5 Labor Rights Initiatives on International Workers’ Day

On May 1, 1886, more than 300,000 workers and labor rights activists in 13,000 businesses across the United States walked off their jobs in the first International Workers’ Day celebration in history.

Here’s how TIME summed it up in 1938:

“A few minutes after ten o’clock on the night of May 4, 1886, a storm began to blow up in Chicago. As the first drops of rain fell, a crowd in Haymarket Square, in the packing house district, began to break up. At eight o’clock there had been 3,000 persons on hand, listening to anarchists denounce the brutality of the police and demand the eight-hour day, but by ten there were only a few hundred. The mayor, who had waited around in expectation of trouble, went home, and went to bed. The last speaker was finishing his talk when a delegation of 180 policemen marched from the station a block away to break up what remained of the meeting. They stopped a short distance from the speaker’s wagon. As a captain ordered the meeting to disperse, and the speaker cried out that it was a peaceable gathering, a bomb exploded in the police ranks. It wounded 67 policemen, of whom seven died. The police opened fire, killing several men and wounding 200, and the Haymarket Tragedy became a part of U. S. history.”

Over 130 years have passed since that first International Workers’ Day and May 1st still serves as a yearly celebration of laborers and the working classes. Check out these human rights groups still working to protect the working man and woman from capitalists and abuse.

Free Gaspar Matalaev

According to Freedom United, Gaspar Matalaev’s “arrest came two days after he published a report on the extensive use of forced labor and child labor in the 2016 cotton harvest and one day after the Minister of National Security was severely reprimanded by the Turkmen President at a State Security Council meeting for not properly repressing activism in the country. This is not the first time the Turkmenistan Government has prosecuted human rights activists on politically motivated charges. This year, the United Nations Human Rights Committee has called on the Turkmen Government to end the harassment, torture and detention of those ‘seeking to document forced labour in the cotton harvest such as Gaspar Matalaev’. It is now up to the international community to speak out and demand action on behalf of the courageous monitors like Gaspar who put themselves at risk to help others.

You can sign Freedom United’s petition to demand the Turkmen Government immediately release Gaspar and allow him to continue his work in safety here.

The Labor Rights Crisis in Bangladesh

According to the Clean Clothes Campaign, the harassment of trade unions and other labor groups by government authorities is not uncommon in Bangladesh, but between December 2016 and February 2017 harassment intensified significantly, making it almost impossible for many groups to carry out their normal activities.
“By February 23, the government forced many union and NGO offices to close; others were closed by the groups themselves
out of fear for the security of their personnel. Since the agreement was reached in February, labour groups have been able to reopen their offices, although one union federation is reportedly facing eviction following police pressure on their
landlord. Furthermore, police continue to frequent union offices….Police have also continued to circulate a set of personal questions to union staff and workers visiting their offices. The questions include, for example, the individual’s political activities, financial information and detailed descriptions of family members.Despite these incidents of continued harassment, unions have largely been able to resume normal operations.
You can read the full update here.

U.S. Women’s Wages

According to Human Rights Watch, in the US workforce, women who worked full-time, year-round in 2014 earned 79 percent of what men earned, and the gender wage gap was bigger for black and Hispanic women.The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission receives thousands of pregnancy discrimination and sexual harassment claims every year.

“Gaps in US law and regulations allow child farm workers to work at younger ages, for longer hours, and in more hazardous conditions than children working in any other sector. Child farm workers often work in extreme heat, exposed to toxic pesticides and other dangers.”

Read more here on Human Rights Watch.

Cambodian Minimum Wage Law Guts Basic Freedoms

According to the Solidarity Center, “Cambodia’s draft minimum wage law would prohibit unions and other civil-society organizations from contesting the country’s minimum wage and would go so far as to restrict their ability to even conduct research to craft minimum wage options, according to a legal analysis by the Solidarity Center and its partners.

‘As it stands, the draft could potentially criminalize all forms of protest in relation to the minimum wage, which has been the motivation for some of the biggest demonstrations in recent memory,’ says Chak Sopheap, executive director of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR), which analyzed the draft. ‘It is an affront to the constitutionally protected fundamental freedoms of expression, association and assembly, and must not proceed,’ he says.”

Read more here.


Fashion Revolution Day might have just ended, but co-founders Carry Somers and Orsola de Castro want you to ask who made your clothes every time you make a new purchase. The core reason for the group existing is to unite people and organizations to work together towards radically changing the way clothes are sourced, produced and consumed. They also are working to ensure that clothing is made in a safe, clean and fair way by collaborating across the whole value chain — from farmer to consumer — to transform the industry.

Fashion Revolution Week falls on the anniversary of the Rana Plaza factory collapse, which killed 1138 people and injured many more on 24th April 2013. That is the day Fashion Revolution was born. During this week, brands and producers are encouraged to respond with the hashtag #imadeyourclothes and to demonstrate transparency in their supply chain.

Last year more than 1,000 brands and retailers answered #whomademyclothes, 448% more than 2015. Over 300 mainstream brands responded to the question, including Fat Face, Boden, American Apparel, Marimekko, Massimo Dutti, Warehouse and Zara.

Learn more about Fashion Revolution Day here.

To learn more about how brands are taking on sustainable strategies, check out our Sustainable Fashion Roadmap tool.