violate the contract, they face deportation, the report added.

The Northern Mariana Islands have been in the public eye over the past two years as the result of an ongoing lawsuit involving garment makers on Saipan, the island that is the capital of the archipelago.”

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