Migrant-Labor

Bayard Street tenement, New York City, 1888; Labor Camp 42, Abu Dhabi, 2014. Click to enlarge.

On the left is one of photographer and muckraker Jacob Riis’ most famous photos, “Five Cents a Spot,” taken with newly-developed flash photography technology in 1888. At the end of the 1800s and beginning of the 1900s, immigration to the US spiked, and millions of laborers from Russia, Germany, Italy, and Ireland arrived to take jobs in New York City’s expanding manufacturing sector.

On the right is a photo from yesterday’s New York Times, showing migrant workers who built New York University’s Abu Dhabi campus. According to the Times, many of the workers, who come from Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Nepal, must surrender their passports, and a year’s wages as a “recruitment fee,” to the contractors who employ them. The laborers work 6-7 days a week, 11-12 hours a day, for about $3,000 a year. Instead of the right to protest their working conditions and negotiate higher wages, they face harassment, beatings and deportation from Abu Dhabi’s police force. Regarding NYU’s involvement, the Times reported:

Facing criticism for venturing into a country where dissent is not tolerated and labor can resemble indentured servitude, N.Y.U. in 2009 issued a “statement of labor values” that it said would guarantee fair treatment of workers. But interviews by The New York Times with dozens of workers who built N.Y.U.’s recently completed campus found that conditions on the project were often starkly different from the ideal. … Told of the laborers’ complaints, officials said they could not vouch for the treatment of individual construction workers, since they are not employees of the university but rather of companies that work as contractors or subcontractors for the government agency overseeing the project. Those companies are contractually obligated to follow the statement of labor values.

When Riis’ book How the Other Half Lives came out in 1890, its frank depictions of poverty in the midst of New York City shocked middle class Americans. Riis—an immigrant himself—believed that exposing the harsh working and living conditions of the newest and poorest New Yorkers would help push along the Progressive movement for safer workplaces and workers’ rights. Luckily for many subsequent generations of New Yorkers, he was right.

Collage Photo Credits: Left: Jacob A. Riis Collection, Museum of the City of New York; Right: Credit Sergey Ponomarev for The New York Times.

Samuel Lowenberg has an article in the Lancet:

The World Bank, the US Agency for International Development (USAID), and the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) have consistently failed to act on allegations of human rights abuses in Ethiopia, including ones that are tied to their aid programmes, according to new reports…

The reports raise troubling questions over alleged abuses—including beatings, rape, and murder—connected to the government’s villagisation programme…

The report by the Oakland Institute documents how officials from USAID and DFID, who were investigating claims of abuse, heard first-hand accounts from villagers recounting brutal treatment by Ethiopian authorities under the villagisation programme. But even after these reports the two agencies failed to act.

One renegade former World Bank economist comments:

In view of the long-running problems documented in Ethiopia, “the impunity of the donors astonishes me”…. Human rights are essential to development, so when a foreign donor finances a government that represses these rights, it does not help a country develop, it sets it back, he says.

Please read the whole article, it is essential reading for anyone who cares about development.

By William Easterly

The new World Bank blog People, Spaces, Deliberation has already achieved one milestone: it covers exhaustively the field of “governance” with little or no usage of words that have historically been prominent in such discussions (see chart).

How to get these numbers: Click on one of these words in the list of “tags” and count the number of pages with search results. No tags existed on ‘consent’ or ‘liberty.’

We were inspired by the new blog to translate one historical document that is now badly out of date and frame it as a practical roadmap for further engaging civil society:

Original

Translation

We hold these truths to be self-evident The mainstream consensus among experts is
that all men are created equal, All efforts should be inclusive,
that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, Development as a Multi-Stakeholder Initiative must be Broad-based and Community-driven,
that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. Including Social Sector Goals, Participation, and the pursuit of Capacity-Building.

This community-driven participator is unfortunately not adhering to Governance best practices set out by the authorities.

We … call on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and America’s Western allies to publicly repudiate Ethiopia’s efforts to use terrorism laws to silence political dissent. We also urge the U.S. to ensure that our more than $600 million in aid to Ethiopia is not used to foster repression.

This is the call to action from a letter published in the New York Review of Books this month.

We at DRI are inspired by the courage of Eskinder Nega, an Ethiopian journalist, newspaper publisher, and dissident arrested on September 14th after writing a blog post demanding freedom of expression and an end to torture in Ethiopian prisons. Despite previous arrests, both Eskinder and his wife, Serkalem Fasil, have chosen to remain in Ethiopia and continue their work.

While we don’t want to meddle in other countries’ politics, we do want to speak out against aid that supports rights-violating regimes, in solidarity with Ethiopian citizens who are simply asking to exercise their own civil liberties.

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