ENSURING THAT JUSTICE IS PORTABLE FOR TODAY’S GLOBAL MIGRANTS
Businesses are global. Workers are global. Justice is not. Global Workers continues to make groundbreaking progress to ensure that workers do not lose their rights simply because they cross the border to go home. We call it portable justice—the right and ability of migrant workers to access justice in the country of employment even after they have departed. We must ensure that employers do not profit from exploiting workers and then forcing them out of the country in an effort to silence them. Global Workers is changing this reality for thousands of migrants through individual casework, leadership empowerment, and long-term strategic advocacy. In recognition of this work, Global Workers’ Executive Director received three human rights awards in 2010.
FIGHTING FOR THE UNITED STATES’ MOST EXPLOITED WORKERS
This year Global Workers handled a variety of cases to assist workers who may have otherwise been denied their basic rights. In one case, we helped a widow recover over $200,000 when her husband, a mushroom picker in Pennsylvania was killed on the job. The U.S. lawyer reached out to us after he was unable to transfer the funds to the elderly, ill widow and mother of nine children, in Guatemala. Our local Defender in Guatemala successfully helped the widow navigate the banking system to make the transfer, which fundamentally changed the lives of this desperately poor family. After months of frustration over a seemingly simple transaction, the U.S. advocate was thrilled with our efficiency and effectiveness.
When a legal services organization needed to locate hundreds of farmworkers to notify them of a settlement for egregious housing conditions they endured while laboring in Florida, the organization turned to Global Workers for assistance. Unfamiliar with the mountainous region in Southern Mexico where most of the workers had returned, Global Workers reached out to our local Defender in Guerrero, Mexico, who helped the U.S. organization navigate the local conditions and successfully locate most of the workers. Again and again we hear that without the support of our Defenders, who serve as local liaisons and insiders, U.S. organizations would be severely challenged to overcome enormous obstacles that frequently prevent workers who have gone home from exerting their rights in the U.S.
FOSTERING LEADERSHIP: DEFENDER NETWORK REACHES NEW LEVEL AND LEADS TO NEW PROGRAMS
Over the past few years we have been slowly building the Defender Network in Mexico and Guatemala, spending considerable time carefully selecting the organizations, and then investing many hours in training them on U.S. labor rights. The goal of this first phase was to create a competent and trusted network of Defenders to partner with U.S. organizations on cases, and also to serve as a primary resource in their communities to educate workers on their rights to reduce their vulnerability. Now that this structure is in place and proving its effectiveness in realizing justice for migrants abused in the U.S., we are ready to move the Defender Network into the next phase— empowering these organizations to be national experts regarding the exploitation of their nationals’ work broad. This goal is starting to become a reality.
In Guatemala, the Defender Network rallied around an abused worker to help him demand accountability from various authorities that were complicit or complacent in supporting an exploitative temporary worker program in Canada. This was the first time the Network had come together to advocate on a specific case in the country of origin. The results were impressive—not only did the issue of exploited migrants in Canada gain attention, but it also motivated several Defenders to launch more comprehensive programs related to migrant workers. Building on that momentum, Global Workers invited several Defenders to join us at international conferences focused on migrant rights. As hoped, the conferences of global experts and activists piqued the Defenders’ interest in this topic, and launched them into the international spotlight as national experts. This is a very new and exciting phase for us. The Defenders increasing leadership is bolstered by our continuous training and support. With a transnational response, employers can no longer skirt the law by sending workers who complain home in an effort to silence them.
NEW TRANSPARENENCY INITIATIVE TO HALT THE EXPLOITATION INHERENT IN TEMPORARY LABOR PROGRAMS
In addition to supporting the Defenders as they move into a new phase of advocacy in Mexico and Guatemala in relation to employment in the U.S., and now Canada, Global Workers is able to draw on the successes and lessons learned to take our advocacy to a new level as well. Global Workers has launched a variety of initiatives that focus on addressing the abuses of temporary worker programs both at home and abroad. On the home front, we have been meeting with U.S. government officials in Washington D.C., Mexico, and Guatemala to push for specific policy changes in an effort to reduce the exploitation occurring in the U.S. H-2 guestworker program—a program that brings more than 200,000 legal workers into low-wage industries in the U.S. each year. We are also rallying supporters, especially in the anti-trafficking movement, to help us push for these reforms. In addition to advocacy based on our on-the-ground work, we continue to strengthen our expertise on representing workers from abroad and are increasingly referred to as experts in the field. In fact, we recently updated and reissued our manual on the “Challenges of Transnational Litigation” which one U.S. legal advocate heralded as “unquestionably the most comprehensive reference on the procedural challenges involved in representing low-wage workers residing outside the United States.”
In Mexico and Guatemala we are working with the Defenders to investigate and prosecute cases against recruiters who extort unlawful fees from workers before they even obtain the visa to go to the U.S. or Canada. Internationally, there is increasing concern about how these temporary worker programs fail to protect workers, and in fact can be mechanisms for legalized human trafficking. For that reason, Global Workers focused on temporary worker programs at two international conferences—the World Social Forum on Migration, and the People’s Global Action—to bring more attention to the issue. As a result, many organizations expressed interest in working together to strategize on a global scale on how to address the formidable challenges we face as governments around the world promote these programs as the way to shape the low-wage work force of tomorrow.