WASHINGTON, DC – Congresswomen Jackie Speier (D-San Francisco/San Mateo Counties) was joined by Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) and Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) to introduce a bicameral resolution to support the rights of working women in developing countries. The resolution expresses the sense of the House and Senate that the United States should support and protect, “the right of women working in developing countries to safe workplaces, free from gender-based violence, reprisals, and intimidation.” The resolution is supported by the International Labor Rights Forum.

“The women working in these factories abroad sew the clothes we wear, cut the flowers we buy, and assemble the electronics we use. The least we can do is support these women when they speak out against violence and dire workplace conditions,” said Rep. Speier. “The Rana Plaza tragedy awoke us all to the horrible conditions that workers –  who are predominantly female – experience in export industries. Almost three years later, however, many of the factories that produce clothing for Western retailers remain hostile workplaces, and in many cases, deathtraps and tragedies waiting to happen. As a nation, we must stand with women who are fighting for their rights to a safe workplace, free from sexual harassment and violence.”

“Almost three years ago we witnessed the horrific Rana Plaza building collapse in Bangladesh that took over 1,000 lives, most of them women” said Rep. Schakowsky. “Thanks to the work of the International Labor Rights Forum, which conducted an extensive investigation into the building collapse and the industry as a whole, we now have a clear picture of the truly horrific, subhuman working conditions facing many women.  Unsafe and potentially dangerous conditions, gender-based harassment and violence threaten far too many women in the garment and other industries who are working hard to improve the lives of their families. That is why I am pleased to join Representative Jackie Speier in cosponsoring this resolution that will call for workplace protections to keep women safe and free from harassment at work.  We must do more to push for reforms that give women a voice and allow them to work with dignity and security.”  

“All women should have the right to work in a safe environment, without the threat of violence, discrimination, or other abuses,” said Sen. Murray. “This is particularly urgent for women in developing countries who too often face sexual harassment and unsafe working conditions while trying to earn a living for themselves and their families. I’m proud to support this resolution that would make clear that we stand with working women everywhere and support their rights.”  

“We believe this resolution will go a long way to raise awareness and advance programs and policies to ensure that workers in U.S. supply chains – especially women workers – have the protections they need so they can organize and speak out for their rights and safety at work without fear of reprisals,” said Judy Gearhart, Executive Director of the International Labor Rights Forum.

The resolution was introduced at a briefing and discussion of strategies to protect the right of workers to have a say in their safety. Nearly three years after the Rana Plaza building collapse and the launch of the first industrial reform programs to address the pervasive fire and structural hazards in Bangladeshi garment factories, workers report they will not be safe without a voice at work.  

The tragedies in Bangladesh have been a wake-up call for the apparel industry and the risks that led to the industrial disasters are not unique to Bangladesh. Globalization has generated intense competitive pressures on suppliers to deliver products on ever shorter deadlines and at low costs, thereby increasingly putting workers’ safety and welfare in jeopardy. The briefing provided recommendations relevant for the U.S. National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights, the review of Bangladesh’s eligibility for trade benefits under the Generalized System of Preferences, and proposals for an ILO Convention on Gender-Based Violence at Work.