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Exploited Labor: News & Updates

News Article

Today the buzz-phrase Fair Trade is omnipresent. With the rise of consumer awareness, our stores are flooded with Fair Trade labeled products. No matter whether it's organic farmer collectives or multi-billion dollar corporations like Nestlé or Unilever, everyone is looking to get a slice of the cake that is the Fair Trad market. But far too often, it might be a scam.

With the establishment of Fair Trade International in 1997, a number of environmental and labor standards were set and had to be fulfilled in order to be Fair Trade certified. The production and trade must be,

  • sustainable
  • free from environmental exploitation  
  • free from exploitive labor
  • free from child labor
  • free from forced labor 

Since the introduction of Fair Trade International, new certification labels have been shooting out of the ground, many with far lower standards than Fair Trade International. This includes, for example, some of the most popular labels like the Rainforest Alliance, Fair Trade USA and Fair for Life. On many farms certified by these organizations, the working conditions and wages are indistinguishable from those of non-certified farms. Today it seems like none of the original standards are actually a necessity for a certification anymore. In 2022 an especially dramatic case of abuse came to the light 0f day. A Rainforest Alliance certified farm was found to use child labor in the process of harvesting and farming. Adding on to such malpractices is the fact that many workers are not even aware if their farm is "Fair Trade certified." Without the knowledge about the standards that should be upheld by certified farms, farm workers have little to no base on which they can speak out against the widespread exploitation. Exploitive labor, wage theft, child labor and hazardous working conditions are just as common on many farms certified by these and other Fair Trade label providers. 

As the popularity of Fair Trade labeled products increased, international corporations--in the hope of appealing to the more aware consumer base--began developing their on labels. These corprate labels often set the bar even lower than the Rainforest Alliance, etc. This sea of Fair Trade labels makes it increasingly more difficult for companies sticking to the Fair Trade International standards to keep up with the cheaper, mass produced competitive products. Furthermore, they lead to confusion among costumers overwhelmed by the sheer amount of different certifications. 

On top of costumer fishing, Fair Trade labels provide a number of other advantages to corporations. It allows an increase of pricing for newly-certified products, provides an image improvement, and green-washes the companies' labor and environmental exploitation. Over the years, consumers have made clear that they are more driven towards ethical products. This development has led to fair trade being used in public relation campaigns by corporations pretending to produce ethically. 

With this watering down of fair trade standards, more and more experts and activists criticize that:

  • standards among the labels are not equal, leading to the acceptance of child labor on certified farms.
  • the auditing is often sporadic or even non existent. In some industries, the inspections are carried out by the same companies who buy and resell the farmed goods. These companies often tend to certify farms as a means to rise the resale price. 
  • even if auditing takes place, it often fails to find abuses. For farms, it is far too easy to hide wrongdoing like child labor or wage theft. The inspections are especially bad at detecting if workers have paid recruitment fees. This is a common procedure to trap workers in debt and often is evidence of forced labor, as the workers are required to clear their debt before being able to look for a less abusive workplace. 
  • workers and farmers have little to no input on the implementation of fair trade standards. Till today, Fair Trade International is the only label provider that includes workers on their boards. In comparison, Fair Trade USA and the Rainforest Alliance boards are exclusively made up of corporate representatives. 

Overall, it is indisputable that the labeling and auditing industry has grown immensely over the last years and is pulling in massive profits. As long as Fair Trade labeling is not led by the affected work force, the vast majority of fair trade labels will remain as profit-generating tools for greedy corporations. 


News Article

In 2009 Honduras saw a violent military coup, overthrowing the then president Manuel Zelaya. With this coup a new system to generate foreign investment was established. The new president and Congress came forward with a law which would allow the creation of so called "Zones for Employment and Economic Development" (ZEDE). ZEDE's are near-tax-free areas within Honduras, governed by private corporations. 

The first attempt to create these ZEDE's was blocked by the Honduran Supreme Court, but this didn't stop the political actuaries. First the Congress impeached the opposing Supreme Court judges, then engineered a new ZEDE law, working around regulations. 

The newly established ZEDE's operate comparable to so-called Charter Cities and are influenced by economic powerhouses like Hong Kong and Singapore. The self-governing corporate territories are known for providing barely any public services besides private police and military forces. Furthermore they:

  • trample rights of the Indigenous and Afro-Caribbean populations
  • force small farmers to sell their land 
  • put extra wight on surrounding communities providing schools, hospitals etc.
  • avoid usage of national currency by using crypto  
  • worsen tax evasion and drug trafficking
  • deny international labor and environmental regulations 
  • violate basic principles of democracy and undermining the national sovereignty

The problems with the ZEDE's are especially notable in Honduras' tax income. If the charter cities weren't shut down, Honduras would lose as much as half of its current sales taxes by 2025 and the equivalent of all of its current import taxes by 2026. 

So far the Honduran Congress has always worked in favor of the ZEDE's, for example toughening the punishment for blocking properties and businesses, making it easier for (private) police forces to repress protests. But the table has turned. With the election of the first opposition government since the coup in 2009, ZEDE's became a hot topic. In its electoral campaign the Liberty and Refoundation (Libre) party promised the elimination of the ZEDE's, a promise they acted on. Among the first laws passed by the new Congress was the outlawing of charter cities. 

To stop this long overdue step, supporters of the ZEDE's pointed out unproven benefits like,

  • helping in the fight against unemployment, a false statement. Since the establishing of the ZEDE's numbers of employment haven't changed. 
  • addressing corruption. An absurd claim remembering the fact, that the former director of the oversight board was secretary for the now jailed ex-president. Till today he still draws a salary, even after going into exile in Nicaragua to escape corruption and a drug trafficking investigation against him.
  • heading off the influence of China. In fact, China is the biggest investor into ZEDE's and already has a massive influence through the charter cities. 
  • pushing trade, investment and growth. The facts show a different picture. Since the introduction of the ZEDE's, the GDP trade percentage dropped in five of the eight years and is now lower than before. In the same time period, the foreign direct investment GDP percentage decreased every year except for 2018, and the GDP growth was below four percent in six of the eight years. 

Supporters additionally compare the ZEDE's to nearshoring in Central and South America, while concealing the fact that Honduras'  ZEDE profits have always lagged behind those of 8 other Latin American countries' nearshoring profits.

But the strongest opposition comes from the usual suspects. Members of the United States Congress are threatening Honduras with withdrawal of aid, forced restitution payments and a limitation of Honduras' share of the private Partnership for Central America investment plan, led by Vice President Kamala Harris. This would undermine the core intent of the plan, to invest to stem migration from Central America.

One thing is definite: the end to the ZEDE's is a necessary and long overdue step to secure labor, environmental and human rights. It is outrageous, though not surprising, that United States congresspersons make themselves accomplices to corporations oppressing the population and destroying a country physically, and politically as a means of profit generation.

We have to support Honduras in its struggle for a democratic future.    


News Article

On behalf of IRTF’s Rapid Response Network (RRN) members, we wrote six letters this month to heads of state and other high-level officials in Colombia, El Salvador, and Honduras, urging their swift action in response to human rights abuses occurring in their countries.  We join with civil society groups in Latin America to: (1) protect people living under threat, (2) demand investigations into human rights crimes, (3) bring human rights criminals to justice.

IRTF’s Rapid Response Network (RRN) volunteers write six letters in response to urgent human rights cases each month. We send copies of these letters to US ambassadors, embassy human rights officers, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, regional representatives of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and desk officers at the US State Department. To read the letters, see , or ask us to mail you hard copies.

News Article

Friday, January 13. Without any notice towards the wider public, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released a proclamation of a new workers' rights policy carrying the unexciting headline “DHS Announces Process Enhancements for Supporting Labor Enforcement Investigations.” The policy specifically aims to support undocumented immigrant workers who are victims of abusive working conditions, wage theft or exploitation. It grants a new level of protection to whistle blowers, speaking out on behalf of exploited workers, and implements a system in which victims are able to report abuse and other mistreatment at a local, state or federal level. The new protection takes away workers fear of retaliation by making it easier to apply for temporary protection from detention and deportation at the DHS. Workers who are granted so-called “deferred action” will be allowed to stay and work legally while their employers are being investigated, and perhaps longer.   
Worker advocacy groups have been pushing the Biden Administration since day one, demanding a safe way of reporting abuse and exploitation. This is especially necessary considering the fact that undocumented immigrant workers make up the back bone of the US economy and have kept the country running during the Covid 19 pandemic. But the new policy is not only a victory for undocumented immigrant workers, allowing them to speak out without fear and putting pressure on employers to resolve grievances, as oppressive working conditions often affect citizen workers as well. Holding employers accountable for their actions is a necessary first step in any labor struggle.

Now it's on the Biden Administration to promote and defend this important new policy, for as long as the oppressed working people don't know about it, the new whistleblower system will be useless.

But even though this is a new milestone in workers' rights, one thing is clear. To end the system of abusive and oppressive labor established in the United States and abroad, all working people, regardless of race, legal status or field of work, have to unite in the struggle for workers rights!  

News Article

Solidarity with STIBYS & all Honduran Pepsi Workers!


The Honduran Bottlers Union – STIBYS – has informed the Honduras Solidarity Network that Pepsi's bottler and distributor in Latin America is engaged in union busting. The Central America Bottling Corporation (CBC) is a company that has two PepsiCo executives on its board, and has exclusive rights to sell Pepsi products in Honduras and all Latin America. CBC’s Honduran subsidiary, La Reyna, has refused to sign a union contract for five years in which workers have had no raise.  La Reyna has stalled, postponed, and obstructed, and STIBYS has finally concluded that La Reyna does not want an agreement. They want to strip STIBYS of members through attrition by undercutting permanent union jobs with nonunion contract workers who La Reyna allows to sell Pepsi to stores cheaper than the price STIBYS members are permitted to offer.

The situation has become so concerning that the Latin America regional branch of the International Union of Food Workers has organized a campaign in support of STIBYS targeting CBC and PepsiCo.

Your support can stop La Reyna’s outsourcing and get them to negotiate a fair and just union contract with STIBYS!

News Article

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers assisted the DOJ with the case, uncovering and reporting the operation to federal agents after two workers escaped from their employers’ control by hiding in the trunk of a car and called the CIW for help. Together with the sentencing of Bladimir Moreno to 10 years in prison, these court rulings mark the end of a lengthy legal process to bring justice to their many victims. This is the latest of more than a dozen forced labor prosecutions in which the CIW Anti-Slavery Program helped federal agencies uncover and bring the criminal operation to justice.

Of course, the continued prevalence of forced labor in the US agricultural industry is not a problem without a solution.  Quite simply, if all major buyers of produce were to join the Fair Food Program, the market for the produce of farms that operate without regard to US law and fundamental human rights would dry up overnight, and forced labor rings like that run by Bladimir Moreno and his associates would have nowhere to operate.  But as long as major corporations like Wendy’s, Kroger’s, and Publix continue to turn their backs on worker-driven social responsibility and refuse to join the Program, unethical farm employers like Moreno will continue to operate away from the scrutiny on the FFP’s best-in-class monitoring and enforcement mechanisms, and farm labor abuse affecting tens of thousands of farmworkers from Florida to California will continue unchecked.

News Article

The Azúcar Amarga AKA "Bitter Sugar" campaign is an effort that involves 5 civil society organizations, all seeking to visibilize and denounce the harmful impacts caused by sugarcane monoculture. These efforts led the Ministry of the Environment to create a Working Group with partners like Voices on the Border and spearheaded by representatives of Azúcar Amarga, with the intention of further analyzing the problem and defining a roadmap for implementing measures to prevent pollution and environmental deterioration caused by sugarcane crops

News Article

Amazon is the largest sales platform in existence. To hold this status, Amazon has few concerns about labor laws, the environment and fair competition. 

The following article gives 10 reasons not to shop at amazon. 


1. Exploits workers and fights unions.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Amazon has a long history of opposing unionization and most recently was  accused of violating labor laws during the Bessemer, Alabama, union election.

2. Has double the injury rates of industry average.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     Injury rates at Amazon facilities are reportedly double that of the industry average.

3. Creates dangerous working conditions for delivery workers.                                                                                                                                                                                                                    49% of delivery workers reported pain or injuries that caused them to miss work.

You can find the full list with detailed descriptions in the article below.