VIII, Bulletin No.11
November 4, 2003
Prodding U.S. on Corporate Responsibility
A top-level commission is urging the U.S. government to become much
more active in promoting corporate social responsibility. In its 2003
annual report, released last month, the Congressional-Executive
Commission on China (CECC) states:
The CECC recommendation stems from failures in China that are only
partially documented in the report.. First of all, China fails to
own labor laws (one exception: the legislation denying workers the
right to organize, which is enforced by jailing workers who start to
union independent of the government/party labor structure).
As a result, "many Chinese-made
goods purchased in the United States are produced under conditions that
would be unacceptable to most Americans."
- "U.S. government efforts to foster corporate social
responsibility at home and abroad lack focus, coordination, and policy
- "The President should establish a Coordinator for Corporate
Social Responsibility to coordinate interagency policy and programs and
work with private sector actors."
Further, social responsibility programs of individual corporations,
mostly in the form of codes of conduct
on labor practices, have little effect on their contractors,
whose factories make most of the exported products. Even
such as the Fair Labor Association, the Worker Rights Consortium,
SA8000, and others have yet to produce measurable, widespread
Why Workers Must Be Part of the
Process To Ensure Rule of Law
Seeking change through codes of conduct "must be part of a larger
process that empowers Chinese workers to assert their rights under
Chinese law," the commission observes, and quotes Han
Dongfang, the Hong-Kong-based Chinese labor activist, on why worker
involvement is indispensable in improving working conditions:
"I keep asking the question, 'Are we
talking about...animal rights or labor rights?' They are very
different. Animal rights should be for those animals that cannot help
themselves. Human beings can go and help themselves....Workers in
China and anywhere can help themselves [if they have the freedom to do
In a section on prison and forced labor, the commission report reveals
that U.S. legislation barring the importation of prison-made goods is
being enforced. Moreover, because of "the lack of Chinese
cooperation," a 1992 U.S.-China agreement on U.S. Customs inspection of
prisons suspected of producing U.S.-bound goods is largely
ignored. "Currently, the U.S. government counts a total of 18
outstanding requests for prison site visits, most of which were filed
between 1995 and 2002," the report notes.
The CECC report does not express outrage over the poor human rights
record it describes in 110 carefully worded pages. After all, the CECC
is a governmental agency, an unusual joint body of the executive and
legislative branches of
the federal government. It was created in 2000, after the
Clinton administration smoothed the
way for China's entry into the World Trade Organization.
senators, nine members of the House of
Representatives, and five senior officials from the executive branch
serve as CECC's commissioners, currently under the chairmanship of
Representative Jim Leach of Iowa, a Republican.
They Embed Human Rights in Their Work
Very few national organizations have human rights embedded in their
structure and their regular activities. One that has is the
Academies, which groups three distinguished professional
organizations -- the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy
of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine. Their joint Committee
on Human Rights monitors human rights abuses committed against
professional colleagues around the world and provides help to
those unjustly arrested.
Currently the committee is campaigning to have the government of
Vietnam release Dr. Nguyen Dan Que, 61, a Saigon physician and
pro-democracy advocate who has already endured 18 years in forced labor
camps and now is in jail once again. This time it is for trying to send
an Internet message disputing Hanoi's claims that it allows
freedom of information.
Twelve Nobel Laureates, including economists Milton Friedman and
Kenneth J. Arrow, have written the Prime Minister of Vietnam to express
"our deep concern about the health and well being of our scientific
colleague" and to ask for his prompt release on humanitarian grounds
is suffering from high blood pressure, peptic ulcers, and a kidney
stone). No one, not even his wife or a lawyer, has had access to
Dr. Que since Saigon security police arrested him on March 17.
The human rights committee chairman, Dr. Torsten Wiesel, Nobel Laureate
medicine, is probably the only non-Vietnamese who has made a careful
study of Dr. Que's life and writings, including his May 1990 manifesto
on human rights. On May 9 this year, in an address
at the annual
Vietnam Human Rights Day commemoration, Dr. Wiesel compared Dr.
to Andrei Sakharov, the famous Russian physicist and dissident. Wiesel
revealed that Que has rejected offers by the Vietnamese government to
release him if only he would promptly leave Vietnam.
"He has steadily refused to abandon
his vision of a free and democratic
country and his efforts to achieve it," Wiesel said. "Rather than being
here with us tonight at this impressive event as a celebrated and
honored guest, he is lying in a prison with no means of communicating
with the outside world."
A petition protesting Dr. Que's
U.S. Downgrades Human Rights: Prof
Since the September 11 tragedy, the Bush Administration has promoted a
"sea change in human rights policy" at home and abroad,
according to Harold Hongju Koh, professor international law at Yale
University and assistant secretary of state for human rights in the
Clinton administration. He made that point October 21 in delivering the
Galway Foster lecture in London. A lengthy extract from the lecture
pages in the November 1 issue of the Economist.
Koh contrasted present policy with that of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in
1941, when he "called the allies to arms by painting a vision of the
we were trying to make: a post-war world of four fundamental freedoms:
freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from want, and freedom
from fear." Now "human rights policy [is] fixated on freedom from
fear," Koh charged, and cited a long series of domestic and
international examples. Among them:
"Around the globe, America's human
rights policy has visibly softened, subsumed under the all-encompassing
banner of the 'war on terrorism'."
Koh ended his lecture on an optimistic
note. "I, for one, have neither
given up hope, nor accepted as inevitable a 21st century American human
rights policy that is increasingly at odds with core American and
universal values....I believe we can both obtain our security and
preserve our essential liberty, but only so long as we have courage
from our courts, commitment from our citizens, and pressure from our
A Very Limited
"Business and Government
Representatives Only -- Labor Representatives Not
" No such warning hung at the doors to meetings of
Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in Bangkok last month,
but that exclusionary policy prevailed as government and business
leaders gathered from 21 Pacific rim countries, including the United
The theme for the occasion was "A World of Differences: Partnership for
the Future," but as in the past (see "Only
Businessmen Allowed Here: APEC
"), the private economic sector
came from the APEC Business
, which APEC established in 1995, formalizing a
close relationship already
in place. That same year Pacific rim unions created a counterpart
unit called the Asia Pacific Labor Network (APLN), in the hope of
similar recognition from APEC. The hope has yet to be realized.
Declaration on Partnership for the Future
" included the
organization's intentions "to strengthen efforts to empower people,"
but said nothing about any kind of partnership with workers or their
In a statement
decrying this rebuff, the International Confederation of Free Trade
Unions said: "Dialogue with the trade union movement is a key
prerequisite to solving pressing economic and social problems facing
APEC countries." Earlier, an ICFTU/APLN
developed that case in detail.
'The Most Dangerous Woman in America'
"My dear friends: Today in gorgeous
mahogany-furnished and carefully guarded offices in distant capitals,
wealthy mine owners and capitalists are breathing sighs of relief.
Today, upon the plains of Illinois, the hillsides and valleys of
Pennsylvania and West Virginia, in California, Colorado, and British
Columbia, strong men and toil-torn women are weeping tears of bitter
grief. The reasons...are the same. Mother Jones is dead."
Those words were part of the tribute paid to Mary ("Mother") Jones at
her funeral Mass celebrated at Ascension Church in Mt. Olivet, Ill., on
a Sunday early in December 1930. Father John Maguire, then
president of St. Viator's College, delivered the eulogy to 300 people
inside the church and to many thousands more who heard it over
loudspeakers and over radio station WCFL, then owned by the Chicago
Federation of Labor.
"Mother Jones: the Most Dangerous Woman in America" by Elliott J. Gorn
(Hill & Wang) recounts the life and death of one of American
labor's most colorful,
bravest, and best known organizers. The subtitle comes from a 1902
federal court hearing at
which a prosecuting attorney, after describing Mother
Jones' pro-miner activism during
a West Virginia coal strike, pointed at her and yelled, "This is
the most dangerous woman in America."
I learned of the Gorn book from an article in the October issue of Initiatives,
published by the
National Center for the Laity (P.O. Box 291102, Chicago, Ill.
60629). The article is part of its biographical series on "North
American Spirituality," which recently also featured Cesar Chavez and
also has a series
of "Work Prayers" that contribute
to a better understanding of what spirituality really
October issue quotes this one, which Father Tom Pelton offered at the
opening of a
new sewer project that replaced a century-old system in Chicago:
"Lord God, we seek your blessing upon
the work of our hands and minds,
so that this sewer project may be successful, that our people have
patience and communicate together, that our workers be protected in
every way. As we repair our infrastructure below the ground, may we
continue to renovate our community above the ground in the days to
Front-Line Activism: Where Credit Is Due
As part of a class research project, a Boston University graduate
student sent me an email query because of what he called my role "as a
activist." An excerpt from my reply:
"I don't deserve to be classified as a
front-line activist. I'm in the back lines, far in back.
liners are those brave men and women who work in the factories of
Indonesia, China, and other countries and dare to speak up against
abuses. Next to them are their fellow citizens, often in NGOs, who,
with equal courage, come out in support of their brothers and sisters
in factories. Then, important among those in the back lines, I
include corporate employees who work diligently (and often
anonymously) to reform do-nothing corporate policy.
"I suspect that in every large corporation there are people who want to
do the right thing about correcting worker right abuses. The positive
instincts of these people get a better hearing after front-line
activists [and their allies] expose scandals to the public."
Email: Why WTO Talks Collapsed
To the editor:
October issue of HRFW analyzed the breakdown of the World Trade
Organization talks at Cancun, blaming it on WTO over-reaching ("How
To Design Your Own Collapse
"). A more
accurate assessment would have emphasized that long-overdue concessions
agricultural subsidies and protection by the United States, the
European Union, and Japan were supposed to arrive at Cancun. When it
was clear that they wouldn't, a coalition of poorer countries walked
Now, I am sympathetic to the idea that the WTO may be going too far on
issues like intellectual property, competition policy, and product
standards. There is an important debate to be had about exactly how
intrusive the WTO should be in regulating economic conduct "behind the
borders" of member nations. But these talks broke down because of
classical "at the border" issues of protection.
Sadly, many activists, who presumably want the best for
the poor of the world, have gleefully cheered the failure at Cancun.
What they were in fact cheering was the continuation of policies that
prevent the poorest nations from sharing in the benefits of trade. For
many of these nations, agricultural exports represent the first rung on
the development ladder. They never reach that rung because rich nations
use high tariffs on agricultural goods to prevent poor nations from
selling in their markets. Worse, farm subsidies depress agriculture
prices on world markets so that even in the places where the poor
nations are allowed to sell, their produce yields lower returns than
The result is continued poverty in poor nations, but it is no bargain
for the United States, the European Union, and Japan either. Subsidies
cost tens of billions of dollars taken from the treasures of these
already debt-ridden economies. The subsidies are awarded primarily to
large farms in an especially egregious form of corporate welfare. They
also encourage the use of marginal crop land that must be heavily laced
with artificial fertilizers and pesticides to be made productive.
Keeping rich corporate farmers rich, poor farmers poor, building
unsustainable debt, and damaging the environment in the process -- this
is what activists were cheering in Cancun?
-- David Hummels, Associate Professor of Economics,
Time for You To Take Back Your Time
"Without thinking about it, Americans
have [since World War II] taken all their productivity gains in the
form of more money -- more stuff, if you will -- and none of them in
the form of more time. Simply put, we as a society have chosen money
over time, and this unconscious value pattern has had a powerful and
less than beneficial impact on the quality of our collective lives."
So writes John de Graaf in a new book that he edits, "Take Back
Your Time: Fighting Overwork and Time Poverty in America." He is a
leader in a fledgling movement to reverse what he calls the
"unconscious choice we've made as a nation" to undervalue time. The
book makes its case with family, health, environmental,
cultural, religious, historical, and other supporting arguments
developed by 39 experts, including Juliet Schor, professor of sociology
at Boston College and author of "The Overworked American."
The movement, which
promotes its cause (and the book) on a Website at http://www.timeday.org
Friday, October 24, this year as the first annual
"Take Back Your Time Day." It was an invitation extended in the
hope that, on the day before the nation turned its clocks back to
standard time, "thousands, perhaps millions, of
Americans [would] JUST SAY NO to the overwork, over-scheduling, and
overstress that threaten to overwhelm our lives."
That didn't happen.
But the cause is a worthy one, and we should at least start thinking
Human Rights for Workers: Bulletin
November 4, 2003
http://www.senser.com, Robert A. Senser, editor
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