Beyond Trafficking and Slavery

Voices from the Supply Chain: An Interview with Daniel Castellanos

Life as a foreign guestworker in the U.S. is far from easy. You're tied to one employer, unable to walk away, and face challenges with labour organising. Español

Daniel Castellanos
2 September 2016

Daniel Castellanos

DC: My name is Daniel Castellanos. I am co-founder of the National Guestworker Alliance, which is an organisation of people that came to work with a visa in the U.S. We have been organising workers for more than 10 years now, mainly in response to working conditions, which are very difficult. As a former guestworker myself, I know how difficult they are. I am originally from Peru and am a father of two children. I saw that in order to become a guestworker you have to plunge your family into major debt. For example, I had to pay $5000 to come to the U.S. – and that is a hell of a lot of money. The second big issue we face is that as a guestworker you are tied to only one employer – you cannot leave your employer without losing your visa. This is horrible. You, as a free person, can go to find work wherever you want, but I don’t have this right as a guestworker in the U.S. I am tied to one employer no matter whether he treats me well or poorly. I have to stay with him, he has my contract, and if he doesn’t like me he can just call the police department and have me deported. This is what we are fighting against. The U.S. government doesn’t understand. They think this guestworker scheme is a win- win situation, but it is not.

BTS: So the issue with guestwork is that even if you arrive legally the exploitation is still very serious?

DC: Yes. We hear a lot about the problems that undocumented migrants face, but actually I came legally and it was still bad. In fact, in some ways it’s even worse. As an undocumented worker, I could change employers, but I can’t as a guestworker. Plus, the employer charges me for everything. Guestworkers live on the employer’s property, so that means that he controls you every day. He can knock on the door and say come to work at two or three in the morning. Some even force you to practice the same religion as they do – which is just not acceptable. And unfortunately, these problems are paralleled in other countries too. We know the guestwork programs were also copied in Canada and Korea, with many of the same problems.

BTS: So this is the reason why you came to ILC 2016? And what were your goals?

DC: We came to the ILO ILC because we think the ILO is the biggest international institution that can push governments in the right direction. It brings all the key actors together and gives us a chance to talk from the workers’ perspective and show the world how to make things better for workers. In the end, this is one step on a long road of negotiation. Things won’t get fixed tomorrow but we’ll put these things on the table and people will see them. And that will help.

BTS: Many of those gathered here would like to see these discussions lead to a decent work convention is. What do you think about that?

DC: Yes, absolutely, it’s critical. This is a global problem. It’s not just the EU, but workers everywhere. In Latin America there are workers without any form of benefits. This morning I was talking to Indonesians who make Swiss Rolex watches and they too are paid almost nothing. We need to expose this, expose this injustice. And show people that we need global regulation for a global economy.

BTS: Because the biggest companies are holding on to most of the money in the supply chain?

DC: That’s right. It’s very common, but we know we that having this kind of convention can change things and help us get a better deal for workers.

BTS: What key things do you think we have to change for there to be decent work in supply chains?

DC: There are three. The first is better understanding on the part of the government about this issue. Governments the world over fail to understand that capital is punishing workers. Second, we need governments to increase the protection of workers. We need freedom to organise, freedom from blacklists or deportation. The government needs to protect us. Thirdly, we need happy employees! We need to show employers that from the business perspective a happy employee is a better employee. That won’t be easy, but we have to convince them.

BTS: Thank you Daniel.

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