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In Dominican Republic, a T-shirt factory sets the highest bar for workers’ rights

One group of workers who earn a high wage and unusual benefits is helping others earn the same.
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Elvira Juan Chale sews t-shirts at Altagracia Apparel, where workers earn three times the Dominican Republic's minimum wage. Now, Altagracia workers are inspiring other textile employees here to demand higher wages and better working conditions from their own companies. (Jacob Kushner/GlobalPost)

VILLA ALTAGRACIA, Dominican Republic — On a recent Sunday morning, four workers sip coffee with sugar as they share stories of injuries at the clothing factories where they’ve worked.

Carlos, who asked his real name be withheld to avoid possible repercussions from his company, recounts the accident that hospitalized him just two weeks after he began packaging baseball caps at a Santiago factory in 2012. As he left work one day, a woman who was learning how to drive ran him over in the street.

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How beer explains 20 years of NAFTA’s devastating effects on Mexico

Analysis: The North American Free Trade Agreement was the poster child for the wonders of free trade. The reality is another story.
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Employee Angel Rodriguez checks the beer during the bottling process in the Cervecería Calavera, on July 20, 2012, in Tlanepantla, Mexico State. Producers of handcrafted beer are making their way in Mexico following the emergence of new breweries in crowded neighborhoods of the capital and as large emporiums producing traditional brands like Corona stopped being Mexican-owned. (Ronaldo Schemidt/AFP/Getty Images)

Mexico’s largest agribusiness association invited me to Aguascalientes to participate in its annual forum in October. The theme for this year’s gathering was “New Perspectives on the Challenge of Feeding the World.”

But it was unclear why Mexico, which now imports 42 percent of its food, would be worried about feeding the world. It wasn’t doing so well feeding its own people.

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11 human rights groups to support if you're looking for better karma in 2014

This year, why not commit to learning more about human rights movements around the world? You can start here.
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Patrick Bova (R) and Jim Darby share a kiss at a ceremony where Illinois Governor Pat Quinn signed the Illinois marriage equality act into law making the state the 16th to allow such unions on November 20, 2013 in Chicago, Illinois. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

If you've resolved to do more good deeds in the new year and find yourself short of ideas on how to do that, allow us to suggest some human rights organizations you might consider supporting.

The choices are vast, from women’s rights groups who threw themselves into conflict to reveal the use of rape as a weapon of warto those who fought against their own cultures and legislative bodies in the name of justice; to LGBT advocates who stood against abuse in countries like Russia and Uganda and witnessed victories in Uruguay, the United States and France. There are groups that focus on the health of the planet’s children and the health of the planet itself. Here are 11 organizations to consider watching and supporting this year:

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Back-to-back terrorist attacks in Russia shake up Olympic security plans

The 2014 Winter Olympics are barely a month away, and violence in Russia's North Caucasus is unsettling many.
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Russian firefighters and security personnel inspect the destroyed trolleybus in Volgograd on December 30, 2013. Ten people were killed in a bombing that destroyed a packed trolleybus in the southern Russian city of Volgograd, the second attack in the city in two days after a suicide strike on its main train station, officials said. (AFP/AFP/Getty Images)

With the 2014 Winter Olympics just weeks away, world leaders, including President Barack Obama, have announced that they will not be attending the Games in the Russian city of Sochi. But while reports indicate that the absences are in response to Russia’s ongoing LGBT rights abuses, this week’s terrorist attacks in Volgograd, formerly Stalingrad, may be pointing at an alternative—some very real security concerns.

Russia’s southern city of Volgograd, located in the Federation’s unstable North Caucasus region, was targeted in a second suicide bombing on Monday when an explosion hit a trolleybus during the morning rush hour. The first attack, which killed 17 people at the city’s main train station, took place only 24 hours earlier.

At least 32 people have been killed in the two bombings over the last day.

Authorities have labeled the events terrorist attacks, according to Russian media, and have launched a security mission of more than 260 search groups and 142 investigative squads working to secure the city. So far, over 80 people have been detained in the “whirlwind anti-terror sweep.” No groups had claimed responsibility for the attacks as of Monday night, but reports have said that suspicion has largely fallen on Chechen separatist groups.

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2013: The year income inequality went mainstream

After decades of sitting on the back burner, the data — and the pain — became too much to ignore.
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A man smokes a cigarette outside a restaurant in Hong Kong on September 28, 2013. The same day, Hong Kong announced its first benchmark to measure poverty and found almost 20 percent of residents live in such conditions, a move hailed as a step towards tackling worsening inequality (Alex Ogle/AFP/Getty Images)

NEW YORK — Viewed from the towering heights of America’s financial capital, there are reasons aplenty to celebrate the coming new year.

The official unemployment rate — which peaked at 10 percent in October 2009 — fell to 7 percent by the start of December, a level that prompted President Obama to claim the US economy is “ready for lift off” in 2014.

Perhaps, but Spaceship USA seems intent on leaving an awful lot of people behind on the launch pad.

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Three years later, Tunisian youth push the revolution forward

Tunisia touched off the Arab Spring, but has fallen out of the international spotlight. Here's how the country's youth are taking its future into their own hands.
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Tunisian children wave the national flag as they gather to mark the third anniversary of the uprising that toppled deposed president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in Sidi Bouzid's Mohamed Bouazizi square on December 17, 2013. The square was named after the fruit seller whose self-immolation sparked the revolution that ousted the long-standing dictator and ignited the Arab Spring. (FETHI BELAID/AFP/Getty Images)

It has been three years since the Arab Spring began with the revolution in Tunisia, which ultimately led former president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to flee to Saudi Arabia. A lot has happened since then, and while the country has yet to find its footing, new hope is emerging for Tunisian youth.

Although Tunisia remains fragile and deeply divided, with troubled economic and political realities, a new uprising of young political revolutionaries is growing — led by young, educated Tunisians who are volunteering to join the interim government for free.

With Egypt, Libya, Syria and Bahrain all showing signs of failure to bring about fundamental change, Tunisia has been called "the last hope of the Arab Spring." 

If you haven’t been paying attention to Tunisia, here’s what you’ve been missing:

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Western-style activism may be hurting gay rights in Africa

After years of legislative limbo, Uganda passed a law Friday offering a life sentence for "aggravated homosexuality." Experts say Western activism may be making matters worse for African gays.
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Gay rights activist Juliet Mphande of Zambia( L), US Ambassador Samantha Power (C) and Russian journalist Masha Gessen (R) at the United Nations in New York City in December 2013. (Randy Gener/GlobalPost)

For gay rights activists in most African countries, the fight for same-sex marriage is a long way off. The prevalence of homophobia — hate crimes, societal repression and government-encouraged intolerance of gay sex — is so severe that many gay people cannot live openly and African activists who ask the government for fundamental human rights risk imprisonment or death. A number of experts say such activism could actually make the problem worse in some countries.

Case in point: the Ugandan parliament passed a law Friday that would imprison gay people for life for committing acts of “aggravated homosexuality.” The bill had been a matter of global activist concern since its introduction in 2010, though the new law excludes the death penalty clause that earned it the moniker the “Kill the Gays Bill.”

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Why Madagascar's children have the most at stake in Friday's presidential election

Madagascar’s children have borne the highest costs of the nation's social and economic turmoil since the 2009 coup d'etat. And it will be up to the new president to refocus government priorities.
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Children carry bricks on December 19, 2013 in Antananarivo, ahead of the upcoming presidential election. (Alexander Joe/AFP/Getty Images)

ANTANANARIVO, Madagascar — As the east African island nation of Madagascar picks a president on Friday, five years after a coup d’état sent the country spiraling into crisis, the political dynamics will be closely scrutinized. Will there be post-election violence? How will the impasse between the toppled former president Marc Ravalomanana and his successor, Andry Rajoelina, resolve itself? Will the government shed its pariah status among the international community?

But those with the most at stake will play no role in the political intrigue. Amid unprecedented social and economic turmoil since the 2009 coup, Madagascar’s children have borne the highest costs.

“It’s what you would see in countries like DRC,” says Steve Lauwerier, the UNICEF country director. Except, he adds, “We didn’t have a war. There was no big economic crisis. There was no reason that this should happen.”

What has happened is a peacetime humanitarian collapse of startling proportions. While other African nations have progressed rapidly in health and education, Madagascar has stagnated or regressed. Half of children under 5 suffer from chronic malnourishment, or “stunting,” the fourth-highest rate in the world. At least 1.5 million children do not attend school — which the world bank estimates could be an increase of 600,000 since 2009.

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Tanzanian teachers learning education doesn't pay

Like their colleagues in many other countries, public school teachers here lead huge classes for shrinking pay. Some warn they won't put up with it much longer.
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Children practice their English at Bunge Primary School in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Public schools throughout the country are crowded, and the average student/teacher ration is 48 to 1. (Jacob Kushner/GlobalPost)

ARUSHA, Tanzania — Five days a week, Caroline Benedict Kessy stands before a class of 77 third-grade students and struggles to devise a way to teach all of them how to read and write.

The other two days she spends at home baking wedding cakes to sell. Each cake earns her an average of 300,000 shillings (about $187 US). That’s equivalent to half her monthly teaching salary for just one day of baking.

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Talking Peace: This week in global diplomatic negotiations

What you need to know about Ukraine, India and Israel.
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Right-wing Indian Hindu activists dressed as US President Barack Obama take part in a protest near the US Embassy in New Delhi on December 18, 2013. India vowed Wednesday to bring one of its diplomats home at any price after her arrest in New York, as she told how she broke down in tears after being stripped and cavity-searched. (MANAN VATSYAYANA/AFP/Getty Images)

Ukrainian protesters might be deflated after officials on Wednesday announced support for the Russian financial aid package that helped ignite the country’s unrest. As protest leaders regrouped to devise a new strategy for having their demands met, the German chancellor proposed a possible solution that would allow Ukraine to integrate its economy with the European Union while keeping its agreement with Russia.

And the arrest of an Indian diplomat and her subsequent strip-search aggravated the relationship between India and the United States, causing a diplomatic spat. The European Union warned Israel against doing something that could be detrimental to Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

Here’s a closer look:

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