Vol. VIII, Bulletin No. 6. June 10, 2003
A Giant Case of Myopia
Humane Conditions for Poultry, But Not for Poultry Workers
The carton of eggs I recently bought at a nearby Giant Food supermarket has imprinted on it a logo that says "animal care certified." This certification, according to an article by Giant's food advisor, Odonna Mathews, means that the "eggs have been laid under humane growing conditions for the laying hens." Fine. But what about humane conditions for the poultry workers who take care of those hens?
So I pursued the issue by sending Giant Food the following email through its Website:
This is a question prompted by this week's Odonna Mathews column [published May 25 in a Giant ad], "Animal Care Certified Eggs." In it she calls attention to a "new check mark seal on Giant eggs," and points out: "Our eggs come from hens raised under certified Animal Welfare Guidelines." These guidelines "ensure the health and welfare of the hens."
Thank you for publicizing this innovation. It raises this question: Have you considered adopting similar guidelines as to the health and safety of poultry workers? These women and men are victimized by gross abuses that have been widely publicized. May I encourage you to show as much concern for those workers as you do for the hens?"
Awaiting a Response from Giant Food
An email to me from Giant Food on May 25 said: "We will get back to you with a reply within seven business days." But, as of June 9, there has been no reply.
Giant is not alone in its myopia. Most large egg-producing farms have signed on to the same guidelines, which are promulgated by a national organization, the United Egg Producers. These guidelines, as spelled out in the organization's press release, "place top priority on the comfort, health and safety of the chickens."
For information on the comfort, health and safety of poultry workers, see the Website of the National International Committee for Worker Justice and a 64-page report on an investigation conducted by the Public Justice Center.
An the Ethical Vacuum in MBA Classes
Top business schools are falling short in addressing critical issues of corporate social responsibility. At least that is the dominant view among MBA students surveyed at leading business schools last November. Most of the 1,700 students surveyed hold that business ethics, a subject now often concentrated in a course with that name, should be integrated into the whole curriculum. And about half of the students think that the general failure of B-schools to do so is partly responsible for recent corporate scandals in the United States.
Those are highlights of a report titled "Where Will They Lead? -- MBA Student Attitudes about Business and Society," released in May by the Business and Society Program of the Aspen Institute. Commenting on the report, Carolyn Y. Woo, dean of the Mendoza College of Business at the University of Notre Dame, one of the 12 schools participating in the survey, told a New York Times reporter: "The priorities taught in business schools affect the way students think." She criticized the MBA programs' dependence on "cold language" with terms like transaction costs, rationalizing, and right-sizing, instead of "more human language."
(For an earlier, sharper critique by a George Washington University professor, see "How Business Schools Teach Enron Ethics.")
Meanwhile, at Harvard University, whose business school did not participate in the Aspen study, the economics department by a lopsided vote turned down a faculty member's proposal to add a "course with more balance and more critique" than the curriculum now offers. A supporting petition of the Students for Humane and Responsible Economics, signed by 700 student and faculty members, had criticized Harvard for "falsely presenting economics as a positive science devoid of ethical values." (For background, see "Rejecting Dogmatism in Economics.")
Global Road Map to Worker Rights
Never before has the world seen so many publications dedicated to the rights of working men and women. Missing from that outpouring, however, has been a publication that pulls together all the diverse aspects of worker rights and provides a comprehensive manual for action. Now "Justice for All: a Guide to Worker Rights in the Global Economy," just published by the AFL-CIO's American Center for International Labor Solidarity, fills that gap.
"Worker rights violations are multiplying worldwide," Lance Compa and Fay Lyle, the book's co-authors, write in the introduction. At the same time, there has been modest progress toward respect for worker rights, they point out. In particular:
- "The number of individuals, unions, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and coalitions involved in worker rights activism, reporting, and monitoring has boomed."
- These people and groups are "testing an array of international mechanisms, some old and some never used before, but all aimed at improving global respect for worker rights."
"Justice for All" is designed to serve their needs in "developing their own strategies to gain a basic understanding of the options available, their advantages and drawbacks, the role of different international players, and the information necessary to identify potential partners."
The 363-page book is loaded with helpful reference material on worker rights principles, procedures, and practices, arranged by country, legislation, international institutions, non-governmental initiatives, and bilateral, regional, and international trade agreements. A worker rights violation checklist provides a monitoring and reporting tool, as well an educational tool on identifying specific abuses.
The U.S. labor movement's concern for the rights of workers around the world is nothing new. In December 1898, the annual report of the American Federation of Labor declared: "We should endeavor by every means within our power to cultivate fraternal feeling and interest in the welfare of the wage-earners of all countries, to aid and encourage every movement calculated to materially, morally, and socially improve the condition of workers, no matter where they may be located...."
Remembering Pat Moynihan
After Senator Daniel Pat Moynihan died on March 26, the media carried many tributes to his intelligence, wit, and charisma. I witnessed those characteristics in action when he gave at a long talk, without notes, at an AFL-CIO conference hosted in the auditorium of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters on November 29, 1988. The day-long conference marked the 40th anniversary of a historical treaty, the International Labor Organization's Convention 87 on freedom of association and protection of the right to organize.
Moynihan reminisced about the ups and downs of U.S. relations with the ILO -- "the only organization of the League of Nations that we were certainly never going to join, and ... the only one that we did join [in 1934]." Moynihan became an expert on how that happened through his extensive research for a doctoral thesis on "The United States and the International Labor Organization, 1889-1934." In fact, said Moynihan, "I know more about the subject than any other person alive....It was manifest at the time of my oral examinations [in 1960] that the professors assigned to examine me hadn't read past page 15 in a 1,500-page document."
The very first meeting of the International Labor Conference was in Washington in October 1919, but it almost didn't take place, Moynihan recalled. At the time the Capital was in a state of crisis, with President Wilson, terminally ill, unreachable in the White House, and the Senate locked in a bitter debate over joining the League of Nations. Fortunately, a young Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Franklin D. Roosevelt, came to the ILO's rescue.
"Roosevelt cleaned out four of the temporary buildings on the Mall that had been put up there for use by the Armed Services during World War I, and the International Labor Conference went forward there, which began a commitment and involvement of Roosevelt with the ILO and led to his determination to join the ILO when he returned to Washington 12 years later as President....The temporary buildings are no longer there. As Assistant to the President, I got them torn down."
Moynihan poked fun at the ILO's fancy new headquarters building in Geneva. He said that an ordinary worker probably wouldn't feel comfortable there, except for a plumber summoned to fix leaky faucets. (That remark is not in the conference booklet reprinting his talk, but I distinctly remember it and the laughter it caused.)
One reason for the 1988 conference was to spotlight the fact that, because of the opposition of organized business, the United States itself had not adopted ILO Convention 87. "I think the issue of Convention 87 is a very powerful ground on which to fight," Moynihan said, and promised to support that fight. Fifteen years have now passed, and the United States still has not adopted Convention 87.
Where Killing Unionists Isn't Punished
In Colombia, among the world's most dangerous places for trade union activity, 184 unionists were murdered in 2002, and none of those responsible were brought to justice, according to the latest annual survey on trade union rights violations released by the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU). The survey also describes other forms of terrorism aimed at trade unionists in Colombia in the same year: 27 attempted assassinations, 189 death threats, nine "disappearances," 17 abductions, and 139 arbitrary arrests.
The survey, released June 10 during the annual conference of the UN's International Labor Organization (ILO), documents how countries around the world are flouting the fundamental rights enshrined in key ILO conventions. In the report's forward, ICFTU General Secretary Gus Ryder comments: "Globalization, in the absence of mechanisms to ensure respect for ILO standards, is leading to international competition based on a 'race to the bottom.'"
Among the 133 countries covered, the United States is far from being the worst violator of the rights of working women and men. And yet no democratic country, and certainly not the United States, can rightfully be proud of a record that includes the kind of abuses that are detailed in the survey. For example:
- At least one in ten union supporters campaigning to form a union is illegally fired.
- Employers regularly require workers to attend closed-door meetings on company property during working hours in aggressive management campaigns against unionization.
- Legally established labor standards covering wages and hours, child labor, and workplace safety are often violated because of inadequate enforcement and inadequate penalties against employers who break the law.
- The procedures of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), the U.S. government body that governs industrial relations in most of the private sector, do not provide workers with effective redress in the face of abuses by employers. Bureaucratic delays -- it takes an average of 557 days or the NLRB to resolve a case -- keeps many from turning to the NLRB for help.
The ICFTU report notes the eight key ILO conventions each country has ratified. Out of the eight, the United States has ratified only two: #105 on abolition of forced labor and #182 on the worst forms of child labor.
Economist Revises a 'Sacred' Belief
The influential London-based weekly, the Economist, has changed its mind about what it calls "one of the most sacred canons of economic orthodoxy": that the cross-border movement of financial capital, like the movement of goods, should be free and unrestricted. Now the magazine has concluded that in some cases "capital controls make sense."
In its May 3 survey of global finance, the magazine writes: "The evidence reviewed in this survey shows that the global capital market is a turbulent and dangerous place, especially for poorly developed countries that may be ill-equipped to navigate it." Hence, such countries could rightly impose certain kinds of controls, such as a tax on short-term inflows.
An editorial in the same issue titled "A Place for Capital Controls," the magazine explained why trade in goods is different from trade in capital. One reason: "The punishment for big financial mistakes [in international markets] can be draconian, and tends to hurt innocent bystanders such as borrowers and lenders....Great tides of capital surged into East Asia and Latin America [in recent decades], and then abruptly reversed. At a moment's notice, hitherto-successful economies were plunged deep into recession."
Strong demands for complete capital liberalization, the magazine points out, come from "rich country banks...because they would be the principal losers from new impediments to short-term bank inflows to developing countries." Most recently, that pressure was applied in the U.S. negotiating positions on bilateral trade agreements with Chile and Singapore. "Bitter experience," the editorial says, "suggests that such demands are a mistake. It is past time to revise economic orthodoxy on this subject."
Meanwhile, on another important subject:, international worker rights, the Economist remains devoted to the canons of traditional economics. In a September 29, 2001, survey on "Globalization and Its Critics," the Economist did express sympathy for some arguments of critics:
- "Trade displaces workers in the industrialized countries; other things being equal, this will have some depressing effect on the wages of other workers....The displaced rich-country workers are plainly worse off than they were before worse off."
- "The skeptics are right to be disturbed by sweatshops, child labor, bonded labor, and other gross abuses that go on in many poor countries..."
But the Economist went on to extol the benefits of globalization and to belittle the idea of adding minimum labor standards to trade agreements. Might the magazine come around to rejecting the "sacred canons" on this subject too? Don't hold your breath.
Diary: Revisiting My Army Days
During World War II I spent most of my 42 months in uniform doing code and cipher work. On a Saturday last month I took a nostalgia trip back to those Army days by visiting the National Cryptologic Museum near the National Security Agency headquarters on the outskirts of Washington.
On display there I found two of the devices I had mastered and used -- one a complicated electric typewriter that the Army called a Sigaba, the other a small hand-held, hand-operated cylindrical device. I worked on the Sigaba in the code rooms at various Army Air Corps fields in Maine, Newfoundland, and the Azores. I used the small manual device for a few months at a remote weather post in Canada near the Arctic Circle.
My main interest in visiting the Museum was to see a third machine, an advanced apparatus that combined a teletype machine with a tape gadget to encode and decode messages and to send and receive them. I was introduced to it not long after my arrival for duty in the "crypto" section of the Presque Isle Air Base in northern Maine. The instructor on its use was a soldier from Boston, a technical sergeant, whose demeanor and accent exuded a superiority greater than his rank as an enlisted man. This guy took an instant dislike of me. I am not a hundred percent sure why, but I remember jibes with a religious point that seemed aimed directly at me. Once, out of the blue, he remarked that the large Catholic families in Boston were part of the Catholic Church's strategy to gain control of Boston.
I didn't learn fast enough for him, and he soon decreed that I was incapable of mastering the needed skills. And I didn't make the effort to prove him wrong. None of the other places where I was later posted, all in the North Atlantic area, had such a machine, so it made no difference in my work. But it made a difference to me, since the experience remained etched in my memory over the decades. Personally, I felt confident I could have mastered those skills. But it was the attitude of my teacher that stymied me. Instead of plugging on, I gave up. I think that the reason I did so was that, in the shadow of this tall Boston Brahmin, I really did feel inferior.
That experience has helped make me understand how someone's learning, even the desire to learn, can be crushed by the attitudes of teachers, parents, and others. Their negative attitude can easily become your own negative attitude, and that's especially so if you are a child with a dark skin or a foreign accent. All the guys in my Army outfits were as pale-skinned as I, and my German accent, which once provoked taunts from childhood playmates, was long gone. But I knew where I came from -- a working class family living for years in a house without running water -- and unlike most of my code room colleagues, I had no college education. I think this background affected my behavior in the code room at Presque Isle in Maine.
Back to the cryptologic museum in Maryland: it has no teletype encryption machine on display. Too bad. But I've learned much without seeing one again.
Human Rights for Workers: Bulletin No. VIII-6 June 10, 2003
Robert A. Senser, editor
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