Vol. VII, Bulletin No. 3.                                                                         March 8, 2002

Freeing Children from Making Soccer Balls

"I have been stitching soccer balls as long as I can remember," says Geeta, a little girl of 11 or 12. "My hands are constantly in pain.  It feels like they are burning."
Geeta was among the child workers interviewed recently in India as they were sewing soccer balls for the 2002 World Cup, to be held May 31 to June 30 in Korea and Japan. FIFA, the international federation that sponsors the World Cup and licenses products made for it, prohibits the use of child labor, but its rules are widely ignored.

The India-based Global March Against Child Labor has initiated a world-wide campaign to eliminate child labor and other egregious labor abuses from the manufacture of soccer balls, or footballs, as most of the world calls them. Says Kailash Satyarthi, who chairs Global March: "A game that is supposed to inspire youth and entertain the world must not be played with footballs sewn with the sweat of children. Children must be given pens to study and toys to play."

An on-line petition calling on FIFA to fully implement its 1998 code of conduct is available on Global March's Website at www.globalmarch.org. Were that code respected, it could change the lives of hundreds of thousands of children who now make not only soccer balls but hundreds of other sporting goods products (shoes, gloves, garments) licensed by FIFA.

During a visit to Washington in February, Satyarthi praised the pioneer work of the Child Labor Coalition, and emphasized that action against child labor and for universal primary education are "two sides of the same coin." (For background on Satyarthi, see "Ending Child Labor Myths: an Indian's Insights.")

Who's against Globalization? Nobody, Really

Two weeks prior to the World Economic Forum in New York last month, a long obituary for "America's once-proud anti-globalization movement" appeared in a newspaper on the other side of the world. "The anti-globalization movement was a temporary phenomenon of the 1990s," the article declared. "Its demise as a political force was inevitable after September 11."

Edward Gresser of the Progressive Policy Institute, a Washington think tank, wrote that article, and had it published in the Straits Times in Singapore, of all places. According to Gresser, the prestigious World Economic Forum, running from January 31 to February 4 in New York City, was the occasion where the anti-globalization movement would draw its last breath.

No Mass Demonstration, No Violence, No Story

The outward signs from the Forum's site, the Waldorf-Astoria, seemed to vindicate Gresser's prediction. The Forum did not attract the mass street demonstrations that had previously troubled international meetings in Seattle, Quebec City, Genoa, and elsewhere, including Davos, Switzerland, the Forum's home base. The world's corporate elite were at the Waldorf, en masse. The protesters were there too, but numbering only a few thousand, not tens of thousands. And they broke no windows and threw no rocks at the police.

So, lacking the violence and the mass demonstrations that marked past events, the 2002 World Economic Forum disappeared from national TV and was usually relegated to the back pages of newspapers.

By those indicators, then "America's once-proud anti-globalization movement" (Gresser's label) appeared to be dying, if not dead. But don't you believe it.  Here's why you shouldn't:

'Anti-Globalization' -- A Handy Label Revealing Nothing

In short, it's dumb to polarize opinion on globalization into pro and anti camps. Last month at the Waldorf there were labor leaders conferring inside and demonstrating outside.  Some were the same people. Confusing?  Not if you understand they were pursuing the same goal, inside and outside: "Globalizing Social Justice," as they put it. At the Forum sessions, about 30 unionists with standing as global leaders, including AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, participated in discussions on global issues such as "bridging the digital divide," "trade and agriculture," and "the WTO after Doha."

At a press conference closing the Forum, Sweeney said that the discussions had been useful. Sharon Burrow, president of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, agreed. "Thoughtful business leaders," she said, are now paying attention to the need for corporate social responsibility. But nobody could claim that the era of globalizing social justice is at hand. Far from it.

No Template for Globalization: Economist

There is not, and should not be, a single model of globalization, but the world's trading system is trying to impose one.  Those were key points that Dani Rodrik, professor of economics at Harvard, made last month in a very short presentation at a World Economic Forum session in New York City.

In the opening paragraph of his article on the session, New York Times Reporter Louis Uchitelle noted: "The moderator was blunt, almost tactless. Dani Rodrik, Harvard economist, could have just three minutes at the podium -- less than other panelists -- to speak out as the designated challenger of globalization as it is practiced today."

Challenging Free Trade Dogmas, Briefly and At Length

The February 9 article, headlined "Challenging The Dogmas of Free Trade," gave more space to Rodrik than to any other panelist, but still left many unanswered questions about his thinking. (HRFW 's own brief reports, such as "Don't Ignore Worker Rights: Harvard Economist," do not do him justice.) His latest systematic analysis of both current trade policy and alternative choices is contained in a recent report of his, "The Global Governance of Trade As If Development Really Mattered," commissioned by the United Nations Development Program.  The full text can be found on the Websites of the Kennedy School of Government and the UNDP.

Rodrik's basic critique of the current trading regime is that it is obsessed with maximizing trade under the assumption that free trade magically improves living standards.  Not so. As he has done in his books, Rodrik punctures that assumption; today's advanced nations adopted free trade policies after reaching healthy rates of economic growth. Nevertheless, today's less advanced countries are pressured to adopt open-market policies, plus reforms greatly patterned "by an Anglo-American conception of what constitutes desirable institutions" (e.g., "flexible labor markets over institutionalized labor markets").

Mercantilist Underpinnings of These Pressures

"The rules for admission into the world economy not only reflects little awareness of development priorities, they are often completely unrelated to sensible economic principles," Rodrik writes. "WTO rules on anti-dumping, subsidies and countervailing pressures, agriculture, textile, trade-related investment measures (TRIMS) and trade-related intellectual property rights (TRIPS) are utterly devoid of any economic rationale beyond the mercantilist interests of a narrow set of powerful groups in the advanced countries."
He examines the three economic development fads of recent decades (import-substituting industrialization, export-oriented industrialization, and the "two-track strategy" followed by China and Mauritius). They demonstrate, he concludes, that "there is no single model of a successful transition to a high-growth path." In fact, these three models do not exhaust the possibilities; "in the future successful strategies are likely to differ from all three."  He insists, therefore, that developing countries should be left free to experiment according their own priorities.  "Trade rules have to allow for diversity in national institutions and standards" is one of his "sensible set of global trade rules."

Another basic principle that he sets down is this one: "Non-democratic countries cannot count on the same trade privileges as democratic ones."  Democratic countries such as Brazil and India, he explains, can legitimately argue that their violations of certain rules (on emission standards or child labor, for example) are consistent with the wishes of their own citizens. "But in non-democratic countries, such as China, the assertion that labor rights and the environment are trampled for the benefit of commercial advantage cannot be as easily dismissed."

Rodrik leaves this point without saying whether a policy of trade preferences for democratic countries is now being implemented. To its shame, the United States violates the principle. Its international trade and investment toward non-democratic countries, such as China, continues upward, to the detriment of democratic countries such as Brazil and India. (See the late 1999 HRFW article, "Dollars for Dictators--Billions Now, Billions More to Come.")

This Businessman Is a Human Rights Activist

"Thank God for John Kamm!" That's what I wrote to the New York Times Magazine after reading the remarkable March 3 article, "John Kamm's Third Way," by Tina Rosenberg. As the magazine's cover put it, the government of China has released more than 200 prisoners, "thanks to the wily interventions of one American businessman."

In one of the fascinating parts of the article, Rosenberg describes a recent meeting of the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong, at which Kamm, a former president of the organization, spoke of his business/human rights activities, and asked for the Chamber's help on prisoner releases. "Kamm's relationship with AmCham was not great," Rosenberg wrote, "but I was surprised by the bluntness of their rejection."

Rosenberg then offered her own critique of American business in China:

"American executives in China today are not exporting American values.  Rather, they have absorbed those of the Chinese Communist Party, praising repressive leaders and endorsing, through silence or worse, their methods.

"Trade can better help to reform China if American executives reform first. Corporate executives in China could start with their own factories [including those of their contractors], enforcing the law, paying benefits like health insurance and workers' compensation, protecting employees against government abuse and, as Reebok has done in one factory, encouraging workers to elect their union representatives rather than accept those of the party."

(For some background on John Kamm, see the 1997 HRFW article, "Can Do Businessman Acclaimed (Quietly).")

How To Live Up To Your Moral Values

Those questions highlight the agenda of the National Consumer League's 2002 national conference April 15-16 in Arlington, Va.  The program also includes a session at which youth activists describe their initiatives on issues such as fair labor standards for low-income workers, tobacco addiction, and environment.

For details about the conference, contact the National Consumers League by the Web (http://www.nclnet.org), by phone (202-835-3323), or by fax (202-835-0747).

Diary: My Skirmish With the Flu

Dutifully, I got a flu shot early last November, but late in February the flu bug bit me anyway.  It disrupted my life for a week and a half. Among other things, I had to skip two meetings that I didn't want to skip.

One was a meeting in Washington of priests and lay people currently or formerly active in what used to be called "Catholic social action." They got together in Washington over the February 23-24 weekend at the invitation of Father Sinclair Oubre of Port Arthur, Texas, who heads the Catholic-Labor Network. Father Sinclair's Website for the Network, www.catholiclabor.org, carries the meeting program and notes on the discussion.

I was looking forward to seeing John C. Cort of Boston, a writer and vigorous labor rights activist, whom I last saw four decades ago. John was on the program to sketch the ups and downs of the Catholic social action organizations of the 20th century. Too bad I wasn't there to hear his presentation. Too bad, too, that I wasn't there to promote a discussion on a possible future project, such as what Catholic colleges and universities are teaching about the modern world economy. Specifically:

The second meeting I missed was the February 28th monthly luncheon of the Washington chapter of the Industrial Relations Research Assn. (IRRA) devoted to "Building a Family-Centered Labor Policy."  Over the years IRRA meetings have held a high priority for me, because, in a non-partisan way, the IRRA consistently focuses on policy issues of concern to working men and women.  The February session was typical. It featured highlights of a new report on "Integrating Work & Family Life: A Holistic Approach," researched and written by Thomas Kochan, professor of work and employment relations at MIT, and two colleagues.  As the meeting announcement explained:
"The pressures that working families confront in the 21st century received a brief flurry of attention during the last Presidential election, but has since disappeared from public view. While the issue has faded from the policy agenda, the problems many Americans face in trying to meet their commitments to work and family have not."
Seeking to fill the gap in the policy agenda, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation sponsored the study discussed at the meeting I missed.  Among report's recommendations was that America's working parents need a universal paid leave policy and more options for working reduced hours.  Was there anything said, I asked Gerry Holmes, a friend who attended, about how the integration of work and family life can be advanced in the competitive era of the global economy?  The question didn't come up. But it's one worth pressing, not to raise an objection but to search for an approach holistic enough to include international trade policy.

These notes might suggest that I led an active intellectual life during my week of flu. Wrong. When not in pain, my body was sluggish, and so was my mind. Although I did open my mail almost every day, I was not in a positive mood about renewing magazine subscriptions or responding to a Mothers Against Drunk Driving appeal. Saved me a bundle that week.

But lost time in getting this HRFW issue written and published.


Human Rights for Workers: Bulletin No. VII-11, March 8, 2002
Robert A. Senser, editor
Copyright 2002
robert@senser.com. (Send e-mail)

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