On December 2, 2020, the International Union of Food, Farm & Hotel Workers (IUF) held their first-ever virtual rally. Dozens from across the world attended to shine a spotlight on a union fight at the Marriott-Sheraton Grand Conakry located in Conakry, Guinea, the West African country’s capital city. The hotel only opened four years ago, but the union has been fighting to protect its members from the beginning.
Though they were able to win a union election in a landslide, thanks to an international pressure campaign on the International Finance Corporation (IFC)–which loaned the hotel owner the money to build–things worsened when the COVID-19 pandemic reached Guinea.
Tensions boiled over a few months ago when a worker accidentally broke a flowerpot. Amadou Diallo, the General Secretary of the union, stepped in to defend the worker. Management fired the worker and General Secretary Diallo, along with the union’s Deputy General Secretary. As Mr. Diallo said during the rally, “The hotel management is saying that if the union steps in to defend a member, then the hotel is saying that’s intimidation, and they should be fired. This is clearly wrong, and it violates all the rights that we have fought for and won through the union.”
The demand the workers put forth to the Sheraton Grand Conakry management is clear: reinstatement of these illegally fired workers.
At first glance, this appears to be a standard case of an employer fighting against their employees’ rights to unionize, but there’s an added global dimension to this. The IFC is not a regular lending agency. Rather, it is the World Bank’s private lending arm and is responsible for putting money into projects that alleviate poverty and create good jobs. The IFC’s own guidelines for loan recipients prohibits union-busting.
Now, with COVID raging and a clear case of union-busting, the IFC is abandoning its duty to ensure compliance that match its own standards. As part of its agreement with the IFC, hotel owner Topaz Group promised to respect workers’ rights in order to access the tens of millions of dollars it needed to build the hotel. Union-busting is not poverty alleviation, and until the IFC intervenes and ensures the workers are reinstated, they cannot say they are part of helping the workers of Guinea.
Jobs With Justice joins with our partners at Global Labor Justice/International Labor Rights Forum and the global union movement in calling for the IFC’s immediate intervention to force Marriott-Sheraton Grand Conakry to reinstate these fired union leaders.
For international development to work, it must be conducted hand-in-hand with the workers who are doing the labor. After all, it’s the workers who ensure services run and infrastructure is built. Sidelining workers’ rights to organize a union and fight for basic human dignity on the job, then one thing is clear: IFC, Topaz, and Marriott are planting the same seeds of worker exploitation in a shiny new flowerpot.