Vol. X, Bulletin No. 4 April 2, 2005
A Risky Doubling of Globe's Labor Force
The size of the global labor force has doubled since 1980 because China, India, and the former Soviet Union are no longer outside the global economy -- a huge change that creates major adjustment problems for the United States and global financial institutions. So said Richard B. Freeman, professor of economics at Harvard and the London School of Economics, in a recent talk at the Institute for International Economics in Washington.
In his talk, "Doubling the Global Work Force: The Challenge of Integrating China, India, and the Former Soviet Bloc into the World Economy," Freeman described how the United States, like other "Cold War winners," is now at risk, because among other reasons, it is lagging behind in research and development.
His outline of recommended policy adjustments for the United States include a higher savings rate, an improved social safety net, and "targeted R&D." He urged global financial institutions to tighten regulations on capital flows, to concentrate on labor problems rather than on protecting capital, and to "allow policy autonomy" to countries. Freeman is working on a paper that will develop these ideas in detail.
Why Global Norms for Business Matter
Should there be global human rights standards for multinational business, and if so, should the UN Human Rights Commission take the lead in establishing them and in monitoring compliance? The commission is scheduled to answer that fateful question before it ends its annual session on April 22 in Geneva,
During the past 15 months, six issues of Human Rights for Workers have carried articles about the proposed UN Global Human Rights Norms for multinational corporations. Seven issues counting this one Meantime, U.S. media have ignored the controversy over the Norms, which has reverberated far beyond Geneva and the UN. Personally, I tried to bring it to the attention of four U.S. newspapers -- the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, the Outlook section of the Washington Post, and the National Catholic Reporter -- through an op-ed article. All four rejected it.
Why am I so absorbed with this story? Here's why.
One of the major political, economic, and moral challenges of our time is to integrate human rights, including the rights of working men and women, into the rapidly expanding global economy. We're very far from that goal. Initiatives seeking to reach it, however, have emerged in many forums, including these in the United States:
Growing Global Movement To Close Gap in Global Rules
- colleges and universities, where today's students are pursuing the anti-sweatshop crusade initiated by their predecessors in the late 1990s.
- U.S. courts, which have become more willing to hear cases involving gross violations of human rights committed abroad by U.S. firms.
- the U.S. congress, some of whose members are fighting an uphill battle to add a human rights dimension to trade and investment agreements, which today are major instruments of international law.
- leading human rights organizations, several of which have actively joined the struggle for the human rights of workers.
- writings of several leading economists who are alarmed about the malfunctions of the international labor market.
- the Web and Internet, which transmit the latest developments that affect, for good or for evil, the lives of working men and women.
- multinational corporations, some top executives of which are deeply concerned about the global responsibilities that lay heavy on their shoulders.
Though disparate, these and similar initiatives all over the world add up to the 21st century equivalent of the 19th century campaign against the trans-Atlantic slave trade. It is a growing global movement, underestimated in the centers of power. It is not anti-globalization, nor is it an attack on multinationals. Rather, it is a movement to fill an enormous gap in global rules -- a gap between the many (and partly excessive) global protections afforded capital and the absence of any meaningful protections for labor.
Legally speaking, this is inequitable. Politically, it is indefensible. Morally, it is grossly unjust, so patently unjust that it is not long sustainable.
The struggle to end this inequity and injustice deserves the support of the Human Rights Commission. Disagreement over the Commission's role is intensive and extensive. That's to be expected at this stage. Fortunately, the debate is open, and has evoked a great deal of the written material produced by proponents and opponents, much of it accessible on the Web. There you will find many insights into a conflict that is both very real and very important, but lacks the colorful sound bites, the personalized human interest stories, and the dramatic images required by the popular media. No wonder the media silence. That, however, does not make the story any less important.
Besides being important, this is a fascinating "breaking story." It has a complex story line, true, but once you take the trouble to grasp its essentials (and few media people do), it is a continuing drama in which major actors are playing major roles in trying to bring the rule of law to the global marketplace, particularly the international labor market.
Obviously the Human Rights Commission can't wipe out the gender discrimination, the excessively long working hours, the repression of the right to organize, and other gross abuses that afflict workers in major parts of the global economy. The Commission cannot create a labor paradise. But is in a unique position to work with various "stakeholders," especially corporate leaders, and with other global institutions, especially the UN International Labor Organization, to stimulate progress. It can do so on two levels: the level of ideas, by reinforcing the principle that worker rights must be recognized as human rights, and on the level of action, by serving as the catalytic agent to translate that principle into practice.
Risks, Yes, But They Can Be Overcome, If --
Stop, I hear someone shout; let's be realistic. If the Commission accepts the Norms, won't it wind up serving multinationals as just another public relations cover under which they can do whatever they want to do? That is indeed a risk. And organized business, for its part, fears the opposite danger: having impossible bureaucratic burdens imposed on corporations.
Both risks are well worth taking, and can be minimized by the dynamics of the situation: meaning that the diverse groups needed to make progress can serve as countervailing forces to prevent the Commission from becoming either a pawn or an adversary of multinational corporations.
But are there enough people in the business and political elite who understand the gravity of the global challenge and have the guts to address it? Look for an answer at the meeting of the UN Commission on Human Rights this month
Focusing on How Global Economy Works
Say what you will about the UN Global Norms, but the human rights experts who drafted them have a keen understanding of the environment in which multinational corporations operate. As a result, the Norms and a supplementary document go beyond abstract principles and take realistic account of the modern global economy and how it works.
Most elementary is that the Norms are designed not just for multinationals themselves but also for "other business enterprises" that work for multinationals in various subsidiary or auxiliary roles, such as "contractor, subcontractor, supplier, licensee, or distributor," whatever their legal form.
Moreover, while UN itself could not make them binding, the Norms, if adopted as proposed, would subject multinational corporations and connected firms "to periodic monitoring and verification by United Nations [and] other international and national mechanisms already created, or yet to be created, regarding application of the Norms."
Another significant feature of the Norms is that although they cover the basic worker rights enshrined by the International Labor Organization, they add one that the ILO (oddly) has ignored: that multinationals and related business enterprises "shall provide workers with remuneration that ensures an adequate standard of living for them and their family." And restitution is to be made to workers deprived of compensation due them.
A supplementary document, titled "Commentary on the Norms," address other specifics. For example, Multinationals & Co.:
Growing Consensus against CAFTA
- "shall not deduct from a worker's wages already earned as a disciplinary measure."
- "shall, to the extent of their resources and capabilities, provide effective training for their managers as well as workers and their representatives in practices relevant to the Norms."
A new national poll finds that 51% of American voters oppose the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), a proposed trade pact that the Bush administration brokered last year with six countries -- Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. After two protesters died and more than 100 were injured in protests, the Guatemalan Congress in March became the third Central American country to ratify the agreement.
The U.S. poll, conducted by a national research firm, "clearly shows that a strong majority of Democrats and independents and almost half of all Republicans oppose CAFTA," Ernest Baynard, executive director of www.AmericansForFairTrade.org, said in a March 1 press release. "The survey also shows that Americans are all too familiar with the failed promises and negative impact of NAFTA [the North American Free Trade Agreement] -- CAFTA's older brother -- and are rightfully wary of more of the same."
U.S. Congressional Hearings Coming Up Soon
Congress, too, is wary. "This Trade Pact Won't Sail Through," said the headline over a March 28 Business Week article assessing the mood on Capitol Hill, where hearings on whether the U.S. should ratify CAFTA are scheduled to begin in early April.
No recent trade pact has attracted more intense scrutiny and criticism from sources outside the AFL-CIO and Central American unions. For example:
CAFTA Mislabeled -- It Is Not a Free Trade Agreement
- Human Rights Watch has issued a briefing paper on "CAFTA's Weak Labor Rights Protections: Why the Present Accord Should be Opposed."
- The National Farmers Union opposes CAFTA, saying it "is being sold on wildly optimistic projections that sound good but never seem to materialize."
- Medicins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) has attacked CAFTA for "protecting the interests of large multinational pharmaceutical companies" and thus causing a "devastating impact on [Central Americans'] access to essential medicines."
- In a joint statement the Catholic Bishops of the U.S. and Central America objected to CAFTA for ignoring "the potential impact of U.S. farm supports on Central American producers."
- And the Sierra Club is rallying environmentalists to oppose CAFTA because it "would not only give foreign investors new powers to challenge community and environmental safeguards, but also could force governments to weaken environmental standards covering a wide range of service industries."
In addition, CAFTA's fundamental flaw is that it is deceptively labeled. It is not a free trade agreement at all, for at least two reasons:
1. It is actually a form of old-fashioned mercantilism disguised as free trade. According to an analysis, "Pitfalls in Asymmetric Negotiations," published by the Center for Global Development, the U.S. Trade Representative office in its bilateral and regional negotiations such as CAFTA "is taking a largely traditional mercantilist stance, demanding far-reaching concessions in agricultural, high tech, and services sectors where [the United States] is competitive, and resisting concessions in sensitive sectors where it is not."
2. CAFTA is also "the classic outsourcing agreement," in the words of Alan Tonelson of the U.S. Business and Industry Council. That is, CAFTA reinforces "turnaround trade," in which parts and components of textiles, apparel, semiconductors, and other goods are exported from the United States, assembled and processed in Central America, and then imported back into the United States as finished products. "Because the assembly or further processing of these goods used to be done in factories in the United States," Tonelson writes, "America's exports to CAFTA -- i.e., to the Central American factories built to replace U.S. factories -- are unmistakable signs of oursourcing, lost America jobs, and lower America wages."
Students Teach Justice to Their Elders
It took a nine-day hunger strike by more than 20 students, a series of articles in the Washington Post, the presence of several top government and union leaders in a march to the university president's office, and the threat of those leaders to join the hunger strike. Finally, after all that and more, Georgetown University President John J. DeGioia gave in and on Holy Thursday announced "A Just Employment Policy for Georgetown University."
Under the new policy, the school's 450 contract employees, mostly food service, custodial, and security workers, get a wage increase (from the current minimum of $11.33 an hour to $14 in two annual steps), a grievance procedure, and benefits equal to those accorded directly hired employees, plus a guarantee to respect the right to unionize.
"The university's new policy isn't perfect," said student leader Jack Mahoney, 19, a freshman, referring especially to the unmet demand for a minimum wage of $14.93 effective July 1 this year. "But it will be a valuable tool as we continue to work with campus workers."
Origins of this student campaign go back three years, and soon took form as the Georgetown Living Wage Coalition, with a Website of its own.
Georgetown Administration Got a Lesson In Global Justice in 1999
This is not the first time that Georgetown administrators needed great pressure to start listening to students speaking out, not for their own rights, not for the rights of other students, but for the rights of vulnerable workers. In "Freshmen Are Teaching Lessons in Global Ethics," published in the February 19, 1999, issue of Human Rights for Workers, I wrote:
"Thank the Lord for the college students, many of them just freshmen and sophomores, who are teaching their elders powerful lessons in global ethics. In the past few weeks youngsters at Georgetown, Duke, and Wisconsin staged sit-ins that succeeded in persuading university administrators that they would end the schools' complicity in supporting sweatshops."
At Georgetown in 1999, it took a four-day, round-the-clock student occupation of the president's office to end the university's scandalous practice of selling the Georgetown logo for use on sweaters, T-shirts, gym bags, and other items made in sweatshops. A sophomore, Dominique Gonyer, 19, described why she got involved: "This is a Catholic university that preaches tolerance and social justice. We can't have our logos made with slave labor."
Soon thereafter, Georgetown adopted a code of conduct covering the goods bearing its name and logo, and established a "Licensing Oversight Committee," whose ten members include four students. Georgetown also became a founding member of the Worker Rights Consortium, an anti-sweatshop nongovernmental organization that has 135 colleges and universities as members.
Georgetown's Commitment To Protect and Promote Human Rights
A description of the licensing committee's work can be found on its Web page at http://www.georgetown.edu/admin/loc/index.html It offers important insights into the responsible role that Georgetown has in rooting out sweatshops overseas. I even detect there a note of pride:
"Georgetown University, the nation's oldest Catholic and Jesuit institution of higher learning, is committed to the protection and the promotion of human rights worldwide. Consistent with this longstanding tradition, Georgetown has acted to safeguard the rights of workers in factories that produce apparel and other products bearing the name and logo of the university."
And now, thanks again to conscientious students, Georgetown has learned that justice begins at home, even though it doesn't end there.
Forced Labor in Prosperous California
California is one of the half-dozen largest and wealthiest economies in the world, but it has not escaped the scourge of modern-day slavery. "Freedom Denied," a new report by the Human Rights Center of the University of California at Berkeley, finds that forced labor and human trafficking persist in Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, and other urban areas, where the persons most victimized are legal and illegal immigrants.
In the report's forward, Adam Hochschild, author of Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire's Slaves, points out that although globalization has opened up great opportunities for millions of Americans, it has "also opened up great opportunities" to force people here from other countries to work as prostitutes, domestic servants, and sweatshop laborers.
Among the report's recommendation are that the state's criminal laws need updating to combat forced labor and that law enforcement officials need training in how to "recognize the indicators of forced labor and how to intercede to liberate victims so that well-intentioned interventions do not jeopardize victims and their families."
Human Rights for Workers: Bulletin No. X-4 April 2, 2005
Robert A. Senser, editor
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