Vol. V, Bulletin No. 12.                                                                        September 1, 2000 

As Global Criticism Mounts

Time for a Full Evaluation of WTO & Co.

"Indeed, the assumptions on which the rules [of the World Trade Organization] are based are grossly unfair and even prejudiced. Those rules also reflect an agenda that serves only to promote dominant corporatist interests...."
That charge is a key one in a report, "Globalization and Its Impact on the Full Enjoyment of Human Rights," adopted in Geneva last month by the United Nations Subcommission on the Protection of Human Rights. The report accuses not only the WTO, but also the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, of tilting their policies and practices against the great majority of mankind, especially as regards labor, gender, and minority issues.

Although globalization did not create inequality and discrimination, it "has caused...inequality and discrimination to worsen," especially for women, the report states.  To make cheap labor available, almost always provided by women, "states around the world, but particularly in the geopolitical South have felt compelled to ease labor standards, modify tax regulations, and to generally relax standards of scrutiny and oversight."

The 40-page document, written by two jurists, J. Olaka-Onyango of Uganda and Deepika Udagama of Sri Lanka, rejects linking trade to human rights "in the fashion in which it has so far been done," but urges, instead, that "human rights principles are integrated into the rule-making process from the very outset." At present, "human rights are merely used as an opportunistic fulcrum to achieve the objective of liberalized markets."

'Radical Review of the Whole System' Needed

"What is required," says the report, "is nothing less than a radical review of the whole system of trade liberalization and a critical consideration of the extent to which it is genuinely equitable and geared towards shared benefits for rich and poor countries alike."  Such a review must challenge the present "orthodoxy...that exalts [economics] above all other human values or phenomena, indeed even above the basic condition of human beings themselves."

The report, to be presented to the UN Human Rights Commission at its annual session in Geneva in March and April 2001, is just the latest rebellion against what is called the "Washington consensus," an all-embracing model that all nations of the world are supposed to follow.  Characteristically, WTO officials have already dismissed the report's significance.  Accessible on the UN Commission for Human Rights Website, it deserves careful reading for the case it, and its many linked documents, make for a long-needed reassessment of the work of the WTO and all related multilateral trade, investment, and financial institutions. 

A Close Look at Anti-Sweatshop Campaigns

The successes and failures of the U.S. anti-sweatshop movement are analyzed in a new long report presented last month at a National Bureau of Economic Research conference on emerging labor market institutions. The report, by Kimberly Ann Elliott of the Institute for International Economics and Richard B. Freeman of the NBER and Harvard, raises the question of how much good the movement has done.  Their conclusion:

"In sum, by putting labor rights and the living standards of workers in poor countries on the agenda of powerful economic agents and international agencies, the activists have catalyzed something that has the potential for improving the well-being of workers in poorer countries."
Note: it has the potential....Obstacles to achieving that potential are immense, as the co-authors explain in great detail. One example, among the many they cite, is "stonewalling" by the Disney Corporation, which makes products in 30,000 factories around the world. The New York-based National Labor Committee's anti-sweatshop campaign against Disney has turned out to be "perhaps the NLC's biggest failure," says the report.  Why?
"One possible reason...is that, while parents buy Disney products, children are the ultimate consumers and they cannot be mobilized, either because they do not understand the issues or cannot be readily informed about sweatshops.  Another possible explanation is that Disney's Michael Eisner cares about nothing but the bottom line, whereas the leaders of other firms have some concern for human beings as well."
The report can be accessed at http://www.nber.org/~confer/2000/si2000/elliot.pdf.

Testing Your Multinational IQ

Mostly they're called multinational corporations, MNCs for short; or sometimes transnational companies, TNCs, as in the following analysis:

"Transnational companies play an essential role in the economic development of a country.  There is no doubt that TNCs have contributed largely to the development of strong industrial capacity in Brazil, South Korea, South Africa, Mexico, Argentina, Malaysia, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Thailand, and other countries."
Read that tribute again for any clues to its authorship. Then, see whether you can answer the following question:  Who among the four leaders listed below is the author of the above quotation? Your final answer won't make you a millionaire but it might reveal how well you're plugged into the globalization debate and the role of multinationals.

If you chose D) Marcello Malentacchi, you're right!  His Geneva-based organization, the International Metalworkers Federation, has union affiliates in 95 countries with 22 million members, about a fourth of them in the developing world.  Actually, I might have flunked this test myself, except that the other day I read Malentacchi's statement in Metal World, the federation's new magazine.

The other three leaders on my list have not been shy about praising the role of multinationals in economic development. It may seem strange to find a top trade union leader and the three others more or less on the same wave length. Aren't unions and multinationals natural-born enemies?

In fact, the raison d'etre of unions is not to eliminate employers but to reach agreements with them, whether at the plant, company, industry, or national level.  The same objective usually carries over internationally. At every level, however, unions find employers who oppose them, often virulently, and enlist government power to crush them.

Yet not all employers are fighting this class war, a fact that's apparent in the writings of Brother Malentacchi, both in the federation's magazine and on its Website, located at www.imfmetal.org.  For example, in an editorial titled "Employers, Unite!", he calls for "a representative and strong counterpart" on the employers' side to come to an international agreement on, for example, promoting health and safety standards in the global economy.

How To Read Your Newspaper

The headline in your morning newspaper is fetching, but the article that follows is very long and, worse, its opening paragraphs meander. Skip the article entirely? No. Instead, turn to the final paragraphs. You may be rewarded.

Take an article on corporate governance, "Soldiers for the Shareholder," in the business section of the August 27 Washington Post. The subject is timely, but the opening paragraphs are unpromising, and the article spills across three pages of newsprint.  At the very end, there's a brief account of the work of Graef Crystal, a renewed expert on CEO compensation.  The 10 paragraphs about Crystal are all full of fascinating facts.  Especially the final two:

"[Crystal] estimates that the average CEO pay at major companies was 45 times that of the average American workers' salary in the early 1970s, and 145 times by 1990. Now, he says, it is 'north of 400 times and heading rapidly to 500 times.'

"Crystal says that, by his estimate, by 2015 the ratio of the average executive's pay to that of the average worker will approach that which existed in 1789, when Louis XVI was king of France. 'And you know what happened to Louis XVI,' he says. 'And by the way, they got his wife too'."

Enlightening Quotes Worth Saving

Every once in a while I run across a quote that, though highly instructive, doesn't fit into anything I happen to be writing at the time.  So I file it away, only to being unable to retrieve it when I really need it. So, as a service to the public and myself, I will periodically record those quotes in cyberspace.  Here are two of late 20th century vintage.  Their value is that they express the realities of the market by its practitioners, not its publicists or ideologues.
"Democracy is a desirable form of government, but it's not necessarily the most efficient form of government."--Ron Leven, a J.P. Morgan strategist in Singapore, quoted in a 10/27/99 (p. C4) New York Times article titled "New Indonesia Leadership Stirs Financiers' Skepticism."

"Markets prefer political order and stability to any particular political doctrine, whether it be democracy, communism or whatever. As long as communism provides an ability to make money and stability, investors will be attracted to China."--William L. Wilby, a vice president at Oppenheimer Management Corp., quoted in a 1/12/93 (p. C1) Wall Street Journal article titled "Why Global Investors Bet on Autocrats, Not Democrats."

Cards Stacked against Workers: New Study

As I am preparing to upload this issue of Human Rights for Workers, I learn that Human Rights Watch will shortly release a report titled "Unfair Advantage: Workers' Freedom of Association in the United States under International Human Rights Standards." A press release quotes Kenneth Roth, Human Rights Watch executive director, as saying: "The cards are stacked against workers in the United States."

By the time you read this, the 217-page report will be available on the Human Rights Watch Website. From quickly scanning a few pages of an advance Internet copy, I can see that this may well be a historic report.  Based in large part on field research across the United States, it will probably get attention in the major media, but the real questions are:

The report cries for detailed analysis and comment. That has to come later, after I've had time to read it carefully.

Gaining the Review's Attention After All

Back in June, I wrote that the Far Eastern Economic Review, "apparently unimpressed" with a letter to the editor I had emailed from Bangkok in late April, did not publish it. But a friend tipped me off that it did appear in print. I never got a copy, but found it on the Review's Website, reproduced there from the letters column of the magazine's June 22 issue under the title "Chinese Puppets."

I felt amply rewarded.  Except that neither the cyberspace nor the printed version of the letter has the name and URL of this Website. I need to do more to promote Human Rights for Workers to a larger audience. 

Human Rights for Workers: Bulletin No. V-12, September 1, 2000
Robert A. Senser, editor
Copyright 2000
hrfw@senser.com. (Send e-mail)

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