Friday, November 27, 2009

Asian workers face HIV risk in Arab countries

A report by UNDP says that Asian women migrant workers in the Arab states face increasing HIV vulnerability. The report focuses on the working conditions of these workers in Bahrain, United Arab Emirates and Lebanon.

Every year, hundreds of thousands of migrant workers head to the Arab states from Asian countries mainly from Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, the Philippines and Pakistan. A significant majority of these are women. And a large number of them are employed as domestic workers. These women make a significant contribution to their home country's economy by sending remittances. For example, remittances from Filipinos working in the Arab States in 2007 amounted to $2.17 billion. In Bangladesh, migrant workers sent back close to $1.4 billion from Saudi Arabia and $637 million from the UAE. Current remittances by migrant workers from Sri Lanka amount to $3 billion.
The report says that despite this substantial contribution, migrant workers, especially women, often migrate under unsafe conditions, live in very difficult circumstances, and are targets of sexual exploitation and violence. "Unsafe migration, duress in the workplace, sexual exploitation (both in the home and host country), lack of legal coverage, and limited or no access to health and social services tend to make female migrants, especially in the domestic sector, particularly vulnerable to HIV," says the report.
And when these workers are tested positive for HIV in the host country, they are simply deported back to their home country. As a result, the number of HIV cases are rising in the Philippines, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, which are otherwise low HIV prevalence countries. The report says that returning migrant workers often figure in the national HIV registry of these countries.
The report has recommended a number of steps that the host countries as well as the origin countries should take to prevent the abuse of migrant workers in general and spread of HIV in particular. If the Arab states don't take preventive measures to stop the abuse of foreign workers, they may see supply of cheap labour drying up in near future. For example, the Philippines has banned its workers from traveling to Iraq and Lebanon.
The origin countries need to take measures including bilateral agreements and education of their workers to prevent an HIV epidemic which can be catastrophic for their feeble economies.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Brands rally behind Cambodia

Leading US brands including Nike, Gap, Levi Strauss, JC Penney, Jones Apparel, Phillips Van- Heusen, Americal Eagle Outfitters and The Walt Disney Company have urged the US lawmakers in a jointly sent letter to quickly pass a legislation granting Cambodia immediate duty-free and quota-free access to the US market for all apparel products.
The letter says that US imports from Cambodia have dropped 30% this year as compared to 2008, resulting in the loss of tens of thousands of apparel jobs.
The US administration is already considering duty-free access to textile products from Least Developed Nations which include Cambodia. But brands say while they welcome such access for all the LDCs, Cambodia needs such assistance immediately. Brands also point to the ILO Better Factories Cambodia programme which has helped improve working conditions in apparel factories. Improvement in working conditions is likely to be a key requirement in the planned legislation to to grant duty free access to LDC countries.
Cambodia is one of the poorest nations in the world. But it's apparel factories are good examples of decent working conditions, thanks to the ILO programme. The question then is why these factories are not competitive enough to retain orders? Why have barnds reduced their orders from the country when they recognize the fact that factories in Cambodia have relatively better working conditions. What is then the incentive for factory owners to ensure better working conditions?
While brands' effort to pursuade the US lawmakers to agree to some immediate trade benefits for Cambodia is commendable, they must try to hold on to the country in the interim period. They should also actively participate, and invest, in improving productivity in Cambodian apparel factories. An improved productivity will reduce the cost of production and make the factories more competitive.