New Unionism Network
Today’s new unionists are beginning to organize the precariat – workers without security. To say this latter group represents the most rapidly growing sector in society entirely misses the point. The labour force has fundamentally changed. And according to many labour analysts, the real jolt is still to come. December 2009.
A child in a Chinese sweatshop and a clerk in a US office working for the same company are subject to very different labour regulations. In the global economy global labour standards are not yet a priority of the international community. Transnational corporations (TNCs) benefit from the recent wave of trade liberalization and increasingly shift their operations to countries with low wages and limited labour rights. The lack of labour rights and trade unions along with a cheap and flexible labour force becomes an important bargaining factor in the competition for foreign direct investment. TNCs often use their power to push down wages and conditions of employment in return for investment. In particular labour-intensive and dangerous production has moved to countries where labour rights are disregarded.
As TNCs spread their operations across more and more countries, global labour rights become increasingly important. In 1998, the International Labour Organization (ILO) adopted the “Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work”. The adoption of the declaration marked a renewed commitment of the member states to respect, promote and realize principles such as the freedom of association, the right to collective bargaining, elimination of all forms of forced labour, abolition of child labour, and elimination of discrimination in employment and occupation. International regulations, however, remain a weak instrument in the struggle for global labour rights as many countries do not enforce them even if they have ratified the conventions in question. Therefore, NGOs try to hold companies who ignore basic labour rights at any stage of the production process directly responsible. For example, they initiate boycott campaigns, such as the appeal to boycott Nike in response to the appoling conditions in production sites of the sportswear giant. In reaction, many corporations nowadays have adopted a Code of Conduct that deals with the rights of their employees. Multinationals, however, often outsource production and claim not to be responsible for labour standards in the factories of their subcontractors, while they still profit from the low labour costs and the disrespect for basic human rights in the workplace.
Traditionally, labour rights are the domain of trade unions and these have a long history of fighting for workers’ rights, mainly within a state, although there has been international co-operation among unions since the 19th century. With the globalization of the economy, more NGOs are engaging in the struggle for global labour rights along with trade unions who increasingly co-operate across national borders and within particular industries. Until recently, trade unions in the North were mainly concerned with the loss of jobs in their countries, claiming that low labour standards in other countries represented an unfair advantage. NGOs have been more concerned about labour rights in the South, which deteriorated even further after more TNCs moved their production to developing countries. Lately, NGOs and trade unions in the North as well as in the South have improved their co-operation across national boundaries to promote global labour rights, although there are still conflicts between the different interests. This said, however, the line between trade unions and NGOs is sometimes somewhat blurred, especially in many developing countries.
Trade unions and NGOs agree on basic global labor rights, which should include, for example, the freedom of association, collective bargaining, abolition of forced labour, equal opportunities for women and men, and safe working conditions. These basic principles are often violated, for instance, in sweatshops and Export Processing Zones. In this context we can identify women and children as particular vulnerable groups, who are regularly abused and exploited. In view of the lack of commitment by TNCs regarding international legislation, labour activists engage in fair trade and other initiatives to realize global labour rights.
The Programme Document adopted at the ITUC founding Congress sets out the Confederation’s overall policy framework, which builds on existing International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) and World Confederation of Labour (WCL) policies. Its main areas of activity include: + trade union and human rights + economy, society and the workplace + equality and non-discrimination + international solidarity.
Increasingly, the name “Global Unions” is being used for the major institutions of the international trade union movement. The members of Global Unions are: Education International, International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, International Federation of Building and Wood Workers, International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers' Union, International Federation of Journalists, International Metalworkers' Federation International Textile, Garment and Leather Workers' Federation, International Transport Workers' Federation, International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers' Association, Public Services International, Trade Union Advisory Committee to the OECD, Union Network International.
The ILO is the UN specialized agency which seeks the promotion of social justice and internationally recognized human and labour rights. The ILO formulates international labour standards in the form of conventions and recommendations setting minimum standards of basic labour rights: freedom of association, the right to organize, collective bargaining, abolition of forced labour, equality of opportunity and treatment, and other standards regulating conditions across the entire spectrum of work related issues.
The International Labour Office (ILO)’s 2006 Global Employment Trends Brief paints a sombre picture not only of growing unemployment and poverty but also of a significant lack of decent job opportunities, especially for young people. More youth are poor or underemployed than ever before. Some 106 million youth work but live in households that earn less than the equivalent of US$1 per day. According to the Global Employment Trends Brief, the largest increase in unemployment occurred in Latin America and the Caribbean, where the number of unemployed rose by nearly 1.3 million and the unemployment rate increased by 0.3 percentage points between 2004 and 2005 to 7.7%. August 2006.
The GALS Bibliographic Library contains abstracts of recent law journal articles exploring international labour standards and rights in the global economy. Taken from English language law journals from around the world, GALS provides an annotated bibliography categorized by subject heading.
Daily-updated online service with labour news from around the world, maintained by a global network of volunteers which aims to serve the international trade union movement by collecting and disseminating information and by assisting unions in campaigning and other ways.
This handbook gives an insider's view of how the ILO works. It explains how the organization can be used by NGOs and other groups, to promote and protect minority and indigenous peoples' rights (pdf-file).
The Global Workplace is a project of War on Want that aims to link workers around the world in global solidarity to ensure that the global economy works for the majority. Site includes campaigns on workers’ rights and links to civil society organizations around the world.
The Clean Clothes Campaign aims to improve working conditions in the garment and sportswear industry. It is a decentralized network of trade unions, human rights and women rights organizations, researchers, solidarity groups, and activists, which operates autonomously in each member country.
Oxfam’s fair trade site which gives a voice to the farmers, labourers, and factory workers who are being cheated by the blatantly unfair rules of world trade. It lobbies for a change of consumer behavior towards supporting fair trade initiatives.
An initiative by Oxfam, the Clean Clothes Campaign and Global Unions to pressure sportswear companies which should take their responsibilities seriously and stop pushing their manufacturers into exploitative business practices for the sake of greater and greater profit. In addition, the International Olympics Committee should use its influence to ensure workers in the sportswear industry work under fair, dignified and safe conditions.
CorpWatch counters corporate-led globalization through education, network-building and activism. It works to foster democratic control over corporations by building grassroots globalization a diverse movement for human rights and dignity, labour rights and environmental justice.
This Canadian network is promoting solidarity with groups in Mexico, Central America, and Asia organizing in maquiladora factories and export processing zones to improve conditions and win a living wage. It builds solidarity through campaigns, government lobbying, popular education, and international links.
CAWN is a UK-based network of women that supports the efforts of Central America women's organizations to defend their rights and increase their voice and their presence in political and economic decision-making fora in Central America. It publicizes the work of Central American women's organizations and invites Central American women themselves to make direct input into relevant research, policy, advocacy and campaigning initiatives in the global North.
Sweatshop Watch is a coalition of over 30 labour, community, civil rights, immigrant rights, women's, religious and student organizations, and many individuals, committed to eliminating the exploitation that occurs in sweatshops. Sweatshop Watch serves low-wage workers nationally and globally, with a focus on garment workers in California.
The Global Labour Institute support the efforts of the labour movement to deal with the globalization of the world economy and its social and political consequences and, to this end, to strengthen links and networks between trade unions and other civil society organizations with similar or converging interests, particularly in the defense of human and democratic rights and social justice in all its aspects.
The organization aims to eliminate the system of slavery around the world by urging governments of countries with slavery to develop and implement measures to end it, working with local organizations to raise public awareness of slavery, and educating the public about the realities of slavery and campaigning for its end.
The NLC is a human rights advocacy group, dedicated to promoting and defending the rights of workers. Through establishing long standing working relationships with non-governmental, human rights, labour and religious organizations, primarily in Latin America, the NLC educates and actively involves the public in actions aimed at ending labour abuses, improving living conditions for workers and their families and promoting the concept of a living wage and true independent monitoring.
The CLR mobilizes grassroots support throughout the United States to promote economic and social justice by campaigning to end labour rights violations around the world. It educates about, and advocates against, the underlying causes of the global sweatshop. Its campaign strategies are designed in collaboration with workers struggling to gain the right to organize, the right to earn a living wage in a clean, safe work environment, and the right to bargain collectively with their bosses. Through these campaigns CLR's goal is to empower workers.
ICTUR has established a global network of trade unionists, labour lawyers, academics and reporters. This network promotes discussion, education, campaigning and action in order to understand, to defend and to extend trade union rights worldwide.
Fields of Hope is an American Web site which provides educational materials about children working in agriculture. It explains why many children work in this and why it is so often unhealthy, socially isolating or harmful. It also describes what life is like for many of these children.
HomeNet is an international solidarity network for home-based workers and their organizations. It aims at representing, organizing and supporting home-based workers around the world to improve their working and living conditions.
Women in the U.S. are purchasing clothing sewn by women who are exploited in Guatemala. The Nicotex sweatshop produces clothing for Briggs New York and Lane Bryant. The U.S. Free Trade Agreement with Central America continues to fail, undermined by corruption and a total lack of enforcement of labor laws. February 2009.
Who's got the Universal Code? examines attempts by multi-stakeholder initiatives and industry associations to develop and promote a 'universal' code of conduct that would be applicable to one or more sectors in the globalized economy. (pdf). April 2008
This video shows how every year, over 25,000 workers are enslaved in rural Brazil. Trapped by debt bondage on isolated ranches in the Amazon region, they are forced to do backbreaking work and live in dismal conditions.
As global sports brands crank up their advertising for the 2006 FIFA World Cup, sportswear workers in Asia are struggling to earn a living. Oxfam International’s report "Offside! Labor Rights and Sportswear Production in Asia" examines how sports brands are tackling the problem of sweatshops in their industry with a particular focus on workers’ freedom to form and join trade unions. The report features nine case studies that document how sports brands have responded to evidence of labor rights abuses in particular factories. In some cases they have responded well and addressed the problems while in others labor abuses have continued. Ultimately, a bigger challenge remains to persuade sports brands to make sure human rights are respected right across their supply chain. The report assesses how much effort sports brands have made to improve labor rights for all workers who make their products. June 2006.
The Multifibre Agreement (MFA), an international quota system for the textile and clothing industry, set the rules for international trade in textiles. The growth of textile and garments industries in many countries has been heavily dependent on the quota allocations under the MFA. Several will be forced to shut down as the agreement is coming to an end in 2005.
This pamphlet introduces the issue of sweatshops. It includes e.g. an FAQ section, examples of resistance from sweatshop workers, a case study of Nike and Adidas production in Indonesia, and an introduction to capitalist globalization and its institutions (pdf-file).
Despite some small steps forward poverty and fear still dominate the lives of Nike and Adidas workers in Indonesia. This report reveals that the sweat shop workers are still underpaid, have to fear severe punishment when try to unionize, and work under dangerous conditions while physically and psychologically abused (pdf-file).
In 1998, Nike's CEO and founder Phillip Knight promised substantial improvements of the working conditions in its supplier factories. This report represents a comprehensive examination of Nike's labour performance in the three years since that speech was made. That performance is assessed against the commitments Knight announced and compared with the human rights standards and independent monitoring practices labour rights organizations have demanded of the company (pdf-file).
This is an account of the working conditions in factories that produce footballs for companies such as Adidas and Puma. In particular in peak season the working hours are long and exhausting. Above that the workers face health and safety hazards, delayed payment of salaries, restriction of personal freedom, and arbitrary penalties (pdf-file).
This report at the dawn of the 2004 Olympics asks fundamental questions about the global sportswear industry. It shows that the business practices of major sportswear companies violate both the spirit and the letter of the Olympic Charter. Profits are created at the expense of the dignity, health, and safety of the workers. Yet, the International Olympics Committee has been remarkably silent in the face of these contraventions (pdf-file).
This issue sheet provides an introduction to how the garment industry works and to the sweatshop practices common in the industry. It describes the changes that have taken place in the industry in the past decades and its consequences for the workforce. The report includes stories from sweatshop workers in El Salvador, China and Canada.
This new web site developed by the IUF presents a collection of reports, background information and updates on the struggle of domestic workers for respect and human rights with a special emphasis on migrant women domestic workers. November 2008.
This publication provides a feminist analysis of workers' rights issues in respect of core labor standards, the decent work paradigm and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) in relation to trade policy, especially that of the European Union (EU). August 2008. (PDF).
There are two key issues in the structural pattern of inequality between women and men: first, political participation and gender parity in decision-making processes at all levels, and, second, women's contribution to the economy and social protection, especially in relation to unpaid work. August 2007.
Economic and trade liberalisation policies adopted by a number of African countries have led in some instances to harsh working conditions amounting to violation of workers’ rights. According to research done in two African countries by the Gender and Economic Reforms in Africa (GERA) Programme, female workers may be bearing the greater brunt of the harsh impacts of these policies than their male counterparts. June 2006.
Labour rights in the apparel industry, where 75% of the 23 million workers in that sector are women, are basically a women's issue. The next two years are crucial for women garment workers as wholesalers in the North are reorganizing their global chains of supplies in order to adapt to new free trade agreements. Experienced international leaders of the trade union movement discussed the progress and regress in the last ten years assessing the different strategies that have been used and how they have complemented -or opposed- each other. 10th AWID Forum, 27-03 October, Bangkok.
Even as the global marketplace has brought new opportunities and jobs for some, much of the world's working poor remains ensnared in an informal economy where low-paying and unreliable jobs perpetuate poverty, especially for female workers.
Although most international labour standards apply without distinction to men and women workers, there are a number of Conventions and Recommendations which refer specifically to women. This site offers the existing documents as well as the ILO's activities in the area.
This report monitors the working and living conditions of female workers from China, Indonesia and Sri Lanka in Export Processing Zones (EPZ) and sweatshops. The phase-out of the WTO Agreement on Textiles and Clothing at the end of 2004 even threatens to aggravate the oppressing situation for the workers in this industry. The report is available for download in PDF format.
A number of African countries adopted and formulated structural adjustment policies with the assumption that the effects are gender-neutral. It is now generally acknowledged that women tend to suffer more and gain less from adjustment policies. Seven labour research centres from seven African countries analysed the current economic and labour policies to see their impact on the labour force and the organised labour movement in general, and women in particular. 2004.
The strong demand for women's domestic, caring, and sexual labor in contemporary Europe promotes migrations from many parts of the world. "The moral panic over trafficking and the limited feminist debate on "prostitution" contribute to a climate that ignores the social problems of the majority of women migrants". This article examines the history of concepts that marginalize these as unproductive services (and not really "work") and questions why the West accepts the smifeudal conditions and lack of regulations pertaining to this sector. By Laura M. Agustin.
Globalization has drawn millions of women into paid employment across the developing world. Women are working at the end of a global supply chain - sewing clothes, picking fruit and cutting flowers – but are systematically denied a fair share of the benefits brought by globalization. Their work is characterized by long hours, low wages, and no job security (pdf-file).
The liberalization of world trade has particular implications for women, as paid and unpaid workers. The increased demand for a low cost, flexible and dispensable workforce often means a preference for female labour. Many women are forced to accept appalling conditions in order to sustain their families in the face of deteriorating living standards. Instead of more international regulations this report asks for fighting the neoliberal economy that is the underlying reason for the exploitation of female labourers.
As in many other countries women in China are less educated than men, with a lower social status, and are generally seen as only temporary participants in the workplace. This helps to ensure that female workers remain poorly trained, with few marketable skills, thus keeping the vast majority of women workers in jobs with low wages, poor job security and relatively few chances of promotion or longevity of employment.
As in other countries young women are the main work force in the Export Processing Zones of Sri Lanka. This short report reveals the problems related to the work such as low wages, insufficient housing and public transportation, violation of basic health and safety regulations, and abuse by senior male employees.
The gender debate is one that cannot be avoided in international development as women are most often the worst affected and bear the burden of poverty. This site is a gateway to organizations who fight for women workers’ rights across the world with a focus on organizations in the South.
Nearly 12.3 million people are exploited through forced labour according to a new report released by the Internatinal Labour Organization (ILO). Asia is the region with the highest number but new forms of forced labour are emerging, particularly affecting migrant workers, in rich and poor destination countries alike. Furthermore, these figures of labour exploitation refer almost entirely to the private economy, rather than being imposed directly by states. PDF document. May 2005.
Forced labour affects some 30,000 to 40,000 men, women and children in Brazil today, according to figures cited by the national media. The following article shows how modern-day slaves in Brazil become ensnared in a trap of debt and coercion. July 2004.
Source: Antislavery International
Introduction to the issue of slave labour: Millions of men, women and children around the world are forced to lead lives as slaves. Although this exploitation is often not called slavery, the conditions are the same. People are sold like objects, forced to work for little or no pay and are at the mercy of their 'employers'.
This booklet highlights some of the ways in which forced labour manifests itself internationally, including through slavery, bonded labour, trafficking and child labour.
References are made to the relevant human rights standards in order to explain in what conditions exploitive labour practices can be described as forced labour. Case studies from various countries illustrate the issue (pdf-file).
Slavery exists within a global economy and some of the goods we buy may be tainted by slave labour. This leaflet looks at slavery and child labour particularly within the cocoa and carpet industries. It sets out possible solutions, focusing on fair trade and ethical trade, and action you can take (pdf-file).
This account from India describes the fate of the mostly indigenous workforce in the tea plantations. The workers are bonded to work in the plantations generation after generation without a real possibility to escape. The report calls for the trade unions to fulfill their responsibilities towards the tea plantation workers.
Short introduction to the issue of bonded child labour, where parents or a guardian promise the child's labour in exchange for a loan. Subsequently, the combination of low wages and high interest rates make it impossible to repay the initial debt.
A new book by Peter Waterman, a veteran activist-researcher in and on labour and social movements, presents a collection of papers on labouring people, unions, women and feminism, communication, culture, the global justice movement and the World Social Forum. April 2008.
This book brings together many of the today's leading labour scholars to assess the current state and future prospects of organised labour world-wide. It offers analysis of the causes and extent of the movement's current malaise from a variety of vantage points. It provides eight national and regional studies - China, Britain, France, the US, Eastern Europe, Brazil, Ghana and Cameroon - that detail problems faced and the revitalisation strategies trade unions have pursued in response. Year of Publication: 2006.
Within the framework of the European Social Forum 2008, Peter Waterman analyzed the iniciatives put forward by trade unions and the labour agenda. In a special document, he develops critical opinions on the international union hegemons. Furthermore, he submitted his proposal "a global charter movement" to develop a declaration or manifesto on labour, relevant to all working people, under the conditions of a radically transformed and highly aggressive capitalism, neo-liberalised, networked and globalised. September 2008, pdf format.
Deep links exist between NGOs and trade unions. Many NGOs were established by unions and the two groups still work together in powerful coalitions and joint campaigns. But while the NGO sector has expanded rapidly in recent decades, the union movement has declined. The diversity between NGOs makes the movement impossible to pigeon hole, except that “it represents civil society’s most visible response to globalization.” The author states that unions must draw from NGOs' example and become the new civil society alternative.
The triangular relationship between trade unions, the global justice and solidarity movement and academia seems to provide a space within which it is possible not only to reflect, at some critical distance, on the movements themselves but also one within which there can be some serious dialogue on the relations between the three. Although the new movements have little trouble looking critically at themselves and each other, trade unions and political parties do have a problem here. August 2005.
The traditional international union organisations are currently engaged in a series of "social partnership" initiatives at global level. Prominent amongst these is that addressed to "global governance". This project comes from outside and above the unions, is addressed to the existing hegemonic interstate instances, and is carried out primarily by lobbying. This orientation is increasingly challenged by a "global justice and solidarity movement", more concerned with the democratisation of the global, and more oriented to consciousness-raising and mobilising than lobbying. The new movement, moreover, operates in places and spaces, with forms and understandings, that relate rather to a contemporary globalised-informatised capitalism than to the old national-industrial-colonial one which gave rise and shape to the international unions. Trade unions will have to abandon the discourse of global governance for that of global democracy, and to operate on the terrains of this new movement, if they are to effectively defend and advance worker rights and power under the new global dispensation. April 2006, pdf format.
In the face of the disastrous upheavals caused by globalisation according to the neo-liberal model, trade unionism must react, strengthen. A process is now going on to create, in 2006, a new international trade union organisation that would regroup the member organisations of the World Confederation of Labour (WCL) and the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) as well as independent and democratic organisations currently without international affiliation. July 2005.
Two events, held in January 2004, suggest major ways in which the international trade union movement is trying to respond to the shock of globalisation. The question is whether union participation at these two very different events, one at the Fourth World Social Forum (WSF4) in Mumbai, India, and the other at the
Internacional Labour Organisation's (ILO) Training Centre in Turin, Italy, represents competing or complementary ways of expressing internationalism in the era of globalisation. By Peter Waterman and Jill Timms, pdf format.
The relationship between trade unions and NGOs is more crucial than most involved may realise. In a comprehensive article Peter Waterman reviews a collection from the journal “Development in Practice” on this issue. According to the author, the collection represents “an exceptionally rich resource book but one that does not possess the language for, or even the intention of, looking at these phenomena from the outside nor the specific forest in which they stand” (pdf format).
This organization wants to encourage and support the development of unions and democratic workers' organizations, new forms of organizing and broader social coalitions in the export orientated industries of South and South-East Asia. It also promotes and implements the rights of mainly women workers and brings about improvements to their livelihoods, their families, communities and society.
The AMRC supports a democratic and independent labour movement promoting the principles of labour rights, gender consciousness, and active workers’ participation in Asia. It provides information, consultation, publications, documentation, and conducts research, training, advocacy, campaigns, labour networking, and related services to trade unions, pro-labour groups, related NGOs, academics, researchers, and professionals on labour issues.
The institute’s mission is to improve the working conditions of workers in Asia and promote an environment-friendly and sustainable industry. It functions as a network of activists, offers advice on labour rights, and runs training and research programs throughout Asia.
This is a support group for child workers in Asia, and the NGOs working with them. It facilitates sharing of expertise and experiences between NGOs. The network has strived to contribute to the development of the understanding of the situation of children who work and are exploited. It supports the emergence of local actions for working children and for the promotion of children's rights.
CLB is promoting independent, democratic union organizing, and the protection of labour rights and standards in mainland China. All of CLB’s activities are based on the principle of furthering and supporting Chinese workers to claim their labour rights and secure their livelihood.
The Thai Labour Campaign is committed to promoting workers' rights in Thailand and increasing awareness of labour issues globally. It researches and collects information about all forms of labour violations in Thailand and publicizes unjust practices and labour abuses. It also campaigns against manufacturers and transnational corporations which violate workers' rights.
This institute works for the support of working people through education, research, and advocacy. It also maintains data, news, journals publications, books and other resource materials on labour and related issues. Its main focus is Pakistan, but it is also involved in regional and international initiatives.
This Philippine NGO is doing developmental legal assistance and seeks to effect social change by working towards the empowerment of women, the basic sectors, and local communities through the use of the law and legal resources.
The India Resource Center works to support movements against corporate globalization in India. It provides information on transnational corporations and educates and mobilizes key constituencies internationally to take action in support of campaigns in India.
This organization from Nepal is working on the protection and promotion of human rights. It conducts research to identify the needs of the people in an area targeted. On the basis of the findings the people are prepared for collective action. This model has successfully been used in the case of bonded labour. A group which received INSEC help has organized an association called Kamaiya Liberation Forum, which is now affiliated to the General Federation of Nepalese Trade Unions.
SEWA is an Indian trade union of poor, self-employed women workers. These are women who earn a living through their own labour or small businesses. SEWA’s main goal is to organize women workers for full employment. Full employment means employment whereby workers obtain work security, income security, food security and social security (at least health care, child care and shelter).
FAT is an independent federation of labour unions, worker owned cooperatives, and farm worker and community organizations. The website has sections on FAT’s history, its basic documents, its analysis of important current questions, and information on recent developments and it local branches throughout Mexico. Website in Spanish only.
Enlace is a bi-national collaboration of low-wage worker organizations in the U.S. and Mexico that seeks to strengthen the base of organized workers. It provides assistance and on-going training to low wage worker groups to help them conduct effective economic justice campaigns, to continually regenerate their organizations and to develop new leadership.
The Brazilian Landless Workers Movement is the largest social movement in Latin America. Hundreds of thousands of landless peasants have taken onto themselves the task of carrying out a long-overdue land reform. The organization has created 60 food cooperatives as well as a small agricultural industry.
This Haitian group organizes factory unions and committees, workers’ associations and militants, all struggling in Haiti for the construction of an independent, combative and democratic union movement. It takes the initiative of developing spontaneous direct issue struggles, but also stimulates the working class to fight and to organize themselves to defend their independent interests.
The South Africa-based CRLS promotes the land and labour interests of men and women farm workers in the Western, Eastern and Northern Cape through training, information dissemination, research, advocacy, legal intervention and development facilitation. It works with rural communities and with effective, democratic local organizations and NGOs that are able to lobby for the rights of farm workers in maintaining sustainable livelihoods.
This center for the design and delivery of trade union education and training programs delivers support for the development of organizational capacity in the labour movement It aims to be the builder of a systematic trade union education program which brings together the efforts of all groups providing education for the labour movement, the federations, its affiliate unions as well as other independent trade union education providers.
Naledi's mission is to conduct policy-relevant research aimed at building the capacity of the South African labour movement to effectively engage with the challenges of the post-apartheid society. It is an initiative of the Congress of South African Trade Unions.
Today’s new unionists are beginning to organize the precariat – workers without security. To say this latter group represents the most rapidly growing sector in society entirely misses the point. The labour force has fundamentally changed. And according to many labour analysts, the real jolt is still to come. December 2009.
In its latest Global Employment Trends update of May, the ILO has revised upwards its unemployment projections to levels ranging from 210 million to 239 million unemployed worldwide in 2009. The report notes that the economic crisis is detrimental for both women and men, whether they are at work, looking for work or outside the labour force. Women are often in a disadvantaged position in comparison to men in labour markets around the world. June 2009.
This is a proposal for research into the new and developing internationalisms of the 'peasants, artisans and others, enrolled amongst the sons of toil'. These internationalisms are so commonly articulated in network form (so difficult to understand without network theory?) that it is difficult to discuss the one without the other. By Peter Waterman, December 2007, pdf format.
115 trade unionists were murdered for defending workers' rights in 2005, while more than 1,600 were subjected to violent assaults and some 9,000 arrested, according to the ICFTU's Annual Survey of Trade Union Rights violations. Nearly 10,000 workers were sacked for their trade union involvement, and almost 1,700 detained. June 2006.
Structural adjustment policies in the late 1980s and early 1990s have significantly contributed towards a rapid growth of the informal economy in many African countries. This led to a sharp decrease in employment in the formal sector and forced many to survive in highly precarious and insecure conditions in the informal economy. This report shows how workers in the informal economy have only gradually been acknowledged as stakeholders in policy formulation processes in spite of representing between 70 and 90 percent of the labour force in Africa. May 2006.
The Labour Chapter in the Bamako Appeal may represent the most radical public statement on the contemporary global labour question to be found so far. Considering the present nature of work and workers worldwide, it recognises the limitations of the trade unions -traditionally considered to be either the sole or the central form of worker self-organisation. But it nonetheless suggests a significant role for labour within the new global justice and solidarity movement, thus re-articulating labour with the general social movement of our epoch. April 2006.
"Given the current transformation to a globalised, computerised, networked capitalism, the displacing, de- and re-structuring of the working class(es) (epitomised in the neologism ‘precariat’), given the generalisation of alienation from capitalism, given the increase in the collective subjects of resistance and proposition worldwide, and given the necessity and possibility of many utopias, it is time to both say farewell to the past and to energetically engage our present". November 2005.
Global economic growth is increasingly failing to translate into new and better jobs that lead to a reduction in poverty, the International Labour Office (ILO) said. In its fourth edition of Key Indicators of the Labour Market (KILM), the ILO said that currently, half the world’s workers still do not earn enough to lift themselves and their families above the $2-a-day poverty line. January 2006.
Being a trade unionist is becoming more dangerous with a total of 145 people worldwide killed due to their trade union activities in 2004, 16 more than the previous year, according to the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) Annual Survey of Trade Union Rights Violations. The report, which covers 136 countries from all five continents, also documents over 700 violent attacks on trade unionists, and nearly 500 death threats. October 2005.
Those concerned with even effective labor defense against a globalized capitalism need, surely, to create, first and foremost, a partnership at the level of working people, and allied democratic forces –even if these are in Arequipa (Peru), Novosibirsk (Russia) or Ouagadougou (it's the capital of Burkina Faso, just above Lomé, Togo, on the map of Africa). September 2002, pdf format.
The Global Call to Action Against Poverty (GCAP), launched at the World Social Forum 2005, aims to mobilise massive popular pressure for the world’s governments to make significant progress on poverty reduction. Recognizing the role which can be played by trade union organisations at national and international level, a coalition of Global Unions aims to join forces for more and better jobs against poverty.
The UN Secretary-General’s report "In Larger Freedom" will form the basis for discussions among member states during the coming months in preparation for the Millennium plus 5 Summit of the UN General Assembly (14-16 September 2005). The International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) commented Annan's proposals with a focus on Section 1:"Freedom from Want", raising critical issues which trade unions bring to the attention of governments and the international community. PDF document. May 2005.
Many analysts of international trade decry the concept of a ‘social clause’ as an attempt by rich developed countries to protect jobs and dominate markets by stipulating minimum labour standards. However, little attention is given to competition between developing countries to gain access to markets in richer countries, which is equally detrimental to labour standards. In the absence of a common set of minimum labour standards, destructive competition deprives workers of the benefits of economic growth.
Adopted in 1998, the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work is an expression of commitment by governments, employers' and workers' organizations to uphold basic human values. The declaration asks for the freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining, the elimination of forced and compulsory labour, the abolition of child labour, and the elimination of discrimination in the workplace.
This is a two part education unit for grassroots trade unionists who want to find out more about globalization. The course aims to highlight shared interests with workers in the developing world and the challenges they face, and to equip trade unionists with skills to actively pursue an international strategy within their unions. Chapters can be downloaded as pdf-files.
This paper examines the response of the international trade union movement to global trade liberalization and the neo-liberal industrial relations policies which have accompanied it. It analyses the elements of globalization and the largely unsuccessful efforts of the international trade union movement to influence the institutions which promote and control it. It suggests that with time and a changed direction the international trade union movement may yet succeed in bringing a social dimension to globalization and the new economy.
The trade union demand that a labour rights clause should be included in international trade agreements triggers the response that linking trade and rights is unacceptable; trade instruments should not be used to assure respect for rights and the demand is supposedly a Northern ploy not supported by Southern workers. This report argues that these charges have little warrant. The union movement has embraced a complex pattern of global political engagement that is sensitive to these claims and designed to capitalize on the divergent strengths of labour.
The removal of tariff barriers and protections for local industries, and of remaining regulations on investment and labour, workers are increasingly at the mercy of global capital which views trade and investment liberalisation as key to increasing its profits.
With the privatisation and liberalisation of service sectors, which may be accelerated through bilateral agreements, workers also stand to lose out as local service providers are forced out of business because they cannot compete with bigger, more powerful overseas companies. Education, healthcare, water and other basic services are further exposed to international competition and run solely for profit (pdf file).
In the May Day Manifesto 2004 the Global Unions ask for respect for workers’ rights, for women workers, and for those working in poverty. In this Olympic year particular consideration is paid to the millions of mostly women workers who produce sportswear under often appalling conditions.
This world map illustrates the levels of support for ILO conventions and the principles of freedom of association worldwide. It also shows countries in which trade unionists have been arrested or even assassinated, and the legal protection for trade union rights at the regional and international levels.
The global home of manufacturing: Export Processing Zones
Sri Lanka's apparel industry comprises of a 275,000 strong workforce, the majority being young, unmarried, migrant women. These women are hard working, talented and no doubt play a significant and pivotal role in the success of the country's apparel trade. However, given Sri Lanka's escalating costs of living and its promotion to a 'lower-middle income' classification, the need to introduce a fair and decent wage that considers their contribution to this successful industry is of paramount importance. The situation is exacerbated by the plethora of hidden costs which are not readily apparent in workers’ market-determined wages. The anomaly of persistent vacancies in the Free Trade Zones (FTZs) while simultaneously retrenching in the districts probably is an indication that all is not well with the wage structure. January 2007 (pdf version).
"Even the poorest, most desperate workers are not asking for more sweatshops. Rather, they are asking that they be treated like human beings, and that their fundamental human and worker rights be respected. The goal here is that the NFL, NBA, NCAA, MLB, Nascar, Collegiate Licensing Company, Wal-Mart, Disney and Hasbro keep their work at the Foreway factory, while at the same time working with their contractor to bring the plant swiftly into compliance with all local laws and internationally recognized human and worker rights standards. This is not too much to ask. The workers’ demands are quite modest—that their fundamental legal rights be respected". A joint report by National Labor Committee and China Labor Watch.
Backed by numerous testimonies, this report of some 60 pages, entitled exposes the harsh conditions and sweeping violations of workers’ rights that characterise export processing zones across the world. The report also presents case studies and journalistic investigations carried out on the ground in countries ranging from Bangladesh, China, Dominican Republic, Haiti and Honduras to Mexico, Madagascar and Mauritius. December 2004.
The EPZs were established to attract foreign investment, create jobs and diversify exports. However many argue that this goal has been pursued to the detriment of Kenyan workers, as investments have not translated into real improvements for workers and communities. To the contrary there is substantial evidence that basic human rights are being abused and that low wages and long hours are contributing to a continuous and increasing cycle of poverty.
Introduction to export processing zones and the problems related to them. The gains of the countries hosting an EPZ are limited. While employment may be boosted temporarily, the countries do not receive duties or taxes and they compete heavily with each other. Labour rights are regularly violated, e.g. unions and collective bargaining are prohibited (pdf-file).
This paper discusses why EPZs provide little prospect for addressing Southern Africa’s economic problems, while not only threatening labour standards but also greater regional cooperation. It describes the “race to the bottom” as governments in the region compete for foreign investment by lowering labour standards, often restricting union rights and offering incentives to foreign firms that are so costly that they are greatly limiting the benefits of the new investment to the national or local economy (pdf-file).
Sri Lanka, after being conned by predominantly US institutions to open up its economy for export production, with the sweeteners being some guaranteed access to the American market, no longer serves US interests. As a response investors will most likely force the government to keep wages low and prevent workers from organizing themselves in order to stay competitive (pdf-file).
If you thought sweatshops and child labor were an issue of the past, think again. Recent news reports reveal Gap Inc. employed children as young as 10 years old, subjecting them to repeated beatings and threats to produce clothes. It is no surprise that these human rights violations occur in an international garment industry where sweatshop conditions are the norm, not an aberration. Western brands and designers have been looking for cheap labour in India but in the profit oriented business they forget to monitor that in glimmering, the future of thousands of children is diminishing. 30 October, 2007.
Despite considerable progress in the fight against child labour, a new report by the International Labour Organization (ILO) highlights important challenges, particularly in agriculture, where seven out of ten child labourers work. Other challenges include addressing the impact of HIV/AIDS on child labour, and building stronger links between child labour and youth employment concerns. May 2006.
The social movement of the children and youth workers (NATS, in spanish) supports the children and youth's right to work in good conditions whenever they need or want to. They claim it is necessary to separate exploitation from decent work, a somewhat different position than that of the ILO. The NATS movement unites organizations form Asia,Africa and Latin America. Site available only in italian.
Report released by the International Labour Organization (ILO) to mark World Day Against Child Labour 2005. It documents cases in Africa, Asia and South America where mining companies expose children to severe occupational hazards, often depriving them of basic freedoms. June 2005.
Child labour is widespread in home based manufacturing activities in the informal sector in most developing countries. This report examines the incidence in such households, the child’s schooling, reasons why children are working, their work conditions, their health, and gender issues. It also attempts to articulate the voices of children working (pdf-file).
IPEC’s aim is to work towards the progressive elimination of child labour by strengthening national capacities to address child labour problems, and by creating a worldwide movement to combat it. IPEC’s priority target groups are bonded child labourers, children in hazardous working conditions and occupations and children who are particularly vulnerable, i.e. very young working children (below 12 years of age), and working girls.
Source: Human Rights Watch
On Ecuadorian banana plantations children work twelve hours on average under hazardous conditions that violate their human rights, including dangerous tasks detrimental to their physical and psychological well-being. The children are being exposed to pesticides, using sharp tools, hauling heavy loads of bananas from the fields to the packing plants. They are lacking potable water and restroom facilities, and experience sexual harassment.
Much of the domestic work of children interferes with their education and involves economic exploitation and hazardous work. This report from El Salvador reveals the abuse of child domestic workers which violates national and international law. It’s based on interviews with affected children as well as parents, activists, teachers and government officials (pdf-file).
Brand-name companies like Wal-Mart, Toys ‘R’ Us and Disney contract with companies in China where working conditions are harsh, work days long, and child labour widespread.
In many cases, when the workers try to organize, government officials unleash a variety of repressive tactics, including detention and harassment of labour activists.
Despite laws and regulations that outlaw child labour, it is increasing in China. Punishments for factories is not enough to outweigh the advantages of using children. One of the prime reasons for the increasing numbers of children working instead of attending school is the lack of access to education for many of China’s children as well as rising poverty among the poorest. As the consequence, this report asks for poverty reduction measurements, improvement of education facilities, independent trade unions, and effective monitoring and enforcement of existing regulations to combat child labour.
The preoccupation with child labour by Northern media and some Northern campaigners can have unintended negative consequences. As bad as child labour is, many children have no other let alone better options. Teenagers who e.g. were dismissed from jobs in the garment industry due to anti-child labour campaigns ended up working in more dangerous jobs such as stone-crushing, agriculture or the sex trade.
The future of labour rights: Corporate accountability and fair trade
'Expansive promises about the potential of trade liberalisation through the WTO have failed to materialise in terms of more and better jobs and higher growth either worldwide or in developing countries', says the Global Unions Group in a statement to the WTO. August 2005.
Instead of relying on international regulations, many NGOs pressure multinational corporations to agree on Codes of Conduct regarding their global labour force. Fair trade initiatives also support high labour standards. However, often these rules are not being followed in the countries where the products are grown or manufactured.
This review article covers five recent books and two websites concerned with international labour struggles and/or labour internationalism. It cnsiders these in the light not of classical or contemporary labour theory or ideologies but in that of the global justice and solidarity movement and a new orientation toward global social emancipation. July 2007.
Does the term precariousness or 'precarity', as applied to the conditions of employment under neoliberalism, provide us with more than another trendy neologism? Angela Mitropoulos examines its use, misuse and associated political horizons. John Barker's 'Cheap Chinese' is a text on the structural insecurity of Chinese workers in mainland China and the UK; and Laura Sullivan's interview with Selma James and Nina Lopez from the Global Women's Strike, talk about Venezuela's recent legislation that will provide wages for housework.
"The emancipatory tendency in the international labour movement has to see itself as having one foot within the old labour and one in the new global justice movement. These are anyway overlapping categories. But the new movement in general, and the WSF in particular, still do not give to work and the labour movement the kind of recognition that they are – finally – beginning to give to women and feminism. Those in favour of the emancipation of labour, as part of the new social emancipation, are therefore in a relationship of hopefully creative tension with not only the old but the new. Here’s a utopian slogan, to be addressed to both - as well, of course, to labour’s present anti-social partners: "Another World, and Understanding, of Work
is Possible, Necessary and Urgent!", March 24, 2005.