In 2009, the United States Congress established the Iqbal Masih Award to acknowledge the efforts of particular organisations around the world which have contributed significantly to the promotion and protection of children’s rights. The award was established to ensure that the spirit of Iqbal Masih would live on. Iqbal Masih was a former bonded child labourer in Pakistan who, through the efforts of Global March partner the Bonded Labour Liberation Front (BLLF), escaped at the age of 10. He joined the BLLF and became a world-renowned child rights activist, campaigning against child labour. He was murdered in 1995, a year after he had received the Reebok Human Rights Award, allegedly because of his work against child labour, particularly in the carpet industry. In 2000, he was posthumously awarded the World Children’s Prize for the Rights of the Child.
This year, the award was made to the Firestone Agricultural Workers’ Union of Liberia (FAWUL) for their fight for the rights of children and rubber plantation workers in Liberia. The Bridgestone/Firestone Tire Company has owned a rubber plantation in Liberia since 1926 and, for many years, there has been a high incidence of child labour and violations of workers’ rights violations. Workers were subjected to unreasonably high production quotas for low wages in return and, as a result, brought their children with them to help in achieving the quotas and to ensure that their families could survive.
In spite of intimidation tactics by the company, the plantation workers launched a courageous and historic organising campaign to form an independent and democratic trade union to protect their fundamental rights. After months of struggle and negotiations, the union was finally able to sign a new three-year agreement with company management that ensured a wage increase of more than three percent for workers. In addition, the union campaigned successfully for the construction of new schools for plantation workers’ children.
“This award recognises the extraordinary efforts of the Firestone Agricultural Workers Union to combat the worst forms of child labour internationally,” said US Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis. “The group serves as a model to others, showing that progress is possible and worth the effort.”
Global March Chairperson Kailash Satyarthi, in recognising the honour bestowed on FAWUL, said: “On behalf of the members and partners of Global March, its Governing Board and secretariat, we would like to join US Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis in congratulating FAWUL on this well-deserved recognition of their great work. This is a well-deserved appreciation of their tireless effort to inspire and promote the rights of adult workers and eliminate child labour.”