News & Commentary

August 3, 2015

Some Hollywood stars are getting tough feedback from sex workers, who are protesting some celebrities’ public opposition to Amnesty International’s recent proposal for decriminalizing sex work. Amnesty International’s draft policy on sex work, presented at an international conference this past week in Dublin, according to the Seattle Times, advocates for decriminalizing all prostitution, for buyers and sellers. The proposal was publicly denounced by women’s groups such as New York-based Coalition Against Trafficking in Women and public figures such as Lena Dunham, Meryl Streep, Kate Winslet, Ann Hathaway, and Gloria Steinem, many of whom signed a letter claiming that decriminalization has resulted in “catastrophic effects.” However, The Daily Beast reports that celebrities’ outcry over the Amnesty proposal has fallen flat with many that would be directly affected by the policy change. “If Kate Winslet and Lena Dunham are trading sex in a criminalized environment, then they should speak out [but] the role of an advocate and an ally is to step back and let these people speak,” one anonymous sex worker stated in an interview with The Daily Beast. She went on to say, “At the end of the day, this is a proposal that impacts my life and not Lena Dunham’s.”

At Vox, Dara Lind writes about the ways that employers exploit documented workers, emphasizing that employers’ ability to refuse to renew a worker’s visa leads to toxic power imbalances in the workplace. Citing a recent BuzzFeed article about abuses of workers on the H-2 visa (a visa for temporary, low-wage workers), Lind argues, “The employee is a ‘legal immigrant’ only as long as she’s working for that employer. That’s her only chance to continue to stay in the country and earn whatever money she’s making. And it’s her only alternative to being arrested.”

Rail workers with First Great Western, a British train operating company, have announced that they are planning to go on strike this month, the Guardian reports. Members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union will be protesting the introduction of new, driver-only Hitachi intercity trains, which, they say, are likely to result in losses in job security after they begin running in 2017. The strike will take place in two 24-hour periods over the August Bank Holiday. According to RMT, when the Department for Transport approved the train operating company’s proposal to purchase the new trains, the union did not receive their requested assurances of job protection for engineers, guards, platform staff, and positions in restaurant facilities, which would also be removed by the introduction of the new technology. The strike follows a 48-hour strike last month, which led to widespread disruption of services.

Samsung is creating a $85.8 million fund to compensate employees and contractors—many South Korean—who developed cancer while working in its factories, Reuters reports. Samsung said the fund will make payments to workers or families of those who became sick while working at its plants, including contractors. The fund will also pay for research, development of experts, and other methods of improving work safety. According to one group representing many of the cancer-stricken workers, there are more than 200 workers who have fallen ill after working at a Samsung plant, 70 of whom have already passed away. The announcement came after negotiations between Samsung, workers, and their families as well as outside experts, who attributed illnesses such as lymphoma and leukemia to prolonged exposure to radiation or dangerous chemicals used in Samsung’s factories.

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