Vol. III, Bulletin No. 11.                                                                       June 1, 1998 

Major U.S. Policy Shift?  Maybe, Maybe Not
President Envisions a 'Globalism With a Human Face,'
But It Depends on His Administration's Follow-Up
"A major shift in America's approach to global economics." That's how a Washington Post writer, E. J. Dionne Jr., characterized the message that President Clinton conveyed in a lengthy speech he gave in Geneva on May 18.  Unfortunately, Dionne wrote, "almost nobody paid attention."  Not even the Post did.  Dionne himself paid attention only in his op-ed column, headed "Globalism With A Human Face," on page 27 of the May 29 Post.

The President did indeed make some impressive statements in Geneva at the 50th anniversary commemoration of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and its predecessor, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade.  After recommitting the United States to an ever more open global trading system, Clinton described "a new vision of trade," one that would "construct a modern WTO for the 21st century."

Two major elements of that vision:

Specifically, Clinton prodded the WTO bureaucracy to cooperate with a Geneva neighbor with whom it had not been very neighborly: the UN's International Labor Organization.  "The WTO and the International Labor Organization," he said, "should commit to work together to make certain that open trade does lift living standards and respects the core labor standards that are essential not only to worker rights, but to human rights."  He urged "the two organizations' secretariats to convene at a high level to discuss these issues."

"A remarkable agenda-setting speech," Bill Jordan, general secretary of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) said immediately in a press release.  Representatives of  ICFTU affiliates, including the AFL-CIO, were in Geneva to lobby the trade delegations attending the WTO's biennial Ministerial Conference at the time.

Support from Nelson Mandela, Tony Blair, And Others

Other world leaders, notably Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain and President Nelson Mandela of South Africa, also said that the WTO should start addressing  worker rights ("core labor standards"). Later, Stephen Pursey of the ICFTU staff wrote in a report:  "After Geneva, it will be impossible to sideline the issue of the relationship between core labor standards and the roles for the world market."  (See the full text of his report on the ICFTU Website at http://www.icftu.org/english/pr/1998/eprol129-980528-SKP.html.  It contains links to various important speeches at Geneva, including Clinton's, as well as to other relevant information.)

What are the prospects for "a major shift" in U.S. global economic policy?  In the final paragraph of his column, Dionne wrote: "Forging a new consensus around global growth with equity would be a major achievement.  But the resounding silence that greeted the president's speech suggests that the road there will be long...."

President Clinton's ideas in Geneva were right on target. Because of his personal charisma and the prestige of his office, he could do much to forge a new global consensus.  His first and probably greatest challenge is to get his own administration to support his vision.

Child Labor Trend: Still Depressingly Bad

Is abusive child labor increasing or decreasing in the world?  Statistical agencies don't measure this trend.  If they did, it might be embarrassing.

A few people, however, are in touch with the reality.  One is an extraordinary Asian leader, Kailash Satyarthi, an Indian Brahmin who gave up a career in engineering to launch a crusade against what he calls "child servitude."   As head of the South Asian Coalition on Child Servitude, he addressed a UN conference in 1993 and spoke about a disturbing trend:

Satyarthi was in Washington to lead a rally May 27 as part of a global march against child labor, which culminates at the June International Labor Conference in Geneva. I was able to chat with him briefly.  I reminded him of the statistical parallel he had previously drawn between the employment of children and the unemployment of adults, and I asked whether the trend still obtained in India.  Yes, he replied.  Child servitude is still growing, he said, and so is adult unemployment.  In his address at the rally, he once again drove home his key message: that to eradicate poverty, the world must eradicate child labor. 

Hong Kong and Indonesia Dramatize Asian Values

"The so-called Asian values that are invoked to justify authoritarianism are not especially Asian in any significant sense."--Amartya Sen, the India-born professor of economics and philosophy at Harvard University.
Events in Hong Kong and Indonesia provide the most recent evidence that Asians, too, hold dear the values of democracy and human rights.

In Hong Kong voters turned out in record numbers last month to sweep into office pro-democracy legislators.  They will remain a minority in Hong Kong's legislative council because China increased the number of its own appointees and whittled down the number of councilors who could be chosen by popular vote.  Still, the huge turnout and the results contradicted the notion that the people of Hong Kong care only about making money.  (Hopefully, the Westerners who promulgated this notion will now shut up.)

In Indonesia people long denied the right to vote took to the streets long enough to end the 32-year rule of President Suharto, now (belatedly) called a dictator by some TV newscasters. General Suharto had an extraordinary devotion to family values--his own family's. So now the world learns about the evils of Indonesia's "crony capitalism," how it suppressed the freedom of ordinary people, and how the people revolted.  That's an important lesson, but it needs broadening.

What about the American, German, Japanese and other corporate complicity with crony capitalism in Indonesia?  Denounce the sins of the Suharto regime and press for reforms in Indonesia, yes, but that addresses just one part of the horrible mess.  It's time to start cleaning up the other part of the mess--the big part for which foreigners are responsible through business partnerships that sustain dictatorial regimes.

Bishops Appeal for 'Globalization in Solidarity'

The Catholic Bishops from almost every Asian country, assembled in Rome for almost a month, on May 13 issued a lengthy "message to the people of God" that included appeals for justice and peace.  They specifically asked churches in the industrialized world "to be in solidarity with the poor in Asia" and to intervene accordingly with global institutions such as the World Trade Organization.  Here are their precise words:
"While there are beneficial effects of globalization, we are concerned about its harmful effects.  We call on the particular churches of the First World to be in solidarity with the poor in Asia and to be their advocates with their own governments and with world economic institutions such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Trade Organization so as to bring about what Pope John Paul II called for in this year's World Peace Day message: globalization without marginalization, globalization in solidarity."
About 140 Bishops attended the historic assembly. They came even from Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and Burma (Myanmar), but not from the People's Republic of China.  Beijing had barred the participation of two Bishops from China.

Diary: Not Keeping Pace in May (puff! puff!)

Usually I publish two editions of the Bulletin a month, but I had to be content with just one in May. I broke my stride for various reasons, large and small.

Two root canals didn't enhance my productivity.  Still, I managed to write a long article that will appear in the summer issue of China Rights Forum.   Titled "Exploring a New Frontier," it examines what an embrace of worker rights might mean for the World Trade Organization--and for China when it joins the WTO.

I took more trips than usual into Washington. One day I even ventured into the hallowed headquarters of the Cato Institute for an enlightening policy forum on "Should the United States Pursue a Global Investment Treaty?"  That's a subject that I'll explore in future Bulletins, especially since a proposed draft would prohibit the inclusion of human rights provisions in the procurement policies of states and cities.

During the morning of May 27 I attended a "teach-in" on child labor that featured the testimony of young students from four schools. One lad, so small that you could see only the top of his head behind the speaker's rostrum, gripped the hall with his fervent cry to "Stop Child Labor!" A sixth-grade girl demanded that exploiters go to jail.

Their voices vibrated with an anger about injustice seldom felt by adults.  Except maybe Kathie Lee Gifford.  At a rally that afternoon I heard her call upon "Congress to enact and enforce laws to protect children against greedy predators."  With emotion, she said, "Our silence about the plight of children is deafening to the ear of God."

Human Rights for Workers: Bulletin No. III-11, June 1, 1998
Robert A. Senser, editor

Copyright 1998
hrfw@senser.com. (Send e-mail)

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