In Paris this week on an official visit, Azerbaijan’s autocratic President Ilham Aliyev has already scored one photo op. Anyone reading yesterday’s Azeri media could see dozens of photos of Aliyev posing with leaders of top French companies, including Airbus, Suez, and Credit Agricole.

Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev (L) shakes hands with his French counterpart Francois Hollande as they visit a local French school under construction in Baku, May 11, 2014.

© 2014 Reuters

Today, President Hollande will receive President Aliyev and host an official dinner at Palais de l’Elysee. Again, Parisian photo ops abound. But amid the flashing cameras, one has to wonder where Azerbaijan’s repression of critics and the jailing of opponents fits in the new relationship between Paris and Baku?

In the past few years, Azerbaijani authorities have aggressively gone after the country’s once vibrant civil society, jailing dozens of activists, journalists, and political opponents. It also adopted draconian legislation making it virtually impossible for independent non-governmental organizations to operate.

One year ago, as Azerbaijan’s economy started to suffer from falling oil prices, several of those detained on political grounds were released. That was an important first step, but hopes for progress were short-lived.

Many of those released face travel bans or obstacles to their activities. Dozens are still locked up on political grounds, including opposition activist Ilgar Mammadov, despite repeated calls by the Strasbourg-based Council of Europe for his immediate release. And more activists have been thrown in jail. Recently, one of the country’s most popular journalists and bloggers, Mehman Huseynov, was sentenced to two years in prison for allegedly defaming the police, in response to his brave public denouncement of the police abuses he suffered.

When visiting Paris, Brussels, or other European capitals, President Aliyev hopes to get more business opportunities and investment in Azerbaijan. But he prefers to ignore that the people of Azerbaijan want human rights protections, transparency, and good governance. Those standing up for these values are routinely exposed to attacks and harassment.

Yet what more clear message that Azerbaijan’s crackdown cannot be ignored by potential investors than last week’s decision by the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), an international coalition promoting better governance of resource-rich countries, to suspend Azerbaijan – precisely because of its actions against civil society.

President Hollande should reject a narrative that only finance and economy matter in Azerbaijan. Human rights should be as central to France’s foreign policy as other topics.

Hollande should publicly call for the release of Ilgar Mammadov and all those detained in retaliation for their activism and criticism. A failure to explicitly support human rights principles would be the worst message to those unjustly waiting behind bars.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Arvind Ganesan is the director of Human Rights Watch’s Business and Human Rights Division. He leads the organization’s work to expose human rights abuses linked to business and other economic activity, hold institutions accountable, and develop standards to prevent future abuses. This work has included research and advocacy on awide range of issues includingthe extractive industries; public and private security providers; international financial institutions; freedom of expression and information through the internet; labor rights; supply chain monitoring and due diligence regimes; corruption; sanctions; and predatory practices against the poor. Ganesan’s work has covered countries such as Angola, Azerbaijan, Burma, China, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, India, Indonesia, the United States, and Nigeria. His recent research has focused on predatory lending practices and governance issues on Native American reservations in the United States. He has written numerous reports, op-eds, and other articles and is widely cited by the media.

Ganesan has also worked to develop industry standards to ensure companies and other institutions respect human rights. He is a founder of the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights for the oil, gas, and mining industries and is a founding member of the Global Network Initiative (GNI) for the internet and telecommunications industries, where he also serves on the board. Ganesan has helped to develop standards for international financial institutions such as the World Bank, and regularly engages governments in an effort to develop mandatory rules or strengthen existing standards such as the Kimberley Process. He serves on the board of EGJustice, a nongovernmental organization that promotes good governance in Equatorial Guinea, and is a member of the International Corporate Accountability Roundtable (ICAR)’s steering committee.

Before joining Human Rights Watch, Ganesan worked as a medical researcher. He attended the University of Oklahoma.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Jeffrey P. Bezos
Founder and Chief Executive Officer
Amazon.com, Inc.
Seattle, WA

Dear Mr. Bezos,

The undersigned coalition of organizations are dedicated to protecting civil rights and liberties and safeguarding communities. We write today to express our profound concerns about your company’s facial recognition system, Rekognition. We demand that Amazon stop powering a government surveillance infrastructure that poses a grave threat to customers and communities across the country. Amazon should not be in the business of providing surveillance systems like Rekognition to the government.

Amazon touts itself as a customer-centric company and directs its leadership to “work vigorously to earn and keep customer trust.”[1] In the past, Amazon has opposed secret government surveillance.[2] And you have personally supported First Amendment freedoms and spoken out against the discriminatory Muslim Ban.[3] But Amazon’s Rekognition product runs counter to these values. As advertised, Rekognition is a powerful surveillance system readily available to violate rights and target communities of color.

Amazon states that Rekognition can identify people in real-time by instantaneously searching databases containing tens of millions of faces.[4] Amazon offers a “person tracking” feature that it says “makes investigation and monitoring of individuals easy and accurate” for “surveillance applications.”[5] Amazon says Rekognition can be used to identify “all faces in group photos, crowded events, and public places such as airports”—at a time when Americans are joining public protests at unprecedented levels.[6]

Amazon also encourages the use of Rekognition to monitor “people of interest,” raising the possibility that those labeled suspicious by governments—such as undocumented immigrants or Black activists—will be targeted for Rekognition surveillance. Amazon has even advertised Rekognition for use with officer body cameras, which would fully transform those devices into mobile surveillance cameras aimed at the public.[7]

People should be free to walk down the street without being watched by the government. Facial recognition in American communities threatens this freedom. In overpoliced communities of color, it could effectively eliminate it. The federal government could use this facial recognition technology to continuously track immigrants as they embark on new lives. Local police could use it to identify political protesters captured by officer body cameras. With Rekognition, Amazon delivers these dangerous surveillance powers directly to the government.

Rather than restrict government use of Rekognition, Amazon is helping governments deploy it on both coasts, according to documents obtained by ACLU affiliates in three states.[8] It has provided product support and offered free consulting services to government customers. Amazon has solicited feedback on new product features for law enforcement. Amazon even signed a secrecy agreement with a prominent law enforcement customer. Despite all of this, Amazon imposes no meaningful restrictions on how governments can use Rekognition.

Amazon Rekognition is primed for abuse in the hands of governments. This product poses a grave threat to communities, including people of color and immigrants, and to the trust and respect Amazon has worked to build. Amazon must act swiftly to stand up for civil rights and civil liberties, including those of its own customers, and take Rekognition off the table for governments.

 

Sincerely,

American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)

ACLU Foundations of California

ACLU of Florida

ACLU of Massachusetts

ACLU of Oregon

ACLU of Washington

18MillionRising.org

AI Now

API Chaya

CAIR Massachusetts

CAIR San Francisco Bay Area

CAIR Washington

Center for Media Justice

Charles Hamilton Houston Institute - Harvard Law School

Color of Change

CREDO Action

Data for Black Lives

Defending Rights and Dissent

Demand Progress Action

El Centro de la Raza

Electronic Frontier Foundation

Faith Action Network

Families for Justice as Healing

Freedom of the Press Foundation

Human Rights Watch

Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice

Legacy of Equality, Leadership, and Organizing (LELO)

MAPS-AMEN (American Muslim Empowerment Network)

Media Alliance

Muslim Advocates

Muslim Justice League

National Day Laborer Organizing Network

National Lawyers Guild – Massachusetts Chapter

Oakland Privacy

OneAmerica

Restore the Fourth, Inc.

Seattle Japanese American Citizens League

Student Immigrant Movement

Unitarian Universalist Mass Action Network

WITNESS

Youth Justice & Power Union  

 

[1] Amazon Leadership Principles, https://www.amazon.jobs/principles.

[2] Tom Mendelsohn, Amazon, Google, Apple join Microsoft in US gag orders fight, Sept. 5, 2016, Ars Technica, https://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2016/09/microsoft-amazon-google-appl....

[3] Press Release, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press announces $1 million gift from Jeff Bezos; new partnership with First Look Media, May 23, 2017, https://www.rcfp.org/reporters-committee-freedom-press-announces-1-milli... Ben Popper, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos: ‘we do not support’ Trump immigration order¸ Jan. 30, 2017, The Verge, https://www.theverge.com/2017/1/30/14445390/amazon-ceo-jeff-bezos-oppose....

[4] Press Release, Amazon Rekognition announces real-time face recognition, Text in Image recognition, and improved face detection, Nov. 21, 2017, https://aws.amazon.com/about-aws/whats-new/2017/11/amazon-rekognition-an... (archive).

[5] Q: What is Person Tracking, Rekognition FAQ, https://aws.amazon.com/rekognition/faqs/#Video_Analytics (archive).

[6] Amazon Rekognition Announces Real-Time Face Recognition, Support for Recognition of Text in Image, and Improved Face Detection, AWS AI Blog, Nov. 21, 2017, https://aws.amazon.com/blogs/machine-learning/amazon-rekognition-announc... (archive); Press Release, Amazon Rekognition announces real-time face recognition, Text in Image recognition, and improved face detection, Nov. 21, 2017, https://aws.amazon.com/about-aws/whats-new/2017/11/amazon-rekognition-an... (archive).

[7] See Amazon Rekognition product page (archived on Feb. 25, 2018), https://web.archive.org/web/20180225100337/https:/aws.amazon.com/rekogni... Letter to Axon AI Ethics Board regarding Ethical Product Development and Law Enforcement, Apr. 26, 2018, http://civilrightsdocs.info/pdf/policy/letters/2018/Axon%20AI%20Ethics%2....

[8] Matt Cagle & Nicole Ozer, Amazon Teams Up with Law Enforcement to Deploy Dangerous New Facial Recognition Technology, ACLU of Northern California, May 22, 2018, www.aclunc.org/rekognition-analysis.  

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Police officers stand in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, U.S., January 19, 2018.

© 2018 Reuters

The private sector arm of the World Bank has long come under fire for funding projects that run afoul of human rights. But, because it enjoys full legal immunity in the United States, it has not been possible for anyone to hold the International Finance Corporation (IFC) accountable in US courts.

 

That may change. This week, the US Supreme Court will decide whether to hear a case brought forward by a fishing community in India seeking damages for harm allegedly caused by IFC-funded coal power plant in Gujarat, India. If the court decided to take on the case, it could, for the first time, allow people to seek legal recourse for human rights abuses and environmental harm related to IFC investments.

Lower courts have ruled that the IFC enjoys absolute immunity from lawsuits under the International Organizations Immunities Act, the US law granting them that status.

In 2016, the IFC had more than US$18 billion investment commitments worldwide, making it the largest development bank investing solely in the private sector. The institution has a mandate to end extreme poverty and “promote share prosperity in every country.”

In this case, the petitioners to the Supreme Court tried to resolve their claims through the IFC’s accountability mechanism, the Compliance Advisor Ombudsman (CAO), but the IFC’s actions have been insufficient to act on the problems identified by that office.

This is not an isolated case. In another case from India, tea workers alleged labor rights abuses, in violation of international law and the IFC’s own rules, on IFC-funded tea plantations. Tea workers also appealed to the CAO, which found numerous shortcomings in IFC’s assessment of risks associated with child labor, fair compensation, and freedom of association. They also found IFC wasn’t providing a way out of poverty for workers, contrary to its goal of alleviating poverty. Local civil society say that little has changed for tea workers in the nine years since IFC invested in the tea plantations.

IFC’s lawyers also seem worried about how many communities may come forward to accuse the IFC of abuses in court, if its immunity is lifted. They argued in court that waiving immunity would open “a floodgate of lawsuits by allegedly aggrieved complainants from all over the world.”

If that’s the case, then IFC should focus on making sure its projects don’t undermine human rights and truly promote development, so it won’t have to worry so much about keeping itself out of court. If the court doesn’t strip the IFC of its immunity, then Congress should create legal liability for IFC’s actions, offering communities a better chance at justice and remedy for abuses.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

It’s been almost two decades now since governments came together to end the trade in “blood diamonds” that were fuelling several brutal wars in Africa. They set up the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme, a system of export and import controls for rough diamonds.

Groups of miners in the diamond fields in Marange in 2006. When the scramble peaked in October 2008, more than 35,000 people, including children and women, were either mining or buying diamonds in Marange.

© 2006 Associated Press

But it’s clearer than ever that the Kimberley Process is not up to the task. The trade in diamonds still gives rise to serious human rights violations.

Take what’s happening right now in the Marange diamond fields, eastern Zimbabwe. Residents living near the diamond fields have suffered forced labor, torture, and other abuses. Just two weeks ago, protests by villagers against the alleged looting of diamond revenue by state-owned companies turned violent. Residents say that security force personnel beat women with batons, fired live ammunition into the air, and fired tear gas canisters—resulting in three children being hospitalized.

Many Marange residents feel harassed by authorities, who have declared the Marange community a “protected area” where any visits by outsiders require special authorization, and have arrested several people caught without an identity document proving their residency in Marange. Private security officers employed by the diamond mining company in Marange, Zimbabwe Consolidated Diamond Company, have also used brute violence to deter local residents from mining diamonds, according to victims. One of the miners described his arrest: “The guards handcuffed me and my colleagues and ordered us to sit down. They set vicious dogs on us which mauled us for about 10-15 minutes as they watched, leaving us severely injured”.

Jewelry Brands Should Come Clean

Jewelry Brands Should Come Clean

You should know what is #BehindTheBling. This Mother's Day tell global jewelry brands to ensure their jewelry is responsibly sourced and address human rights abuses in their supply chains.

The unfortunate reality is that diamonds tainted by abuse from Marange or elsewhere can still reach the global diamond market easily. Both governments and companies in the diamond supply chain are to blame for this.

The Kimberley Process is narrowly focused on curbing the trade of diamonds whose sale benefits armed groups—not abusive governments or their armed forces. So, it is not surprising that the Kimberley Process has authorized exports of Zimbabwean diamonds, although they were – and continue to be - mined under highly abusive conditions.

In addition, governments have failed to create an independent monitoring system to check if the necessary customs controls are in place. Finally, the Kimberley Process only applies to rough diamonds, allowing stones that are fully or partially cut and polished to fall outside the scope of the initiative.

Companies also have a responsibility to not contribute to human rights violations. To do this, they need to have due diligence safeguards in place to identify and respond to human rights risks throughout their supply chain.

Yet, many companies do not live up to these standards. Human Rights Watch recently scrutinized the diamond sourcing practices of 13 leading jewelry and watch brands.

The organization  found that many companies don’t know where their gold and diamonds come from, and don’t do enough to assess human rights risks. In addition, jewelry and watch companies often publish limited information on how they address human rights risks in their supply chains.  

 The Kimberley Process should adopt a wider definition of “conflict diamonds” (to address abuses like those seen in Marange, and not just full-scale war), establish an independent monitoring system, and ensure more rigorous controls. And Jewelry companies, diamond traders, and cutters and polishers need to establish robust human rights due diligence—and require this from their suppliers, too.

 The abuses unfolding in Marange are a huge stain on the diamond industry worldwide. Customers buy diamonds as a symbol of love, not violence, and jewelry companies should act to stamp out suffering.  

Farai Maguwu is the director of the Centre for Natural Resource Governance, Zimbabwe.

Juliane Kippenberg is an associate director for child rights at Human Rights Watch.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

"Peter," 15, working alongside a teenage girl at an artisanal and small-scale mine in Odahu, Amansie West district, Ghana. 

© 2016 Juliane Kippenberg for Human Rights Watch
Sunday is Mother’s Day in many countries, an opportunity for many to give their mum a piece of jewelry. Jewelers are offering “Mother’s Day Gift Guides” and “Mother’s Day Specials.” Here is Human Rights Watch’s special “gift guide” for Mother’s Day.

Please ask your jeweler three vital questions about the jewelry you consider buying:

  • Where do the gold, diamonds, or other minerals come from? 
  • What has your company done to find out whether there are any human rights abuses in and around the mines where the gold or gems are from?
  • Does your company make the names of your suppliers public?

Jewelry Brands Should Come Clean

Jewelry Brands Should Come Clean

You should know what is #BehindTheBling. This Mother's Day tell global jewelry brands to ensure their jewelry is responsibly sourced and address human rights abuses in their supply chains.

The conditions under which gold and diamonds are mined can be brutal. Human Rights Watch has documented how civilians have suffered in war as armed groups have enriched themselves through mining, how communities have been poisoned by mines emitting toxic chemicals, and how children have been injured and killed mining precious minerals. Children who work in mining often do not go to school and get trapped in poverty.

A few years ago in southern Ghana, I met “Peter,” a frail boy who said he was 15 but looked much younger. He was digging ore out of deep, unsecure pits and processing gold with toxic mercury. He had dropped out of primary school and told me, “I wish I could have stayed in school.”

At Human Rights Watch, we recently scrutinized the sourcing policies of 13 well-known jewelry brands. We found that jewelers often cannot identify where their gold and diamonds originate and rely on the assurances of their suppliers without verifying these claims. In many cases, companies also fail to publish information on their sourcing practices. Several jewelry companies presented certification by the Responsible Jewellery Council, an industry group, as evidence that they were doing well. But that council’s standards are weak and its certification process is not transparent.

However, we also found some good news – for example, Tiffany and Co. traces its gold back to the mine and conducts thorough human rights assessments. And growing number of small jewelers are making efforts to source their gold from small-scale mines where rights are respected.

Jewelry companies should ensure they have traceable, transparent supply chains and are not contributing human rights abuses. A piece of jewelry would be a better Mother’s Day gift if it is responsibly sourced.

 

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

When a Cape Girardeau court put Jason DeFriese on probation in 2013, he knew he would have to stay out of trouble, meet his probation officer every month and avoid alcohol for the next two years. He didn’t know at the time that an inconsistency in alcohol testing standards between private probation and state-run agencies, leading to more false positive readings, would turn his sentence into a nearly five-year ordeal, costing him and his family $10,000.

Missouri allows private companies to supervise people on misdemeanor probation, in part because the Department of Corrections isn’t able to supervise everyone placed on probation or parole. The state doesn’t pay the probation companies. Instead the companies charge probationers for their services and have an incentive to maximize their profits.

A bill before the Missouri Senate could provide the first step in addressing some of the problems in the private probation system, but the Senate should act before it adjourns until next year. Missouri’s private probation system is rife with abuse that can be traced to the Legislature’s failure to put enough protections in place when it decided to allow private companies to supervise probationers.

Draconian drug testing provisions are only one among many problems with private probation. Many people can’t afford the steep charges for private probation supervision and associated requirements. Private probation officers can also recommend that probationers pay for other services they offer, like drug testing, ankle monitors and classes. And they can seek court approval to extend the probation period, at additional cost to the probationer, for any alleged violation, including not being keeping up with payments. The private probation company stands to directly profit from charging the probationer more.

Figures represent potential outcomes. Actual legal financial obligations will vary based on a number of factors, including the range of probation conditions that carry costs, frequency of drug testing, costs associated with any probation violations, and the level of judge’s discretion in setting fines and fees.

© 2018 Human Rights Watch

Courts don’t have to make sure that people can afford all these additional costs, and so people can end up in a downward spiral of costs, criminal consequences, and in despair when they are not able keep up with these debts. Our recent research on the subject shows that court costs and probation fees can add up quickly, making the total cost up to nine times the amount of the criminal fine.

In central and eastern Missouri, it was not uncommon for judges to require multiple, overlapping forms of supervision during probation, such as alcohol monitors, ignition interlock devices and regular drug testing. When a person cannot keep up with these payments, they are often threatened with jail.

Few probationers reported getting any kind of support from their probation officer, like help finding a job, housing or transportation. Instead many said they felt constant anxiety about not having enough money or failing another requirement that would continue the nightmare.

DeFriese was able to finish his probation sentence late last year, but not without a lot of stress and fear of jail time. On March 13, the Missouri House of Representatives passed Bill 1344 to standardize drug testing cutoffs between private probation and those used by the Department of Corrections, which would save many people from the grief that DeFriese faced while he was on probation. False positive results in the private probation system can lead to additional probation time, testing and other consequences.

The bill would also limit the maximum distance a person can be made to travel to report to a probation officer to 50 miles. Currently, some people may have to drive over 100 miles or travel from other states to report to a particular private probation office.

That bill is now before the Senate, and the changes it would make are important. But they are only a first step toward ensuring that people in the private probation system, especially those struggling to make ends meet, are not forced to miss meals or fall behind on rent to pay their probation company. If they fall behind because they are genuinely unable to pay, the law should also protect people from threats of mounting consequences, especially jail time.

Because private probation companies provide a government service, they should follow state transparency requirements, and publish the number of people they supervise, the outcomes of their cases and how much money they make. The state should also supervise these companies, ensuring that they comply with all state rules, not just those related to drug testing.

The Missouri Senate should act during this session on the drug and alcohol testing provisions. And senators should consider that the first step toward reforms that will create a misdemeanor probation system that is fair and just, not an unending nightmare for people caught up in the system.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

This spring marks a solemn milestone. More than five years have passed since a series of deadly fire and building accidents in Pakistan and Bangladesh together killed more than 1,500 workers and injured thousands more.

In the aftermath of these disasters, labor advocates ploughed through debris and dead bodies or interviewed traumatized workers to get them to recall brand names. That image underscored just how woefully inadequate apparel brands’ approach to worker rights had been.

Five years later, we still need more information about the brands that workers produce for, to ensure that workers’ rights are respected, and their safety protected.

Brand-label information matters not just for fire and building safety. The $2.4 trillion apparel industry, which  predominantly employs women as garment workers, witnesses a host of labor abuses. These range from poor wages to factory owners and managers denying paid maternity benefits or even firing pregnant workers to  harassment of union leaders to forced overtime work to workplace sexual harassment.

The governments of producing countries worldwide are primarily responsible for working conditions and labor law compliance. But under international standards, global apparel and footwear companies also have a responsibility to ensure that the rights of workers are respected throughout their supply chain.

One of the key building blocks for better working conditions is more visibility. Brands should make sure workers and the public know which factories are producing for which brands. Some companies sidestep this responsibility, but more and more companies are now disclosing key information.

In 2016, Human Rights Watch joined eight international labor rights groups and global unions advocating for a basic level of transparency in the garment industry. The coalition developed a “Transparency Pledge,” a uniform minimum standard for transparency, drawn from industry good practices. The pledge is a modest starting point for company disclosure.

At least 17 leading companies have committed to publishing all the information sought in the pledge. Another 18 companies, though falling short of pledge standards, committed, for the first time, to publishing their supplier factory information.

Today, a number of leading companies, including Adidas, ASOS, Benetton, C&A, Esprit, Gap Inc., H&M, Hugo Boss, Levi’s, Marks and Spencer, New Balance, Nike, Patagonia, Primark, and Puma, have disclosed at least the names and addresses of their supplier factories.

But a vast majority of the industry, including big companies like Walmart—which co-founded the Sustainable Apparel Coalition—and other fast-fashion leaders like Inditex (owns Zara), Mango, Desigual, Urban Outfitters, and Forever 21  are among those that still do not publicly disclose which factories produce their branded clothes.

Women work in the sewing division of a factory in Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital. Women constitute about 90 percent of the workforce in Cambodia’s garment industry, which produces for many international apparel brands. Human Rights Watch has documented that workers in Cambodia frequently experience forced overtime, pregnancybased discrimination, and denial of paid maternity leave.
 

© 2014 Samer Muscati/Human Rights Watch
Such public disclosure is important in the apparel sector because the industry constantly grapples with unauthorized subcontracting. Some of the worst labor abuses occur in illegally subcontracted factories. These sites typically hire workers on a casual basis—denying them protections like maternity leave and sick leave. Workers find it harder to form unions and collectively bargain for better protections in these small factories.

When an apparel company publicly discloses its production sites, it allows monitoring where it is most needed. Workers need this information, as do those who may advocate on their behalf, including union representatives, local and international nongovernmental organizations, lawyers, journalists, and academics.

The more supply chain data is publicly available, the more likely it is that abusive conditions will be reported—whether publicly or to the brands whose supply chains are implicated—and the more likely it becomes that problems can be solved.

Transparency not only provides workers and advocates critical information about where to turn with problems. It builds confidence among consumers who care about the ethical business practices and allows workers to hope that brands profiting from their labor will hear of their struggles—and intervene.

Brand Arguments

Some brands that reject transparency invoke the oft-repeated trope of competitive disadvantage. But leading companies that already disclose factory information have not said they suffer any financial harm as a result. And publishing supplier factory information would allow brands sourcing from the same factory to potentially collaborate to prevent labor abuses or dangerous conditions.

Some brands say their membership in initiatives like the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety, a binding agreement between brands and global unions forged after the Rana Plaza collapse, proves their commitment to transparency. The initiative has had a positive impact on fire and building safety in Bangladesh. Joining the Bangladesh Accord is important—more brands should join the extended Accord with its improved protections for workers’ freedom of association. But the Accord, which is limited to Bangladesh, is no substitute for a company’s own transparency practices governing its global supplier factories.

It bears repeating that even the best fire and building safety program will not solve many of the labor abuses women workers face in factories. Women workers not only endure poor working conditions but also find it harder to climb up the ranks of workers, performing supervisory roles. Apparel companies should invest in all channels that allow workers to report labor abuses and seek redress. Transparency is one more—yet powerful vehicle—that can be effectively used to help workers by labor advocates.

At least one company, Inditex (which owns Zara and other brands), has refused to publish the names and addresses of its supplier factories, arguing that it privately discloses the data to global unions with which it signed an agreement to improve working conditions throughout its supplier factories. But publishing supplier factory information would only amplify the effectiveness of such a framework agreement, as other brands like H&M, Tchibo, and ASOS have shown.

Nowhere to Hide

Investors, including pension funds, can use their role as owners to press for transparency and gender-sensitive workplaces. Investor groups such as SHARE Canada and the Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility regularly engage with companies on supply-chain transparency. It is not just a social imperative, but can help reduce their financial risks.

“Soon there won’t be much to hide,” John Ruggie, the former UN special representative for business and human rights told Human Rights Watch. He noted the increasing weight investors are giving to economic, social, and governance indicators. “People who are either inside or servicing the investment community will vacuum up everything that’s out there. They are using everything from GPS to Google Earth to collect information.”

Multi-stakeholder initiatives should make supply chain disclosure a part of the criteria for ongoing apparel companies’ membership in such initiatives. Governments should also compel transparency and other mandatory human rights processes in an apparel company’s supply chain. Only governments can impose penalties and set enforceable standards.

Tragically, the combination of reluctance to regulate companies and overall government apathy has meant there have not been strong legislative efforts worldwide to address human rights concerns in the garment industry. Legislation that specifically requires apparel and footwear companies to publish supplier factory information would be an important step. 

Nevertheless, there are increasing attempts by some governments to legislate on company responsibilities. The UK Modern Slavery Act, which requires companies to monitor for modern slavery in their supply chains, does not specifically require companies to publish supplier factory information. But it has led a number of UK apparel and footwear companies to publish supplier factory information as part of theira overall risk mitigation strategy on modern slavery in their supply chains. A French law that requires companies to engage in human rights due diligence is another good example that can be built on.

As consumers, we owe it to those who produce our clothes and shoes to demand that their locations be publicized. So please spend a few minutes to check if your favorite brands are already transparent, and ask them why if not.

 

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

(Nairobi, May 1, 2018) – An internationally acclaimed cartoonist acquitted of trumped-up charges and released from prison on March 7, 2018, cannot leave Equatorial Guinea because authorities have stalled on renewing his passport, nine human rights groups said today. The charges against Ramón Esono Ebalé appear to have been in retaliation for cartoons that were critical of the government. 
 
An arbitrary or unreasonable delay in renewing Esono Ebalé’s passport violates his right to leave one’s own country, as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and multiple treaties to which Equatorial Guinea is a partyThe government of Equatorial Guinea should expedite his passport so that he can be reunited with his wife and daughter.  
 
The authorities in Equatorial Guinea should stop procrastinating and immediately renew Ramón Esono Ebalé’s passport,” said Angela Quintal, Africa program coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists“It’s the least they can do, given he was framed in the first place. He has suffered enough and should be allowed to join his family.” 
 
Esono Ebalé, who lives in El Salvador, was arrested on September 16, 2017, while visiting Equatorial Guinea to renew his passport. The police interrogated him at length about his drawings, but a news broadcast on a state-owned television channel a few days after the arrest claimed that police had found one million Central African francs (US$1,800) in a car Esono Ebalé was driving. He was formally charged with counterfeiting. 
 
The charge sheet alleged that a police officer, acting on a tip, had asked Esono Ebalé to exchange large bills and had received counterfeit notes in return. However, Esono Ebalé’s lawyer and another person who was at the February 27 trial, told the organizations that the state’s sole witness recanted this story, telling the court that his superiors had ordered him to charge Esono Ebalé with the crime. The court eventually acquitted Esono Ebalé. 
 
“Ramón should never have been arrested or spent a single night in prison,” said Tutu Alicante, executive director of EG Justice. “But for his unjust and prolonged imprisonment, he would have obtained a passport by now, and would already be with his family in El Salvador.” 
 
The human rights groups are Cartoonists Rights Network International, Committee to Protect Journalists, EG Justice, International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, Human Rights Watch, World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, PEN America, PEN International, and Reporters Without Borders.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Garment workers take part in a May Day demonstration in Phnom Penh, Cambodia May 1, 2017.

© 2017 Reuters
How can a mango craving spiral into a labor dispute? I was talking with garment workers in Cambodia when I heard the mango story.

A pregnant garment worker had been caught sneaking mangoes into the factory despite a rule forbidding food on the production floor. Her fellow workers galvanized around a simple demand: to have a separate area to store and eat snacks during breaks.

I don’t know if these workers were ultimately given a snack area. But I do know that workers’ needs, as well as their health and safety, is better addressed if workers can exercise their right to freedom of association. This was true for the hundreds of workers I have met in Cambodia, Bangladesh, and Burma, and is something we should keep in mind today, on World Day on Worker Health and Safety.

I remember sitting with a worker in Cambodia who wept bitterly because her paltry earning made it difficult to feed her baby. Her factory had no union. Yet in another factory with a strong union, worker representatives had negotiated a small “milk powder” allowance for mothers of infants.

Worker representatives have advanced creative solutions in collective bargaining agreements. These include paid sick leave for antenatal care for pregnant workers; creating a “rotating” worker position designed to replace tired or sick workers for short periods without “disrupting” production; and adjusting the working hours of pregnant women so they could avoid uncomfortable rush hour commutes.

Apparel brands should conduct freedom of association risk assessments in their supply chains. Hiring third party monitors to do so is not enough. They should count the unions in each supplier factory and see if any collective bargaining agreements exist at the factory level. If none do, brands should find out if workers are being intimidated or pressured to not organize.

Increasingly, brands are signing framework agreements with global unions to promote freedom of association. This is good. But these also need transparency. A good model is the approach taken by the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety.

All companies—including those that have signed such agreements like H&M, ASOS, Tchibo, and Inditex, which owns Zara—should publicly report their progress on freedom of association and share good practices.

Freedom of association can be a bridge enabling workers to have a mango snack, as well as a safe, healthy, and decent workplace.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Sign in Bowling Green, MO, county courthouse instructing criminal defendants on how they can pay their court costs online.

© 2017 Human Rights Watch

Gina Harper is a Gardendale, Alabama resident who pled guilty to driving on a revoked driver’s license. When she couldn’t pay the US$715 in court costs, she was placed on probation with Private Probation Services, and sentenced to 48 hours in jail. A few months later, Gina owed nearly $900- the court fees, plus monthly fees for PPS.

Thanks to a recent court settlement, no one who comes before the Gardendale Municipal Court in the next year on misdemeanor charges will end up deeper in debt because of extra fees charged by a private probation company. This is a step forward in combatting predatory practices rampant across Alabama that are crying out for reform.

In March 2018, following a lawsuit over the practice, the city and municipal court signed a settlement agreement cancelling their contract with PPS, agreeing not to sign new contracts with private probation companies for one year, and agreeing to give people on probation credit toward court fees for payments to PPS.

Before the agreement, if a person on probation with the Gardendale Municipal Court could not pay fines, fees and court costs immediately and in full, the Gardendale Municipal Court would place them on probation with PPS.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, PPS effectively controlled the length of probation, would extend probation when people couldn’t pay, and was allowed to charge its own $40 monthly service fee. SPLC alleges that if people could only afford partial payments, PPS would put the money toward the company’s monthly service charge instead of toward the person’s court fees. When people did not keep up with payments, they were often detained for several days.

The Gardendale agreement eases financial pressures on probationers in Gardendale who have trouble paying court fees. At the same time, recommendations from Human Rights Watch’s 2014 report on the issue remain unaddressed. In particular, state and local governments and local courts throughout Alabama should increase oversight over operations of probation companies and treatment of probationers. Courts should not delegate their own responsibilities to private probation companies, and state and local governments should consider the rights of all involved when contracting with private probation companies.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

International Monetary Fund (IMF) headquarters building is seen during the IMF/World Bank annual meetings in Washington, U.S., October 14, 2017. 

© 2017 Reuters

The International Monetary Fund has unveiled a new blueprint for tackling the global scourge of corruption, conceding that its approach to the issue has been “uneven” in the past.

The new policy isn’t perfect, but, if implemented, could represent an important step in throwing the IMF’s weight behind global fight against corruption.

This week, the IMF published a New Framework for Enhanced Engagement on Governance, the result of a comprehensive examination of how it has dealt with corruption over the past two decades. The new paper dispels any doubt that corruption is an important economic issue that is well within the IMF’s mandate.

Under the new policy, the IMF will analyze countries’ financial governance to get an idea of how rampant corruption is, and the economic impact. If it concludes corruption is having a significant economic impact, the Fund will offer policy advice and in some cases financial assistance to strengthen governance. Critically, the IMF may even make these steps a condition of lending. To address the “supply side” of corruption or bribe-paying, the IMF will encourage countries to volunteer to have their legal systems assessed to ensure the criminal penalties are significant enough to discourage corruption in the private sector.

While these steps are welcome, by framing corruption exclusively in economic terms, the new policy overlooks the way in which corruption’s corrosive social impact has far-reaching economic implications. For example, it does not direct IMF staff to analyze or document governments’ social spending, such as on health and education. For countries where such data is not publicly available or reliable, it can be an important measure of how corruption undermines social investment.

The social cost of corruption was powerfully illustrated recently by Ngozi Okonj-Iweala, the former minister of finance of Nigeria, who recounted how a girl who was the first in her family to attend college failed a class after she refused to pay her teacher a bribe. “She dropped out and you can imagine the impact this had not just herself and her family but for all the other people who can see what was happening.” Now imagine the economic impact of an entire village losing faith in education.

The Framework also does not envision a role for civil society, even as the IMF has recognized that is a powerful tool not only for fighting corruption but the insidious sense of powerlessness it engenders is a strong civil society.

Integrating the social impact would strengthen the IMF’s analysis of corruption as an economic problem rather than run afoul of its mandate.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, addresses the Human Rights Council at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland February 26, 2018.

© 2018 Reuters

Last week the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein reminded a room of World Bank economists that human rights are “also your job,” and called on the institution to “marry human rights and economics.”

That call, at a World Bank event to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, echoes criticism by Human Rights Watch and numerous other civil society organizations that the World Bank needs to do a better job of making human rights central to its mission of reducing poverty through development projects around the world.

Though the World Bank has social and environmental safeguard policies meant to protect people, they fall short. The bank needs to ensure it assesses the human rights risks in each project, take steps to minimize these risks, and ensure that effective remedies exist when harm does occur.

The high commissioner highlighted the need for improved collaboration between those working in development, and those in the front lines of defending human rights. In particular, he offered to share information gathered by human rights monitors – such as indicators of impending violence – that could contribute to the Bank’s risk assessments of potential projects. He shared his vision of more effective shared advocacy between development and human rights professionals “united by a common purpose,” with the goal of building stronger institutions, weaving a more inclusive social fabric, and producing justice.

Hussein emphasized the “colossal economic, social and human cost of violations,” calling on the Bank to address issues of exclusion, inequality, and other human rights, not only because they uphold the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international human rights documents, but “because they make for good economics, sound development, greater and more sustained prosperity.”

In this year that marks seven decades since the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the World Bank should heed the renewed calls to put human rights at the core of its work, not only to prevent harm, but to effectively achieve its objectives of ending extreme poverty and promoting shared prosperity around the world.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

On April 30, 2013, A woman checks a list for the name of her missing relatives, garment workers, who are missing after the collapse of Rana Plaza building in Savar, 30 km outside Dhaka.

© 2013 Reuters
Every year on April 24, I browse through a poignant online memorial for garment workers who died in 2013 in the Rana Plaza building collapse in Bangladesh. The website is a collection of national IDs, passport-size and other photos—a man posing with a phone, a woman against a backdrop of flowers, and appointment letters of workers. It’s a strong reminder of the human cost of negligence in the garment sector.

These garment workers died making the clothes we wear, and we as consumers owe it to their legacy to make sure the reforms enacted in their names are durable and effective. 

Within five years of the building collapse, one of two large private fire and building safety initiatives in Bangladesh—the Alliance on Bangladesh Worker Safety (Alliance), a safety effort mostly led by North American brands—announced that it is preparing to wrap up and hand over operations to an “independent, credible, locally-led organization,” developed in partnership with the Bangladesh government and the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA).

Garment workers in Bangladesh face poor working conditions and anti-union tactics by employers including assaults on union organizers. In the two years since more than 1,100 workers died in the catastrophic collapse of the Rana Plaza factory on April 24, 2013, efforts are underway to make Bangladesh factories safer, but the government and Western retailers can and should do more to enforce international labor standards to protect workers’ rights, including their right to form unions and advocate for better conditions.

The other private initiative—the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety (Accord), led mostly by European brands has extended its work till 2021, saying its operations would continue “beyond May 2018 as all parties recognize, substantial additional capacity-building is necessary before responsibility to protect workers in factories producing for Accord signatory brands can be responsibly handed over to a national regulatory body.” The extended Accord includes small yet concrete improvements that give protections for workers’ freedom of association more teeth.

These two initiatives, both led by reputed brands, came to very different conclusions about what has changed in the past five years, which raises the question—why?

Could it be that having workers centrally involved in designing and contributing to the administration of an initiative offers a worker perspective that can better inform decisions about whether to “transition” or stay? To be clear—workers are not just “any” stakeholder in such decisions. They stand on a different footing from other “stakeholders” because they risk paying with their lives and limb.

Worker participation in such initiatives should not be a box checking exercise. When it comes to initiatives that can save workers from dying, participation within an enforceable framework agreement—as is the case with the Accord—allows worker representatives to negotiate protection until they are satisfied that the outcomes contain meaningful procedures to enhance workplace safety.  

Brands pinning their hopes on a “quick transition” should be realistic. The Bangladesh government has created a committee to periodically assess whether the stage for “transitioning” from the Accord has been set. In the interim, joining the Accord offers the best available worker protection program.

First, the Bangladesh government has not shown the kind of “measurable progress” that would demonstrate that locally led initiatives developed in partnership with the government are capable of assuring factory safety.

In May 2017 Bangladesh authorities set up the Remediation Coordination Cell to oversee progress on fire and building safety in garment factories not covered by the Accord and Alliance. Data reported in February 2018 shows that only 3 percent of the 754 government-inspected factories corrected all fire and building safety concerns; less than 15 percent of factories implemented half the fixes needed to make factories safe. To date, the Bangladesh government’s public reporting on progress has been dismal, falling far short of the kind of transparency adopted by the Accord and Alliance, which not just claimed progress, but reported hard facts.

Last year, I tried to find out what happened to factories that were terminated from the Accord or the Alliance. What steps did the government take to make these factories safe or shut them down? Where were the workers? How did they cope when factories shut down and workers lost their jobs?

After speaking to workers from a handful of factories that were terminated from the Accord for being repeat defaulters, we discovered that most workers continued working in extremely unsafe factories. They did not know where or how to look for another job in a safer factory. Moreover, the Bangladesh government did not appear to be temporarily suspending these factories’ operations—let alone closing them down.

A March 2018 digital database launched by the Bangladesh government continues to show as “registered” a number of factories terminated from the Accord or Alliance for failing to make progress on fire and building safety without making clear what this means—were these factories made safe—and if so, from what date? Most recently, government authorities even got called out by the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights for their ongoing failures on fire and building safety.

Brand representatives should look for transparent and detailed reporting by local authorities regarding measures taken to remediate or shut down unsafe factories, including those terminated from the Accord and Alliance. Until now, there has been no such information. Such reporting would indicate the preparedness of the Bangladesh government to adopt and replicate one of the strongest features of the Alliance and the Accord—transparent and periodic reporting of progress—an important check against backsliding and corruption.

Second, a credible complaints process is one of the most important value-added of the private initiatives. The track record of the Bangladesh government when it comes to complaints resolution is especially poor—and brands should be looking more closely at not just numbers but how these complaints are resolved. In the past, the International Labor Organization has repeatedly criticized the Bangladesh authorities’ dismal record of resolving complaints concerning unfair labor practices by factories.

Similarly, watching how the Bangladesh government and industry respect factory unions and facilitate mature industry relations is an important indicator of whether transition can work. The Bangladesh government’s approach to industrial relations needs to fundamentally shift course. There are key indicators to assess this course correction. Its medieval and brutal tactics of forcibly disappearing workers and union organizers, or arresting journalists who simply write about labor rights needs to end.

In 2012, a union organizer from the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity named Aminul Islam disappeared. Days later, his dead body surfaced. It was widely believed that Bangladesh’s security forces were involved in his abduction and murder. But security forces responsible were never held accountable and only a former garment worker who was last known to have called Aminul Islam away from his office before he disappeared was convicted earlier this month.

Similarly, in December 2016, brands threatened to boycott an apparel industry event in Dhaka to get the Bangladesh government to back down from its arbitrary arrests and false criminal cases against union organizers and labor activists following the Ashulia wage protests in the outskirts of Dhaka.

Brands that are serious about transitioning to a credible locally-led system will watch closely how well their supplier factories respect and promote freedom of association, and whether the Bangladesh government abandons its course of misusing criminal laws to muzzle union organizers and leaders.

Third, while the Accord is a much-needed human rights risk prevention, mitigation, and remediation program for workers, it also affords legal risk mitigation for apparel companies who are sourcing from Bangladesh with its credible inspections, monitoring and complaints mechanism for workers, and transparent reporting of progress. According to early April data, 140 apparel companies from amongst the more than 220 original signatories signed the extended Accord, covering 1332 factories.

Finally, companies can show the world that by signing up to the Accord, they value worker lives after the Rana Plaza calamity.  

There is no better way to mark this tragic anniversary.  

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

A girl works in an artisanal diamond mine in Sosso Nakombo, Central African Republic, near the border with Cameroon, in August 2015.

© 2015 Marcus Bleasdale for Human Rights Watch

This week, a gathering of governments, companies and civil society groups at the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in Paris will assess companies’ efforts to curb serious abuses in their minerals supply chains.

Money from mining minerals like gold or cobalt – used in smart phones and laptops – has fuelled armed conflicts and the mining itself can result in dangerous pollution.

This annual meeting is a chance to review the implementation of the OECD’s Guidance on sourcing minerals responsibly, now widely recognized as the standard by which companies should conduct themselves.

Jewelry Brands Should Come Clean

Jewelry Brands Should Come Clean

You should know what is #BehindTheBling. This Mother's Day tell global jewelry brands to ensure their jewelry is responsibly sourced and address human rights abuses in their supply chains.

This is crucially important. Many companies still fall short of the Guidance and risk contributing to human rights abuses. Human Rights Watch has documented how civilians have suffered in armed conflict situations when armed groups have fought over access to mines. Communities near mines have faced ill-health and environmental harm as mines have polluted waterways with toxic chemicals. And children have risked their lives when working in small-scale mines in Mali, Ghana, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Papua New Guinea, and the Philippines.

We recently scrutinized 13 well-known jewellery companies for their sourcing practices and found that none of the companies were fully in line with the OECD Guidance. Most of the companies we analysed did not sufficiently assess human rights risks, had no or only partial traceability for their gold and diamonds, and failed to provide comprehensive public reports on their responsible sourcing efforts.

While this week’s meeting can and should discuss whether progress has been made, it cannot measure how the OECD Guidance is being put into practice. What is needed is government oversight. So far, governments have provided little, prompting Human Rights Watch and other civil society groups to call for change and outline what such a monitoring mechanism could look like. The OECD secretariat has taken a positive step by putting the issue on the agenda of this week’s meeting and requesting governments to provide information.

It is time for governments to make a commitment to check what companies on their territory are doing to protect human rights in their supply chains. They should name the companies that are making progress, as well as those that aren’t.

Communities affected by abuses in mining deserve their protection.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am