Tag Archives: labor rights

Life on $3 a Day: Garment Workers and Cambodia’s Struggle for Human Rights

Monks bless the crowd at a human rights demonstration in Phnom Penh. Photo: Evan Abramson for AJWS

Monks bless the crowd at a human rights demonstration in Phnom Penh.

A month ago, I stood outside Cambodia’s National Assembly with hundreds of Buddhist monks. They chanted in Sanskrit and tossed lotus petals into a crowd of protesters, blessing them. Many of them had walked from rural villages to Phnom Penh over 10 days. They rallied at the palatial seat of the country’s parliament, to mark International Human Rights Day and hopefully draw the government’s attention to the rights Cambodia’s people have yet to fully grasp—rights related to labor, land and a fair legal system.

People passed out water bottles and wrapped towels around their heads to protect themselves from the harsh midday sun. Others held up signs (“WE ARE WOMEN WE ARE NOT SLAVES”) and loudspeakers buzzed, ready to call people to action. We were not supposed to be there; the government had prohibited marches. I searched the crowd, waiting for something to happen.

But it was peaceful.  Despite a day filled with marches and demonstrations, Phnom Penh remained relatively calm. The only government reaction: quietly relocating a dozen protesters who had camped outside the U.S. embassy.

Fast forward a few weeks, and the demonstrations have taken a dramatic and deadly turn. On Jan. 2, after escalating tension over the minimum wage, police shot AK-47s and handguns into a crowd of protesters, killing at least four and injuring more than 29. Most of them were garment workers—the very people I traveled to Cambodia to meet. Read More »

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102 Years After the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire: What Have We Learned?

Sophie Gerson. Credit: The Gerson Family

Sophie Gerson. Credit: The Gerson Family.

My Grandma Sophie taught me the importance of standing up against people who take advantage of others. Her activism—and that of her allies in the labor movement—inspired me to dedicate my life to advocating for people who are disenfranchised, marginalized, or rendered invisible. As a little girl, I remember hearing about how my grandmother, a textile union organizer, was arrested, framed and almost deported because she wouldn’t stop speaking out for worker justice. I remember being electrified by my grandmother’s stories about fighting corrupt bosses and profit-hungry factory owners.

But no story from that era was more shocking to me than the terrible Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire of 1911.

In that tragic, preventable disaster, 146 women—mostly Jewish and Italian immigrants—perished after being trapped inside. The manager had locked all the doors and exits. Read More »

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Into the Field: Stories from Cambodia

Leah Kaplan Robins in Cambodia.

As AJWS’s senior writer and editor, my job is to put AJWS’s complex work—helping marginalized people in the developing world realize their human rights—into words. I tell stories about activists around the globe, trying to bring their lives and challenges alive for AJWS supporters who’ve never met them—or who may have never seen this kind of poverty and injustice themselves.

What may surprise you is that, until just recently, I hadn’t seen it either. For the past four years at AJWS, I have portrayed communities and human rights struggles by hearing stories from colleagues, interviewing our grantees when they visited New York, and pouring over photos from our staff, volunteers and grantees to glean images and feelings that I could convey on the page.

But two weeks ago, AJWS sent me into the field with two of my colleagues—to Cambodia. For the first time, I stood face-to-face with the people whose struggles we’re funding—in their own communities. While this one trip can’t encapsulate the diverse range of places AJWS works, it provided moments of deep connection that I can now share with you, and that will inspire my work for a long time to come. Read More »

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