Vol. III, Bulletin No. 21. November 24, 1998
Preliminary Agreement Seeking to Curtail Apparel Sweatshops
This Industry Needs a Sheriff, Not a Figurehead
President Clinton called the agreement a "historic step." Michael Posner, executive director of the Lawyers Committee for Human rights, called it "precedent-setting...in an industry where there have been wholesale violations of human rights."
The agreement that they lauded, as it was being announced on November 5, is designed to combat sweatshops in the world-wide apparel industry. After more than two years of negotiations under the umbrella of a Presidential task force, the agreement is still preliminary, and labeled that way, for a good reason. Three key groups on that task force rejected it. Two are AFL-CIO affiliates, and another is the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility. Also, there may be one or two fall-outs from among organizations whose representatives signed the agreement in early November.
Potentially the most far-reaching feature of the agreement is the creation of a new entity, the Fair Labor Association (jointly governed by corporations, unions, churches, human rights groups, and other non-governmental organizations), to assure compliance with a code of labor practices. A sheriff is indeed needed to bring law and order into this industry. But the danger is that the sheriff would be a figurehead, mainly because the code she would have to enforce is an inadequate "law" for the industry's Wild West operations.
The preliminary agreement and the surrounding controversies are too complex to summarize here. For the text, analysis, and commentary, check the Website of the Campaign for Labor Rights. Material is also available on the Website of the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, which took a key role in the task force. For more background, see previous HRFW Bulletins.
IMF: Getting in Touch With the Real World
In a 17th century Moliere play, there's this distinguished French gentleman who suddenly grows in awareness and exclaims: "My Lord, I've been talking prose for the last 40 years and have never known it!." Today, in the late 20th century, there's this distinguished international institution that becomes aware of something it had not grasped in more than half a century--the role of "civil society."
The newly enlightened institution is the Washington-based International Monetary Fund (IMF). Since it is funded and governed by governments, the IMF's regular operating horizon, ever since its start in 1946, has been restricted to governments and to the financial fraternity closely linked with governments. Now, at long last, the IMF has discovered the world beyond that horizon. In the September issue of the organization's quarterly journal, Finance and Development, Jan Aart Scholte, a European social scientist, writes about the discovery in an article titled: "The IMF Meets Civil Society."
Scholte describes how the IMF is now systematically reaching out to friendly and even unfriendly organizations--the various non-commercial, non-governmental groups (including trade unions)--comprising "civil society." In this initiative, still in its early stages, Scholte distinguishes three types of civil society groups according to their approach to the IMF:
Wby This More Inclusive Outreach?
- "Conformers," a group that broadly supports the need for the IMF and its programs. Example: the Institute for International Economics, a prestigious Washington think tank.
- "Reformers," a group that accepts the need for an IMF-type agency but seeks changes in policy. Example: the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions.
- "Radicals," a group that seeks to abolish the IMF or at least clip its wings. Examples: the Cato Institute (on the right) and the Fifty Years Is Enough Coalition (on the left).
Having contacts with such such diverse organizations makes bureaucrats uneasy, and raises protests from some governments. Still, the outreach is gradually expanding. Scholte lists six reasons, most of which boil down to this: the much more inclusive dialogue serves the IMF's own best interests. A reason not cited by Scholte is that the IMF needs far more than Treasury Department support to get its funding from the U.S. Congress.
For the IMF, dialoguing with representatives of civil society makes sense. But it's still largely an internal strategy. What remains is to make an impact on the IMF's multibillion-dollar programs in the field. The IMF and other international agencies should explicitly recognize that a flowering civil society is a "fundamental" for sustainable development and should find ways to integrate that "fundamental" into their activities around the world.For more information, including the text of Scholte's article, visit the IMF's Web home page and type "civil society" in the search box.Diary: My Fear of Writing Between Covers
Economist Paul Krugman says this about himself: "I have written or edited 16 books (I think)." This guy's got so many books to his name that he can't even keep count!
I like to think that I don't succumb to the sin of envy, but you can imagine how I feel when I read something like that. Whatsamatter with me? What have I been doing with my life? Yes, I am the author of Primer on Interracial Justice, but that's only one book, and it's out of date and out of print, and the publisher is long out of business.
Stirrings to write a book occur within me periodically. Like right now. The subject of worker rights is highly timely. I keep learning of universities whose faculties and student bodies have deep concerns about the growth of sweatshops in the global economy. It's one facet of an emerging global solidarity movement, and I ought to do my part by helping provide it with advocacy material bound between covers. (I could even use these pages to promote such a book.)
Nice thought, but old habits are hard to break
I am a writer of short stuff, ranging from very short pieces like this one to magazine feature articles of up to 3,500 words to meet an editor's deadline. A deadline for a specific project makes me especially productive. The resulting discipline is usually not onerous but stimulating. Obviously, I just don't have the self-discipline to keep me at work on a project running to a length like 60,000 words. Who knows, maybe one of these days....
High School Seniors and 'High Intensity Work'
Almost half of today's high school seniors work 20 or more hours a week during the school year. Experts call that kind of schedule "high intensity work" for teen-age students because of the pressures it puts on them, resulting in a poorer grades and an increased accident rate.
That's one of many facts revealed in a new book-length report, "Protecting Youth at Work," issued by the National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine. To cope with a trend toward "high intensity work" by youths, the report recommends that Congress fill a gap in federal labor legislation and authorize the Labor Department to set maximum working hours for 16- and 17-year-old students while school is in session (as the law now restricts the hours of students under 16).
To read highlights from "Protecting Youth at Work," check the Website of its publisher, the National Academy Press.
Human Rights for Workers: Bulletin No. III-21, November 24, 1998
Robert A. Senser, editor
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