May 1 is a celebration of workers' rights. Known as Labor Day, May Day or International Workers' Day. A day observed by millions of people around the world with rites and traditions nearly a century old.
A few weeks ago on the outskirts of Manila a group of brave men and women, workers from nearby garment factories met together. Outside their children played in the grass.
They recounted their treatment at the hands of their employer, and the garments they sew for companies whose reach extends across continents. Clothes that are kept in your homes, in your drawers and wardrobes.
One by one, their stories tumbled out.
"My boss tells me when I have to work overtime. I never know when I'm going to get home to my 12 year old son", said Rina, a 38 year old Sewer for Victoria Secret.
"I send half my wages home to my mother who takes care of my five year old. I'm working for his future", said Laarni, a 30 year old Sewer for New York & Company.
"From the moment you punch in the company owns you. By keeping us on month by month contracts, we're easier to replace if we can't work overtime", said Melvin, 33 a Sewer for New York & Company.
"I never want my one year old daughter to know that guards monitor me when I go to the toilet at work," said Ghilda a 39 Sewer for New York & Company.
What lies behind these day-to-day experiences for millions of workers is corporate greed.
Greed, which many think can be hidden away in supply chains, which make up 60 percent of global trade.
Big business must be held to account. People, our people, our families and friends are not commodities and we demand a new business model where human beings matter.
Labour is not a commodity.
This principle is the foundation of the international body of law that frames the world of work shaped by capitalist economies.
The dark side of humanity is exposed by the fact that big business has little care or concern for this basis. They have little concern for the rule of law when they knowingly contract to companies that not only deny fundamental rights but that treat their workers as less than human.
There is no dignity or respect in workplaces that:
- enslave workers with enforced overtime with no notice and right of refusal. From five, seven, ten- hours extra every day often with no food or breaks;
- force hundreds of people to fight each other for poor quality food in understaffed canteens in tightly controlled lunch breaks....and eat on dirty plates with no knives and forks;
- guard people while they go to the toilet in squalid conditions
- pay less than the minimum wage
- dole out work on a month by month contract, and
- sack workers who want to build a union to defend each other.
If you shop at Unlimited or NY&C then the clothes you buy have been made by the most amazing men and women, who to pay the bills each month endure this treatment every day and face it with courage, humour and support for each other.
How can these workers who I was privileged to meet have so much human dignity and their employers seek to strip them of it every day?
Why do we all accept this model of business?
Workers across Asia stood together this May Day to send a message to global corporations that the time is overdue to 'end corporate greed.'
In Indonesia more than 120,000 workers marched to the president's palace and at the packed Gelora Bung Karno stadium union members are reaffirming their commitment to the struggle for minimum living wages, for the dignity of social protection and for an end to precarious work and the discriminatory scourge of outsourcing.
An end to the global model of exploitative supply changes of the global corporations.
The children of these workers deserve a different future.
The world needs a new business model.