PREVENTING EXPLOITATION AND DEFENDING TODAY’S GLOBAL MIGRANTS
Due to Global Workers’ groundbreaking work, hundreds of migrants recovered stolen wages and learned about their rights in the United States in 2009. Again and again we hear that without our support, migrants who have returned home would have little chance to challenge their exploitative U.S. employers. Portable Justice —the right and ability of migrant workers to access justice in the country of employment even after they have departed— is the principle that guides us as we strive to make the world more fair for the world’s most vulnerable workers.
LEVERAGING LOCAL RESOURCES: THE GLOBAL WORKERS DEFENDER NETWORK
2009 marked the first full operational year of the Global Workers Defenders Network. With key human rights organizations in the southern Mexican states of Oaxaca and Chiapas, as well as the Guatemalan states of Huehuetenango, Guatemala City, and Chiquimula, as members of our Defender Network, Global Workers has the capacity to educate thousands of migrants on their rights in the United States as well as provide legal services to the ones who have been exploited or trafficked. Much of the year was spent on building the technical capacity and infrastructure of the Defenders--from improving transnational telecommunication abilities to streamlining data collection—to ensure smooth management of cases for the Defenders when they partner with U.S. organizations to assist in employment-related legal cases for migrant workers. In addition, Global Workers sought new Defenders in additional states in Mexico and Guatemala and is poised to expand the Network in 2010.
WORKERS RECOVER STOLEN WAGES: THE DEFENDERS KEY ROLE
Global Workers Defenders teamed up with U.S. organizations to recover thousand of dollars in stolen wages. Migrant workers are systemically underpaid for their labor. Few find the courage or the support to stand up to their employers, and for those that do, the years of litigation often result in workers effectively dropping out as they move on or go home. That has now changed. With Global Workers Defenders located in the migrants’ home communities, workers who once gave up their rights can now seek justice for abuses suffered.
This year, the Defenders helped workers who planted pine trees in southern forests, mopped floors in Philadelphia, and manicured lawns in our nation’s capital recover the minimum and overtime wages owed them. In one case, the Southern Poverty Law Center had just two weeks to locate pine tree workers in a remote region in Guatemala and secure their testimony about unlawful and unconscionable fees they were forced to pay to come to the United States. Southern Poverty hoped to obtain two testimonies in the tight deadline set by the judge; yet because they partnered with our Defenders, 50 workers came forward with their testimonies. In other cases, U.S. advocates such as Friends of Farmworkers and Community Legal Services needed workers to sign forms to reclaim the wages successfully recovered. Our Defenders traveled through mountainous regions in Mexico and Guatemala to find the workers and execute the claims forms. Without our assistance, it would have been exceedingly difficult for these workers to secure these important victories.
DEFENDING WORKERS AT HOME: GROUNDBREAKING ADVANCES
Global Workers launched a new initiative this year upon detecting a whole new area of need—defending migrants from abuses in their home countries related to their rights’ demands and employment abroad. Too often workers suffer retaliatory action at home when they demand their rights for abuses suffered abroad. Such was the case of a Guatemalan worker who witnessed his employer beat his Mexican co-worker. When he spoke up, the recruiter in Guatemala denied him a job in Canada the following year. Through on-the-ground advocacy by Global Workers and its local Defender, the worker was reinstated and will be returning to Canada next year. Several other cases involved recruiters threatening workers who were demanding the return of stolen wages. Defenders’ actions ranged from brokering a mediation before a local judge to providing information on available local protective measures. In another case, recruiters refused to return passports, deed titles, and thousands of dollars from more than 50 workers after he realized he had no job to offer them in the United States. In a first-ever effort, our Defender is now collecting evidence and bringing the recruiters to court in Guatemala to recover the stolen property. Global Workers hopes to stop these pervasive abuses through the creative and courageous efforts of its Defenders.
PREVENTING HUMAN TRAFFICKING: EDUCATING MIGRANTS
Global Workers participated in several initiatives that will result in thousands of migrants being educated about their rights before they travel to the United States. Drawing on our anti-trafficking expertise, Global Workers drafted a section of an anti-trafficking Know-Your-Rights pamphlet that U.S. consulates across the globe will distribute to migrants coming to work in the U.S. In an effort that will impact thousands of Mexican migrants, Global Workers was asked by the Catholic Church’s Human Mobility Ministry to draft the labor rights section of their human rights manual that will be distributed to their 500 members. In Guatemala, the Human Rights Ombudsman utilized Global Workers materials when drafting educational pamphlets for migrants and developing trainings for their regional offices. Anti-trafficking advocates from the United States and Thailand invited Global Workers to train its members on its efforts to combat trafficking through the realization of portable justice.