Vol. IV, Bulletin No. 9. May 7, 1999
Global Petition on 1989 Protests in China
As the 10th anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen protests approaches, a global campaign is underway to get individual and organizational signatures on a petition calling upon Jiang Zemin, president of the People's Republic of China, to:"put an immediate end to harassment, detention, and imprisonment of Chinese citizens exercising their legitimate rights to freedom of expression, freedom of association, and freedom of religion."The petition also asks the Chinese government to "re-evaluate the official verdict on the June 4th, 1989 Tiananmen pro-democracy protests" and to release those still imprisoned for their pro-democracy activities 10 years ago.
A special Website, http://www.june4.org/, has the full text of the brief petition in six languages. It provides a form for those wishing to endorse it. You'll be in good company if you do, as you can see from the lists of those who have already signed.
I learned of the campaign from a column titled "Defending Human Rights" by Sandra Feldman, president of the American Federation of Teachers, in the May 4 Washington Post. It urges signing the petition in order to remind the Chinese government that many people in the world support Chinese citizens who try to exercise their human rights. You can read the column at http://www.aft.org//wws/ww0599.htm.
It's Not Just about Trade, It's Also about Rights in the Global Economy
Getting Ready for a Big WTO Meeting In Seattle
Shortly before the end of this millennium, the world's power-brokers will meet in Seattle, Washington, to plan for the next. Trade and finance ministers from at least 134 nations will gather there from November 29 to December 4 for the third ministerial conference of the World Trade Organization.
You won't learn about the WTO summit from TV newscasts. You'll have to scour the back pages of newspapers to find an occasional story about it. But few events in the rest of 1999 will rival it in significance. "It will inaugurate global negotiations which will shape world trade as we move into the next century," says U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky, who will chair the summit.
The voluminous WTO Website has only a short release on the Seattle conference (see http://www.wto.org/wto/minist/seattle.htm), and it has little else of significance on the meeting and the probable far-reaching nature of its agenda. For that you have to look elsewhere, particularly to the many Websites of the WTO's critics.
Critics of the WTO can be roughly divided into two major camps:
'Civil Society' Coalition Campaigning Hard in Opposition
- Those who flatly oppose launching a "Millennium round" of trade negotiations.
- Those who would support a new round if, and only if, the WTO becomes more responsive to issues of human welfare.
In the first camp are non-governmental groups calling themselves "Members of International Civil Society Opposing a Millennium Round of Trade Negotiations." Their statement (at http://www.citizen.org/pctrade/MAI/Sign-ons/WTOStatement.htm) sees the WTO as trying to expand its powers through a new multi-year round of negotiations, and urges that, instead of going that route, "governments should review and rectify the deficiency of the [present trade] system and the WTO regime itself."
The leading force of the second camp is the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU), which groups 213 union organizations in 143 countries, the huge majority in the developing world. The ICFTU, too, has been highly critical of the WTO. The labor confederation warned the WTO in a March statement:"Popular support for trade liberalization through the WTO is extremely fragile in many countries as evidence of rising social inequalities mounts and the pace of adjustment in employment accelerates, particularly in the wake of the world economic and financial crisis."So the ICFTU is pushing a reform agenda. Naturally, it has renewed its demand for the WTO to add a worker rights dimension to its trade policies, explaining: "A workers' rights clause would be protective--it would help to protect workers and children from exploitation--but it would not be protectionist. Its aims is not to undermine economic competition, but to enhance it by removing unfair advantages. It would not restrict trade, but bring more people into the global economy."
Coming to the Aid of Developing World
But the confederation is going far beyond arguing for a worker rights clause (which it previously called a "social clause"). It is wisely taking up other issues of legitimate concern, including many that trouble developing countries. In that category, its recommendations range from administrative changes (e.g., providing poorer countries with legal support to make use of the WTO's complicated trade dispute mechanism) to broad policy safeguards (e.g., ensuring that any agreement on investment will protect countries from being swamped by the "full force of global competition").
Check http://www.icftu.org/english/sclause/escl99wtostat.html for the full text of the ICFTU's 24-page statement. It covers many of the WTO's multi-faceted operations, which are not limited just to trade.
The WTO's rules, the thousands already imbedded in international law and the thousands still to come, are boringly abstract, but basically they are designed to protect certain rights, individual and collective, in the global economy. But whose rights? Only the rights of trading companies, investment firms, and governments? That's the basic issue to be confronted at Seattle.
The Two Worlds of Nike: Washington vs. Indonesia
In Washington last month Phil Knight, CEO of Nike Inc., was one of a small group of people who met at the World Bank headquarters to launch an ambitious project called the Global Alliance for Workers and Communities. One of its purposes is "to improve the quality of life of young workers, especially women." One of the eight countries where it will be active is Indonesia.
(For the names of other founding members of the Alliance see Nike's Website at
In Indonesia, meanwhile, at a plant of some 6,000 workers making Nike sneakers, management fired the acting chairperson of the local union. The president of the Indonesian Textile, Garment and Leather Workers Federation, Rustam Aksam, charges that the company, PT Doson Indonesia, dismissed the union leader, Nurhayati (like many Indonesians, she goes by only one name), who has worked at the plant for nearly six years, because of her union activities.
In a letter of complaint to the Nike labor practices manager in Indonesia, Aksam says that the discharge violates Indonesia law and Nike's code of conduct, as well as the code of the Korean Economic Council, which is supposed to guide Nike's primary contractor, a Korean firm.
Aksam quoted the section of Nike's code committing the company to improving "management practices that recognize the dignity of the individual, the rights of free association and collective bargaining, and the right to a workplace free of harassment, abuse or corporal punishment." (See http://nikebiz.com/social/labor/code.html for the full text of the code.)
'China's Troubled Workers': They're Still Troubled
Two years ago the journal Foreign Affairs published an article that I wrote in collaboration with Anita Chan, a China expert and Australian Research Council Fellow at the Australian National University. With some help from my son Thuy's scanner, I finally got around to adding the article to Human Rights for Workers. (The file name, prclambs.htm, may seem curious, but read on.)
The theme of article, as expressed in the title, "China's Troubled Workers," still holds true. A cardinal principle of the current regime, like that of Deng Xiaoping before it, is that "workers must be sacrificial lambs for the nation's economic advancement," as the article puts it. The Communist rulers still keep workers in submission by ruthless suppression.
One sidelight I find significant: In the article we refer in passing to China's routine use of "scientific" as in "scientific management" and "scientific socialism." Has the Party/government apparatus shed that Marxist formulation? No, Dr. Chan says, it's still standard.
Human Rights for Workers: Bulletin No. IV-9, May 7, 1999
Robert A. Senser, editor
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