garrettbrown

Garrett Brown is a certified industrial hygienist who worked for Cal/OSHA for 20 years as a field Compliance officer and then served as Special Assistant to the Chief of the Division before retiring in 2014. He has also been the volunteer Coordinator of the Maquiladora Health & Safety Support Network since 1993.

With new reports on working conditions in global supply chains coming out every week from the news media and non-governmental organizations – how is possible to keep track of the most important developments in health and safety and other worker rights?  There is a “one-stop shopping” solution to sign up for a weekly update of recent reports and corporate responses, as well as more organizations to track for those with more time and ambition. 

Accounting professors have confirmed what we always suspected: companies which are scrambling to meet or just beat Wall Street analysts’ profit projections have worker injury rates that are 12% higher than other employers.  The recent research indicates that frantic efforts by “benchmark-beating” employers – increasing employees’ workloads or pressuring them to work faster, at the same time that these employers cut safety spending on activities like maintaining equipment or training employees, to meet the profit projections – are the likely source of increased injuries and illnesses.

In February 2017, garment workers in Myanmar, who were enraged by abusive and illegal working conditions, stormed their factory and smashed $75,000 worth of equipment. The worker revolt revealed the broken promises of international clothing brands that sweatshop apparel production would lead to better lives and “empowerment.”

Last month, California’s Department of Industrial Relations (DIR) proposed revised and stronger regulations for oil refineries in the state after a 4½-year joint campaign by labor unions, environmental and community organizations.  The successful strategic coalition is a powerful example of how health and safety regulations can be improved despite an industry’s wealth, power and political influence.

The Trump Administration is gearing up to make Federal OSHA as under-resourced and ineffective as it can. Our strategic response has to be more than simply defending the status quo ante; we have to rebuild the social movement that was powerful enough 50 years ago to force another right-wing Republican president, Richard Nixon, to support and sign the OSH Act in the first place.

Mass firings, blacklisting of fired workers, indefinite detentions of union leaders and worker rights advocates in Bangladesh threaten the fragile gains in workplace health and safety in the garment industry. International clothing brands and retailers are being petitioned to reverse the firings, release the detained, and respect the basic rights of garment workers.

A just published book – Refinery Town: Big Oil, Big Money and the Remaking of an America City – describes how a decade of local organizing and year-round campaigning has resulted in impressive local victories in a Black, white and Asian town dominated by Chevron corporation.  Richmond, California, has set an example and registered successes by local left wing campaigners that contain important and hopeful lessons about uniting allies and successfully defending health, safety and democratic rights.

New investigations by the Workers Rights Consortium and the Fair Labor Association reveal sweatshop operations in Vietnam by a major Korean factory operator. The garments produced are sold by dozens of international clothing brands. The sweatshops exist despite “audits” by the $80 billion global “corporate responsibility industry.”

A free, two-month course on global supply chains is being offered on-line by the Global Labour University starting on January 12, 2017. The course is being taught in English by Penn State University Professor Mark Anner, one the leading labor-oriented researchers on the global economy.

A new report by four leading workers’ rights group shows just how hard it is to get international clothing brands to fix problems in their global supply chains despite the fact that 1,100 workers were killed in an instant in an unsafe garment factory in Bangladesh.  Three and a half years after the Rana Plaza building collapsed in Dhaka, Bangladesh, five major clothing brands – Walmart, Gap, VF, Target and Hudson’s Bay – were found to have continuing hazards and dangerous delays in fixing them.