News & Commentary

August 28, 2020

Rund Khayyat

Rund Khayyat is a student at Harvard Law School.

Unprecedented collective action by NBA players has changed the narrative across the entire professional sports landscape, centering the focus on racial reform in the wake of this week’s shooting of Jacob Blake, an unarmed black man. After a boycott of Wednesday’s NBA playoff games followed by two contentious meetings with the Players’ Union, NBA players decided Thursday to continue the season in the League’s quarantine bubble.

Players voiced ongoing concerns in the meetings, particularly after Blake’s shooting, that the League was not doing enough to address systemic racism and that players would be better served returning to their communities. As this blog has covered, the NBA has centered its messaging on race issues since its season resumption, featuring a large BLM on its courts and allowing players to sport BLM symbols on their jerseys. But iconic NBA stars, including LeBron James, demanded more during Wednesday’s union meeting, which left the league at a crossroads. Eventually, the players decided for themselves to continue playing. 

Nearly three weeks after Trump signed an executive order to boost unemployment aid through the Lost Wages Assistance Program, only four states (Arizona, Missouri, Tennessee, and Texas) are paying out the $300 federal supplement. For most jobless Americans, additional government aid will trickle in mid-September or later. Business Insider reported Thursday that the slow rollout underscores the lack of immediate impact that the order had on aiding millions of jobless Americans. Instead, those Americans are forced to get by without the $600 federal unemployment benefit that expired nearly a month ago. The delay directly contradicts Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s August 10 assurance that most states would execute the Program within two weeks – a deadline that came and went. 

A new report has revealed that fashion brands and retailers are using the pandemic as a shield under which to retaliate against unionized workers abroad. The report, UK labor rights non-profit Business and Human Rights Resource Centre, surveys the plight of unionized workers at manufacturers for H&M, Zara and Levi Strauss, as well as luxury brands Michael Kors, Tory Burch and Tapestry (Kate Spade) in India, Cambodia, Myanmar, and Bangladesh.

The report found that garment factories abroad are “using the pandemic as a cover to attack workers’ freedom of association,” which is a breach of international labor laws. Though retaliation against workers is common in the fast-fashion industry, the pandemic has made it easier for companies to abuse laborers on a broader scale, with more impunity. Brands are deferring to local labor laws that fall short of international standards rather than deferring to international laws, which better protect workers and legally take precedent. Among other findings: about 5,000 unionized garment workers have been targeted for dismissal after asking for COVID-19 protections; and garment workers across four countries in Asia have faced violent crackdowns during COVID-19 for fighting for the wages they are owed. 

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