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Durham University

Research & business

Improving working conditions in Africa

(5 September 2019)

Rethabile's Story - Short Version

Millions of people worldwide work in low-waged, insecure jobs that don’t provide a decent living with many also working in unsafe conditions that deny fundamental rights.

Our researchers, working with the United Nations and other agencies, are working hard to try and change this and they recently presented their findings and recommendations at the UN in Geneva.

The Decent Work Regulation project, led by Durham Law School, aims to improve working conditions and eliminate unacceptable forms of work.

The team is making good progress, particularly in Africa where various organisations, including the United Nations International Labour Organization (ILO) and trade unions, are already using our research to shape and enforce effective labour laws.

However, there is more work to do to make sure people across the globe are in fair and safe employment.

Factory life

Meet Rethabile. She used to work in the clothing factories in Lesotho, Africa, where around 40,000 workers make clothes to be sold in the United States and elsewhere for brands such as Gap and Levi’s. Over 80% of the workers are women.

In this film, Rethabile gives an insight into daily life in the garment sector with all of its challenges. We meet some of her friends who talk about the poor working conditions, including low pay and a lack of health and safety and sick leave.

They talk about having to walk up to 20km to and from work each day, about breathing in dust and fibre, about the dangerous machinery and their low pay.

Rethabile has been working with the Decent Work Regulation team to improve the quality and conditions of work for her former co-workers in Lesotho and across Africa.

Protecting workers

Across the world, millions of people are working in insecure jobs, in unsafe conditions, and for inadequate pay, much like the people in the film. This is a major problem, as identified by the United Nations, which has included ‘Decent Work’ among its Sustainable Development Goals.

The Durham-led network has brought together people from across Africa and beyond, including unions, government ministers and employer organisations. The aim is to protect the world’s workers and eradicate unacceptable forms of work.

As Rethabile says in the film: “We have hopes and dreams, just like everyone else.”

Find out more

 Picture credit: Mlondolozi Mbolo/Decent Work Regulation

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