Human Rights for Workers Bulletin

Vol. II, No. 19: October 24, 1997 
Message to President Jiang Zemin--and to President Clinton

'Let Freedom Ring' in China and Tibet

Under the banner of "Let Freedom Ring," thousands of Americans will join demonstrations in Washington, D.C., and six other cities at the end of October during the visit of Jiang Zemin, president of the People's Republic of China and head of its Communist Party. An unprecedented coalition of human rights, religious, environmental groups, and labor groups, including the AFL-CIO, are participating.

The demonstration in Washington will be held in Lafayette Park, opposite the White House, from noon to 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday, October 29, the day that Jiang Zemin will get the red carpet treatment in the U.S. capital. Among the speakers at the demonstration will be:

Demonstrations are also scheduled to parallel Jiang Zemin's visits to Boston, Honolulu, Los Angeles, New York City, Philadelphia, and Williamsburg, Va.
The theme of the demonstrations--"Let Freedom Ring: A Protest of Human Rights Abuses in China and Tibet"--holds a message to the leaders of both China and the United States. The Clinton Administration's policy of "constructive engagement" has served mainly to finance the repressive policies of China's ruling Communist elite and to modernize its huge military establishment.
The latest monthly figures released by the U.S. Commerce Department illustrate the unprecedented transfer of U.S. wealth to China. During a single month, August, the U.S. imported $6 billion ($6,057,300,000) in goods and services from China, while U.S. exports to China reached only 15% of that amount. According to a May 1 Wall Street Journal/NBC poll, Americans believe by more than a two-to-one margin (67% to 27%) that the Chinese government should improve its human rights practices or lose its current privileged trade status with the United States.

Killing by Quota and for Profit: the Latest Evidence

ABC News' Primetime Live on October 15 broadcast new revelations about one of the scandalous aspects of China's official policies. Through videotape and other evidence, the program traced a trans-Pacific transaction in which a kidney harvested from an executed prisoner in a Chinese military hospital (equipped with the latest technology from a U.S. joint venture) was marketed for sale to a prospective customer in the United States. Details on how China profits from executions, and on how the U.S. government has failed to deal with the issue, are provided in the Laogai Research Foundation's latest report, "Killing by Quota, Killing for Profit." (Text of the report is available on the Foundation's Web site,, or by calling 202/508-8215.)

Thanks to Liz Claiborne

Corporate Leadership Against Sweatshops

Front lines are dangerous, even in non-military campaigns, such as the one to end sweatshops world wide. Liz Claiborne has taken the risk anyway. That corporation has assumed a leading role in the battle against sweatshops in the global apparel industry.

On October 8 the National Consumers League presented Liz Claiborne with its Trumpeter Award, which annually honors "leaders who are not afraid to speak out for social justice and the rights of consumers and workers." Paul Charron, Liz Claiborne's chairman and CEO, personally accepted the award at a ceremony also attended by the corporation's board of directors.

Liz Claiborne, which sells products made by contractors in more than 200 factories located in more than 28 countries, first put into place a written code of conduct in 1994. Last year, at the urging of then Secretary of Labor Robert Reich, the company took an active role in the White House Apparel Industry Partnership to raise labor standards. Roberta Karp, Liz Claiborne's vice president for corporate affairs, co-chairs the Partnership.

"Consumers care about the conditions under which their products are made," Charron said. "They want us to insure that workers get decent and just treatment."
He acknowledged the perils of being out front in such a campaign. "You become a target" when a scandal erupts even in a firm trying to do the right thing. Overcoming an industry's in-ingrained habits is difficult, he pointed out. In fact, he expressed "disappointment at the rate of progress being made" thus far by the Partnership. (For background, see the article "To End Sweatshops.")

A promising sign is that the U.S. initiative has a parallel in Europe. In Brussels the European trade unions and employers' organizations in the textile and clothing sector have signed a code of conduct respecting the "fundamental human rights" of some 16 million workers in European enterprises and their subsidiaries and subcontractors in the developing world.

Need for Global Rules III - Imported Food

Globalization has outmoded many ways of dealing with problems. President Clinton highlighted a new example early in October.
About 38% of the fruit and 12% of the vegetables consumed by Americans last year came from Mexican and other foreign fields. Such imports have recently led to worrisome outbreaks of illnesses from eating Guatemala raspberries, Mexican cantaloupes, and Thai coconut milk. As a result, President Clinton on October 2 proposed a new program to "make sure that no fruits and vegetables cross our borders, enter our ports, or reach our dinner tables without meeting the same strict standards as those grown here in America."

Although contaminated fruits and vegetables are already banned from entry into the United States, the ban is enforced at border points, where less than 1% of food imports are sampled. Clinton's proposed changes, which must still be approved by Congress, would reinforce that ban by a system of inspection in the foreign fields where the fruits and vegetables are produced. Most significantly, imports could be halted from countries that have low food safety standards or that block on-site U.S. inspection.

(The full text of Clinton's statement and related materials can be found on the Web page of the Federal Drug Administration. Click the Oct. 2 item "President Announces Initiative to Ensure the Safety of Imported and Domestic Fruits and Vegetables.")

One skeptic charged that Clinton's proposal is a "crass political move," timed to win Congressional votes on a controversial bill to grant the administration "fast track" negotiating authority to make trade agreements. That may be so. Nevertheless, the proposal deserves to be implemented. After all, the health concerns about food are based on serious problems for consumers. So are the health concerns facing the men, women, and children in other countries who grow and harvest the fruit and vegetables we eat. In this case, safeguarding the health of consumers would also help protect those who work for us in foreign fields.

The above item is part of a series on how the global economy creates the need for enforceable international rules in many areas. Logical question: why continue to exclude the international labor market from similar rules?

For a Much Broader Asia-Pacific Vision

The government officials who participate in the four-year-old Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum should broaden their group's horizon. That's the advice of union leaders representing more than 30 million working men and women in a dozen Asia-Pacific nations.

At a meeting in Ottawa early in October, the union leaders, grouped together as the Asia-Pacific Labor Network, renewed an earlier call for including labor and other civil society representatives in the deliberations of APEC, which currently has the "economies" of 18 nations as members.

Network members met October 9 with Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien of Canada, who will host the next meeting of the APEC forum, to be held in Vancouver in November. Bill Jordan, general secretary of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, pointed out that the recent environmental disasters and the financial market meltdowns in Southeastern Asia stemmed from reckless industrial development. Such problems could be avoided, he said, if APEC governments had "mechanisms for democratic and trade union consultations and heeded their warnings about unrestrained development."

In a September meeting in Seoul, Korea, APEC labor ministers decided to launch a project that includes labor, management, and government representatives to explore "best practices" in training, skills development, the use of technology, and "other human resources development issues in the workplace." Jordan praised this project as, hopefully, a step toward APEC's accepting a "full labor forum within the APEC process," having the same status as the APEC Business Advisory Council.


Links to World of Working Men and Women

World Wide Web sites dealing with worker rights issues are multiplying all over the place. Here are several that I learned about recently: The American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington, D.C., maintains a Web database listing links to a wide range of human rights Web sites across the world. Currently it contains around such 400 links, compared to 150 a year ago. Check

Robert A. Senser
Editor, Human Rights for Workers
(Send e-mail to

 Bulletin No. II-19: October 24, 1997


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