Vol. III, Bulletin No. 17. September 21, 1998
The 'Kid Sister Test' for Sexual Harassment
How can you tell whether your workplace is ripe for a sexual harassment law suit? Interpreting the relevant laws and court decisions can be confusing. Applying them is even more so. Ronald M. Green, a New York lawyer, suggests taking a more basic approach--applying what he calls the "kid sister test."
It works this way. Imagine that your kid sister (or a teen-age daughter) gets a job in your office. "How does that make you feel?" Green asks, and continues: "Would you want someone you care deeply about hearing what you hear, seeing what you see, walking where you walk, knowing what you know about others in the office?"
Green, who represents management in employment law matters, says it has been his own experience that many corporations fail that basic test. Writing recently in the Sunday business section of the New York Times, he explained:
"Are these situations you would want your kid sister to experience? I would suggest that if you are in any way uncomfortable, it's time to start changing the environment."Changing the Environment in Far-Away Workplaces
You can apply the same test beyond your own immediate workplace. Imagine young females of your kid sister's age working in a sweatshop producing clothes, toys, or some other goods for your home. Offensive behavior in the typical sweatshop ranges from mild verbal abuse to physical punishment, including various forms of sexual harassment. Offensive working conditions range from excessively long hours (six or seven days a week, with no vacations) to exposure to deadly fumes.
Are these the kind of situations you would want someone resembling your kid sister to experience? Especially someone who, in a distant sweatshop, is working to make products for you and yours? If you are in any way uncomfortable with this grim reality, it's time to start changing the environment.
It's easier, of course, to change the environment in your own workplace. The law is on your side. But as the global economy multiplies the number of people working for you in other lands, it's time also to get international law on your side. That won't happen without support from you and others like you.
On-Site Reports from Vietnam and Eight Other Asian Countries
How Asia's Export Zones Abuse Women
"If these conditions continue, these women will be physically as well as psychologically worn out in just 5-10 years. These women will suffer from premature old age, disappointment, and unhappiness, regardless of the noble ideal of equality of men and women in the development of the globalized world promoted at the 4th International Women's Conference in Beijing."That paragraph summarizes the plight of women, mostly from 18 to 25 years of age, working in foreign-owned factories in the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. The analysis comes not from a human rights organization but from a Vietnamese academic, Professor Bui Thi Kim Quy, of the Center for Women's Studies at the Institute of Social Sciences in Ho Chi Minh City. In a chapter of a new book published in Hong Kong, Professor Bui reports on her interviews with workers in the Ho Chi Minh City area. Here are some of her findings:
- The women work "in an environment where the levels of noise, dust, heat, humidity, and even poisonous chemicals exceed the allowable limit." As a result of such conditions, and excessively long hours (extending up to seven days a week month after month), some women have suffered severe weight loss after only six months of work.
- "In their contact with employer's representatives (foreign supervisors and technical experts)...a number of women workers are cruelly treated, dismissed, forced to change jobs, or quit."
- Vietnam's labor laws and regulations are widely ignored. Sometimes workers come under pressure "to vote for a Vietnamese factory management as chairman of the union."
- When Vietnam first set up its Export Processing Zones, the jobs there were more attractive than those in government-run businesses. Now there is "a trend of workers quitting jobs at foreign-invested enterprises and returning to jobs at state-run businesses," partly because the latter have better fringe benefits.
Exploding Some Myths about Export-Led Growth
Professor Bui's report appears in "We In the Zone: Women Workers in Asia's Export Processing Zones," published by the Asian Monitor Resource Center in Hong Kong. The book contains contributions from writers who have researched labor conditions in eight Asian countries besides Vietnam: China (including Hong Kong), Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, and Thailand.
In an introduction, the book's editors write: "Ultimately, the studies presented here contest the myths about the EPZs [Export Processing Zones] as a strategy for national economic development, showing that the social costs far outweigh the promised benefits. [The studies] also show how workers themselves have challenged the logic of EPZs, resisting these new strategies of domination and repression, and struggling against hyper-exploitation." Worker protests have even swept Vietnam's EPZs, as a supplementary report on Vietnam (not written by Professor Bui) points out.
"We in the Zone," 268 pages, can be ordered (at US$25 a copy, mailing included) from the Asia Monitor Resource Center by mail at 444 Nathan Road, 8-B, Kowloon, Hong Kong. The Center's Website: http://www.hk.super.net/~amrc/
Exposing How Ocean-Going Ships Escape Laws
Carrying an unusual floating exhibition, the merchant vessel Global Mariner left London on July 1 on a pioneering 18-month visit to 70 seaports around the world. The voyage is part of a campaign to expose how the present loose system of registering ocean-going ships--under "flags of convenience"--protects and promotes irresponsibility among ship owners.
"Half the world's shipping tonnage is registered in countries other than the real country of ownership," the International Transportworkers Federation (ITF) points out. By "flagging out" these ships, owners manage to avoid national taxes and laws that set labor, safety, and health standards. As more and more ship owners use this dodge to cut costs and evade laws and unionization, labor standards have plummeted in much of the shipping industry.
Transportworkers Federation Legitimizes Lady Rebecca
The Global Mariner is dramatizing the struggle of the ITF and its affiliated unions to improve the living and working conditions of seafarers. Formerly named Lady Rebecca and registered in Hong Kong, the Global Mariner now sails under the flag of the United Kingdom, where its owner, the ITF, has its headquarters. The change symbolizes a long-time goal of the ITF--to have vessels flagged in the country of their real ownership, rather than Burma, the Canary Islands, Liberia, or other "flag of convenience" countries that leave seafarers unprotected by labor legislation and union contracts.
On the Global Mariner's itinerary in October and November are six U.S. ports:
Later, the ITF ship will visit West Coast ports--Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland, and Seattle, as well as Vancouver in Canada. For details check the Global Mariner website: http://www.itf-ship.org.
- New York Oct 9-13
- Baltimore Oct. 14-19
- Savannah Oct 21-26
- Fort Lauderdale Oct. 27-Nov.2
- New Orleans Nov. 4-8
- Houston Nov. 9-12
Vietnam Releases a Hero from Prison
Wanting to get him off their hands, his jailers repeatedly tempted him with "resettlement" abroad. After he firmly rejected that offer, they threatened him with a tougher regimen in the labor camp where he was serving a 20-year sentence. But Nguyen Dan Que, a Saigon physician and outspoken advocate of human rights, said No, he wanted to stay in Vietnam. He held his ground so firmly that in August the government relented--he was able to return to his home in Saigon.
In reporting that release as part of a mass amnesty, the media identified Dr. Que as a "dissident." That label is inadequate for a heroic man who has kept alive the flame of freedom and democracy in the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. For activities such as founding the Vietnamese Non-Violent Movement for Human Rights, Hanoi has kept him locked up for 18 of his last 20 years, mostly in solitary confinement.
Now 56 years old, Nguyen Dan Que has left that hell behind him. But does he really have freedom? That's still to be seen, but from what I have learned about him over the years, it seems likely that, whatever the risks, he will conduct himself as a free man. Here's a clue.
In 1988, thanks in part to pressure from Amnesty International, which designated him a prisoner of conscience, Hanoi released him after he had spent 10 years in prison. Instead of retreating into silent docility, Que wrote letters (intercepted by the police) to the leaders of a half dozen countries, including the People's Republic of China, calling for the release of all prisoners of conscience. He met with like-minded friends to found the Vietnamese Non-Violent Movement for Human Rights. Then, on May 11, 1990, on behalf of that fledgling organization, he issued a public manifesto for democracy in Vietnam. He was re-arrested a month later.
Over the past eight years or so, I have had the honor of helping a campaign that highlighted the need for human rights in Vietnam. A committee led by Dr. Que's brother, Dr. Quan Nguyen, and supported by many, including the AFL-CIO, succeeded in establishing May 11 as the annual occasion to commemorate Vietnam Human Rights Day.
Let's hope that we will next celebrate Vietnam Human Rights Day with Dr. Que in attendance. Let's pray that, on May 11, 1999, we will celebrate it in Vietnam.
(For some background, check an article of mine published in the Christian Science Monitor in 1995, "Vietnam War Not Yet Over for Vietnamese.")
Human Rights for Workers: Bulletin No. III-17, September 21, 1998
http://www.senser.com (Send e-mail) firstname.lastname@example.org.
Robert A. Senser, editor
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