Human Rights for Workers Bulletin

Vol. III, No. 2.                                                                        January 26, 1998 

A Global Protest To Free Girls and Boys from Exploitation

On the March Against Child Labor

The messages on the placard was simple: "Save our children's future." The placard had a prominent place in a march and rally held on January 17 in Manila to protest against the exploitation of children in the global labor market.  The event, attended by more than 5,000 people, mostly children, launched the first in a series of demonstrations worldwide called the Global March Against Child Labor.  The March will culminate in Geneva in June at the annual conference of the International Labor Organization.

In Manila an Indian human rights advocate, Kailash Satyarthi, who spearheads the campaign, emphasized the theme of the Global March:  "Children should be in schools and playgrounds, not at work."  He pointed out that, although the global economy has recruited more and more children into factories, it is also "leading to a globalization of solidarity" in campaigns against child labor.

Organized by more than 700 groups in 97 countries, the Global March will first reach across much of Asia, and then extend to every other continent.  In May it will go from Mexico to Los Angeles and then cross the United States before flying to Europe.  The stream of marchers, traveling by foot, bus, ship, and plane, will converge on Geneva during the first week of June, to spur the International Labor Conference, meeting there at that time, to adopt more effective measures against the exploitation of underage girls and boys.

Here's Where To Find Out What You Can Do

For information on the Global March against Child Labor, check the Website at  Information on the U.S. portion of the March can be obtained from the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Human Rights (202/463-7575 ext. 227; email:

The United States is not immune from exploiting underage children.  For insights into this made-in-the-USA evil, check the Website of the National Consumers League at  Also see our child labor Information page at cl.htm.

How to Shed Corporate Responsibilities

The words are lofty. In its code of conduct Unocal Corp., the oil and natural gas giant, pledges to "be a good corporate citizen."  But  Business Ethics magazine in its January/February issue charges that Unocal is "roaming the avoid socially responsible requirements at home."

Unocal has been the target of mounting pressure in the United States for its pipeline investment in Burma and its complicity with the Burmese military junta.  President Clinton in April last year imposed sanctions that prohibit further investment in Burma by U.S. companies. Seventeen cities--including San Francisco and New York--and the state of Massachusetts now prohibit their governments to buy from Burma-related businesses.

Hence, as Business Week revealed last May, Unocal is "de-Americanizing."  Though its legal headquarters are in El Segundo, Calif., it now has a "twin corporate headquarters" in Malaysia.  Though 62% of its revenue is from the United States, two-thirds of its capital spending is now in Asia.  Unocal's literature describes the corporation's self-image:  it "no longer considers itself as a U.S. company" but as a "global energy company." (My emphasis.)

'Citizens of the World'--Up to a Point

Hmmm.  Reminds me of a U.S. corporate executive's statement some years ago that "the United States does not have an automatic call on our resources." President Lane Kirkland cited that remark in his address to the 1989 AFL-CIO convention, and said:

"He means, of course, that in the pursuit of super-profits, his company reserves the right to shift jobs overseas to find immunity from the American standards, values, and opportunities that exalted him to his present state of self-righteous ease.  I hope, but I doubt, that the next time this citizen of the world feels compelled to seek the assistance of one of our embassies abroad, he is referred to the United Nations."
Fat chance.  More likely, if his corporation gets zapped in the Asian financial crash, he'll be looking for the U.S. government to make good on the losses.

Take the case of CalEnergy Asia, the subsidiary of a major Omaha energy company, which the U.S. government encouraged to work in Indonesia.  Under a contract with the Indonesia government, CalEnergy began building geothermal power plants there.  Then in January, under pressure from the International Monetary Fund and the U.S., President Suharto canceled the CalEnergy contract and a dozen other costly projects.  But CalEnergy's project, like some others, is covered by "political risk insurance" granted by a U.S. government agency, the Overseas Private Investment Corp.

As a result, reveals the New York Times (1/19/98), the U.S. government "may have to pay several hundred million dollars to CalEnergy," while at the same time contributing billions to trying to save Indonesia from its economic and political sins.

Reflections on a White House Scandal

Maybe it's too much to expect that the press, the public, and public officials would have a higher order of values. Still, I can't help wishing that they cared more about a President's liaisons with mighty dictators than about his dalliances with vulnerable secretaries and interns.

This is not to minimize the moral issue of Oval Office sexual affairs. Yet it is about time to pay more attention to how Presidents and senior officials respect--and fail to respect--moral standards in foreign affairs.

Take U.S. policy toward Indonesia. Now that its economy is falling apart, the press has been filled with the gory details about the corrupt rule of Indonesia's President, General Suharto. But where are the revelations about how U.S. policies have built up his military dictatorship?

In short, how responsible are the U.S. government's own policies for the suffering now gripping the people of Indonesia?  Well, really...who cares?  Yes, who cares about subjecting Clinton's foreign policy to the kind of moral scrutiny it requires?  That's a scandal reaching far beyond the White House.
* * *
What You Could Have Read Here Two Years Ago

I've long been skeptical about the way the World Bank has hyped Indonesia as a "miracle" economy.  That skepticism was reflected in one of the very first issues of Human Rights for Workers, dated March 8, 1996, which carried the headline "A Miracle Made in the World Bank, Not in Indonesia."

But I can't claim, as TV newscasters often do, that "you saw it here first."  Actually our 1996 article was based in large part on a report on Indonesia titled "Social Dynamite" in the Far Eastern Economic Review.  It said that unrest there was being "fueled by the widening economic disparity between rich and poor Indonesians."

Linking Up With World Labor Movement

A question I get more and more often, and from many parts of the world, is:  "What can I do to advance the rights of working men and women around the world?"

A good place to look for ideas is the just-expanded Website of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU), which groups unions with 125,000,000 members in 141 countries and territories.  The site's URL is  There you can find details about the activities and priorities of  the Brussels-based organization, including extensive documentation such as its Annual Survey of Trade Union Rights Violations, country by country.

More than that, you can network with trade union organizations world-wide, some through their own Web pages.  As a service, Human Rights for Workers once carried a list of all the ICFTU-related international "trade secretariats" (union groups by individual industrial/professional sectors), but I couldn't keep it up to date.  Not to worry--the ICFTU's Website now has the full list.

Human Rights for Workers: Bulletin No. III-2, January 26, 1998
Robert A. Senser, editor

Copyright 1998 (Send e-mail)

Back to Human Rights for Workers Home Page
A short cut to a list of previous Bulletins in 1997 and 1996