Worker Empowerment (WE)

Hong Kong

Worker Empowerment (WE) is a grassroots labour organisation that has developed a community approach to engaging migrants working in industrial zones in mainland China. Based in Hong Kong, WE focuses on promoting awareness amongst workers of labour rights in a number of Chinese provinces. They organise training, cultural activities and provide practical advice and support.

Labour conditions in China have gone through significant changes over the last five years under the background of China’s rapid recovery from the 2008 global economic crisis. This crisis significantly influenced working conditions and access to jobs, with the closure or relocation of factories. It was estimated that 15% cent of China’s migrant workers, about 20 million, lost their jobs or failed to work in early 2009, since business laid off workers to reduce costs. Many migrant workers have had to return to rural areas, suffering from occupational diseases and lack of local institutional support, with few skills for rural livelihoods.

War on Want supports WE’s migrant worker centre in mainland China, which hosts educational and social activities for workers and organises an outreach program to engage workers in industrial areas. This program covers a range of issues, such as women’s rights, labour rights, how to calculate wages and how to better understand entitlements on hours and benefits.

WE has been successfully raising awareness amongst migrant workers about their labour and human rights at work, and existing pathways toward achieving decent work and improving labour conditions. This success is rooted in the work undertaken by the migrant workers’ centre at the grassroots level, where over 105,000 migrant workers have received training, legal support, outreach and education through collective cases. This is particularly significant because they are the only organisation providing these services for migrant workers in the region.

Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior (SACOM)

Hong Kong

Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior is a labour-rights NGO based in Hong Kong. They emerged in 2005 in response to the injustice of corporations benefiting from the exploitation of cheap labour and the culture of corporate impunity fuelling labour abuses in mainland China.

SACOM has made rigorous research the cornerstone of their work. They have exposed the disconnect between what has been written in Chinese labour laws, the commitment to conditions made by fashion brands and the reality of working conditions in factories. Working with a close network of researchers willing to pose as factory workers for weeks at a time, SACOM has been able to document the reality for workers in factories. War on Want and SACOM have collectively published reports such as Breathless for Blue Jeans and This Way to Dystopia: Exposing UNIQLO’s Abuse of Chinese Garment Workers. The launch of This Way to Dystopia was accompanied by a speaker tour across the UK to raise awareness and increase engagement of people in the UK with an understanding of international supply chains.

Together within a global coalition, our campaign against Japanese fashion giant UNIQLO has significantly improved working conditions at factories in China, Cambodia, and Indonesia. War on Want and SACOM also partner to raise awareness of the labour abuses in factories producing for Apple, and most recently exposed the exploitation of student interns to produce the new iPhone X.

SACOM’s work has led to significant improvements in the factory conditions for workers in the supply chains of these companies. In the process of holding high profile, targeted campaigns, SACOM has also educated consumers on the social costs of purchasing popular products made in China.

The Movement for National Land and Agricultural Reform (MONLAR)

Rajagiriya, Sri Lanka

The Movement for National Land and Agricultural Reform (MONLAR) is building a people's movement for food sovereignty by mobilising and supporting small farmers and marginalised communities to: protect natural resources and human rights; lobby those in power for positive change; and implement alternative food production policies that are sustainable and just.

Founded in 1990, MONLAR was formed as a network of grassroots farmer’s groups alongside NGOs and progressive organisations in other sectors. They emerged following the devastating effects of neoliberal reforms that took place in the 1970s and 1980s. Efforts to integrate Sri Lanka into the globalised economy caused an unprecedented increase in rural poverty, a breakdown in rural small-farmer agriculture, malnutrition among children, a high rate of anaemia among mothers, low birth weight babies, a large increase in income disparities and loss of livelihoods. Today, Sri Lanka is experiencing another wave of neoliberal reforms that is having a detrimental impact on small scale farmers and workers on tea plantations.

War on Want has been supporting MONLAR’s efforts to give voice to rural communities and campaigns for agricultural and land policies that protect them. The movement also helps to improve the self-reliance of local communities through sustainable agriculture, teaching agro-ecology and seed conservation. War on Want is currently collaborating with MONLAR on a land rights project that will involve groundbreaking new research, campaigns and international solidarity work between allies in the global South.

Free Trade Zones and General Services Employees Union (FTZGSEU)

Colombo, Sri Lanka

FTZGSEU has worked across Sri Lanka’s 14 free trade zones for the past 30 years, drawing international attention to the way free trade zones have eroded rights for workers across the globe. In Sri Lanka, reduced regulatory frameworks and minimal labour rights mostly affect women working in the garment industry. Workers face unattainable production targets that increase day by day, and the monthly wage in factories inside and outside the Free Trade Zones is about £28.

War on Want and FTZGSEU have been working in partnership for more than ten years. Together we have implemented projects focusing on the promotion of workers’ rights and on securing safe workplaces for garment workers in free trade zones. Most recently, War on Want has supported FTZGSEU’s opening of the first union office in the Northern Province of Sri Lanka, supporting Tamil women in the factory areas to learn more about their rights and collective organising.

FTZGSEU have played a leading role in creating new policy on GSP+ through direct engagement with both the EU and the ILO. This has led to unprecedented achievements with regard to the EU’s policy and protections for labour rights monitoring linked to trade policy, which will impact all countries with GSP+ arrangements with the EU in a move that has been widely celebrated. The union has been instrumental in signing collective bargaining agreements in the country and winning compensation for workers who have fought for their rights at the bottom of the garment supply chain. War on Want has been privileged to stand alongside FTZGSEU organisers as they won monumental increases in wages and as they work steadily towards achieving a living wage.

Act Now! PNG

Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea

Act Now! PNG is a small, community advocacy organisation that helps people to make their voices heard. They use the internet, social networking and community engagement to highlight critical issues affecting Papua New Guinea, such as land grabs, corruption, poverty, and corporate impunity. Act Now! also provides a critical pathway for voices of indigenous people across the country to be heard in the formulation of practical, realistic solutions, in line with the existing constitution and laws of the country.

Papua New Guinea has been formally independent since 1975. Land is the most important resource for the peoples of PNG. Most of the land, around 85%, is held communally. All native people have an inalienable right by birth to use and enjoy their traditional lands. In spite of this, the PNG Government’s development policies see customary land as a fundamental impediment to development and economic growth, and a steady stream of policies have worked to privatise land. In just a decade, over 12% of its pristine rainforests have been acquired by foreign companies who have logged enormous amounts of land under the guise of ‘sustainable’ palm oil agriculture.

War on Want works with Act Now! to document and raise awareness around the human impacts of land grabs. With limited access to information about land policy and the rights of affected communities, this project has already proved to be an enormous success. We are currently working together to expose the role of foreign companies in illegally acquiring land under the guise of sustainable palm oil.

NGOMA

Eldoret, Kenya

NGOMA mobilises farmers at grassroots level to lobby and advocate for better agro-policies favourable to small scale producers in Kenya and the wider East-Africa region.

NGOMA is short for Ng’ombe na Mahindi, which refers to dairy and maize in Swahili. Dairy and maize productions dominate the Rift Valley, a vast region in the west of Kenya considered as the food basket of the country. The livelihoods of over one million farmers depend on it, yet most admit they are not able to make a living and feed their family. As a result of trade liberalisation in the 1990s maize and dairy producers were exposed to free market forces, which forced them into intensive mono-cropping and costly use of standardised, commercial seeds, as well as fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides. This contributed to an increase in environmental concerns – poor water management, soil erosion, declining soil fertility and land degradation – exacerbated by extreme weather changes such as droughts. The results are staggering: family farmers are locked into a cycle of poverty and hunger, despite producing the majority of the food needs in Kenya.

NGOMA sprang from a necessity for producers to come together to voice their concerns. Organised in groups at village level, family farmers lobby and advocate for better agricultural policies, favourable to small-scale producers. With the government revealing plans to lift the 2012 ban on GMOs and commercialise them by the end of the year, NGOMA is preparing to campaign against the approval and import of GM seeds and raise awareness about the negative impact of commercial maize seeds, presented to farmers as better than the traditional varieties. Over the past few years NGOMA farmers have been resisting control over their seeds by reverting to using native maize seeds and the results from the experiments they carried out have been astonishing: not only the native varieties mature three month earlier than the imported variety - enabling two harvests in one year - but they are more resistant to local pests and diseases, require less water and are significantly more nutritious and tastier. NGOMA is now mobilising farmers with the support of War on Want to demand control over their seeds and the application of the principles of food sovereignty in Kenya.

Malawian Union For the Informal Sector (MUFIS)

Blantyre, Malawi

Malawian Union For the Informal Sector (MUFIS) was founded and registered in 2000. In the fifteen years since its formation, it has grown its membership to 6,500 informal traders covering the Northern, Central and Southern regions of Malawi. MUFIS organises street vendors, hawkers, marketers, artisans, small veranda (khondes) businesses, informal cross-border traders and smallholder tea farmers. The majority of its members are women.

MUFIS is currently assisting its members to fight for their right to trade freely in Malawi, which includes the right not to be evicted, the right not to be harassed by police and the right to better working conditions including designated trading space with access to basic services.

Kenyan National Alliance of Street vendors and Informal Traders (KENASVIT)

Nakuru, Kenya

Kenyan National Alliance of Street vendors and Informal Traders (KENASVIT) is a national organisation with a membership of 10,000 informal economy workers from 16 affiliates. This includes street vendors and informal traders (70% women and 20% disabled people) in 16 districts in Kenya. KENASVIT’s main purpose is to organise and empower street vendors and informal traders to improve their livelihoods and well-being. It does this through: organising and recruiting informal traders; capacity building of members, their representative urban alliances and their national organisation; raising awareness on the rights of informal traders; engaging in local level advocacy with local authorities and other relevant institutions for better living and working conditions; and engaging in national level advocacy to develop and implement a legislative framework that recognises and protects the rights of informal traders in Kenya.

KENASVIT works with its urban alliances to set up self-financing groups to grow their small businesses, increase incomes& improve livelihoods. KENASVIT successfully lobbied for the development of legislation that recognises and protects the rights of informal traders to trade freely, making Kenya the first sub-Saharan country to do so.

Sikhala Sonke

Marikana, South Africa

Sikhala Sonke which means “we cry together,” was formed by the women of Marikana, where 37 miners were killed in August 2012. Some members are the widows of the miners. Others who joined are angry that nothing has changed in Marikana over the last five years. Sikhala Sonke has continued the struggle for a living wage for the miners after the massacre. It has also repeatedly made demands on Lonmin and the South Africa government to address the Marikana Massacre.

Bua Mining Community (BuaMC)

Rustenburg, South Africa

Bua Mining Community (BuaMC) is a social movement based in the Bojanala Platinum District Municipality in the North West Province of South Africa, dedicated to fighting against the injustices brought by the mining industry.

The organisation was established in 2012 and is led by seasoned activists who organise in mining affected communities, which are predominantly rural and has some footing in the urban centres. This includes influence in in the Northwest province and Gauteng province. It is an organisation led by seasoned activist, fighting against injustices brought by the mining industry.

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