Environmental Human Rights Defender Muhammad Dairyman Indonesia

November 23, 2015

In the series Human Rights Defender Profiles [ISHR] this time: Muhammad Darisman, from West Java, Indonesia:

In the context of breakneck pace of economic development Muhammad Dairyman stands out. He currently partners with U.S.-based Worker Rights Consortium to monitor and improve working conditions in garment factories, but he is also the founder, since 2009, of a local NGO that raises awareness of occupational disease and victim’s rights. He has led campaigns to highlight the ongoing (and legal) use of asbestos in Indonesia and across the Asian region, and to raise awareness about the negative health impacts on workers and communities.

‘What we see in Indonesia is a lack of knowledge by almost all workers about their rights, and the development of unions is low. So violence at work and occupational safety and health risks are common,’ says Dairyman. The Indonesian garment sector is considerably more developed than some of its regional counterparts. Nonetheless, the relationship between workers and factory management can be tense, especially when there are complaints.Sometimes, the brand will just use a company [supplier factory] report, which might not be inclusive of the workers’ perspective. For us, it is important that the worker be the main source. We go to them in the dormitories, and listen to their cases. Then, even if the factory denies the findings, we have proof and can talk to the brand. Worker-centred monitoring schemes on a range of labor rights, including occupational safety and health, are growing in popularity as traditional, third-party audit models are falling out of favor in the aftermath of the disasters in ‘up to code’ factories in Bangladesh and Pakistan, including Rana Plaza. When the brand gets involved, sometimes they still deny the findings. They don’t want to take on responsibility for working conditions or freedom of association.

The environment for NGOs and freedom of association in Indonesia is, compared to other ASEAN countries, relatively open. Nonetheless, the impact of the 2013 Law on Mass Organisations requiring both foreign and domestic NGOs to report on funding and activities and cementing management of NGOs in the Ministry of Home Affairs has posed some barriers, including to major international NGOs. Workers have the right to form and join unions, another element of freedom of association, under the Ministry of Manpower, but implementation is not complete. For example, the government still has the discretion to approve the registration, or not. I had one case in [a major car manufacturing facility] where workers wanted to organize, but the management wouldn’t give permission. There was an inactive union already. So the workers went to the local authorities, but the government refused to give them a permit letter. It isn’t clear, but we think the company used their influence – they just didn’t want a progressive union that would exercise its rights.  ..A lot of the time, we are just told at the door that we cannot have access.  Other times, the threats come outside the factory, with people watching and following us, the NGO workers, and even their own workers who are trying to organize a union. Union-busting is common, and occasionally, Darisman notes, factories involve local gangs. ‘It depends on the nature of the company, on how closely it is linked to the brand. But surveillance is soft tactic, while other times they might question you, or even go to your home to tell your family that you are causing trouble’. Garment factories have also come under criticism for alleged contamination of local waterways by chemicals used in dying, printing, and finishing synthetic fabrics. Land rights and the progressive expansion of agricultural plantations are another issue confronting Indonesian activists and civil society. In Indonesia, roughly 6 million hectares are under cultivation – an area twice the size of Belgium. Abuses related to land are common. ‘A lot of the time, NGOs working on land issues and organisations of farmers will be stigmatized; they might be labelled “Communist” …

Source: Defender Profile: Muchamad Darisman, West Java, Indonesia | ISHR

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