International Labour Standards

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What is globalization? In a sense, there is nothing new about globalization. Ever since human beings have exchanged goods, there has been trade among peoples. By the end of the nineteenth century, world trade was already an unmissable feature of the new capitalist world order – and the first global trade unions, the international trade secretariats (now known as global union federations) were born in that era. So what is new? For the last several decades, and particularly since the end of the cold war in 1989-91, there has been an unprecedented expansion of cross-border investments combined with a world-wide shift toward privatization, deregulation and free markets. Central to this process have been a number of trends: a gigantic growth in foreign direct investment (FDI), the liberalization of international trade, massive cross-border financial flows and a revolution in information and communication technology. This process has become known as ―globalization‖ -- and the word itself became popular in the 1990s. The liberalization of capital markets around the globe has meant that increasingly wealth flows freely across borders, and giant global corporations can invest where they want – wherever they stand the chance of reaping profits. It is this growth of foreign direct investment more than anything else that characterizes the new era and distinguishes it from previous periods. While traditional trade between countries has greatly increased in the past several decades, the growth of foreign direct investment has grown even faster. But despite attempts by nearly all countries to attract such investment, it remains highly concentrated in only a few countries. The main recipients of FDI in the 1990s were China, Brazil, Mexico, Singapore and Argentina. In fact, the top twelve countries and territories attracted nearly three-fourths of all foreign ____________________________________________________________ Workers' Activities Programme (ACTRAV) ILO International Training Centre (1)

direct investment. Entire regions of the world – in particular Africa – have been nearly completely excluded from this process, attracting little of that investment. New global production systems have also appeared, spearheaded by multinational enterprises (MNEs), of which there are some 65,000 today, with 850,000 foreign affiliates. These systems have become significant in many sectors of the global economy including high-tech industries, labour-intensive consumer goods such as clothing and shoes, and even in the service sector (call centers being a prominent example). The new globalization is also distinguished by the emergence of a massive, high-speed, inexpensive global communications network – the Internet – which has accelerated everything. Bill Gates of Microsoft has written about ―business at the speed of thought‖ and his company – whose products are used in offices in every country – symbolizes the change. The Internet is the most significant part of a change that also includes the proliferation of cellular phones, satellite television and other new technologies that did not even exist twenty five years ago. There are other aspects to globalization as well as the purely economic ones – for example, the globalization (and to a certain degree, homogenization) of culture, including not only music, film and literature, but even the foods we eat and the clothing we wear. In many countries it is this aspect of globalization which appears most threatening as local cultures and even languages appear to be challenged by a new global culture, one dominated by the English language and largely American cultural products. Many concerns have been expressed about globalization by unions and others. The International Labour Organization sponsored a World Commission on the Social Dimension of Globalization which produced its report – A Fair Globalization: Creating Opportunities for All – in 2004. The Commission, which consisted of prominent representatives of business, unions and government from the developed and developing world, called for the benefits of globalization to be shared more equally among nations and within nations. The commission expressed a number of concerns about globalization, including:

Economic growth (as measured by gross domestic product) since 1990 ____________________________________________________________ Workers' Activities Programme (ACTRAV) ILO International Training Centre (2)

has actually slowed down. This is not what globalization's advocates would have predicted.

That growth is uneven, with some economies (such as China's) growing at unprecedented rates; the vast majority of developing countries growing quite slowly; and 23 countries actually experiencing negative economic growth. The income gap between rich and poor countries is growing. Short-term, speculative flows of capital have been prominent features of the new globalization and these have damanged the economies of developing nations. Unemployment rates have grown in the formal economies, as has selfemployment. The unregulated, informal economy has grown quickly. While the absolute number of poor people has declined worldwide, nearly all of that decline is due to economic growth in one country – China. In many parts of the world, poverty continues to grow.





The commission also noted many positive benefits to globalization, including an improvement in the quality of democracy and the forging of a greater sense of global community. It emphasized that there is no possibility of reverting to an earlier era, of stopping globalization, and focussed instead on proposals and recommendations to achieve a fair globalization. These included:

Improved governance at national and local level based on democracy and respect for human rights. Nations must provide essential services and social protection to their citizens, integrate the informal economies, promote sustainable development, make decent work a key goal of economic policy, empower local communities and so on. At global level, the commission called for a number of reforms including reducing unfair barriers to market access (for developing countries), a more balanced strategy for growth and full employment, fairer rules for intellectual property, a more consistent and coherent framework for FDI, and reforms to the international financial system ensuring greater participation by developing countries.


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Of specific interest to trade unionists will be the Commission's recommendations on labour issues. These include the following:

Reinforce the capacity of the International Labour Organization to promote respect for core labour standards. All relevant international institutions should play their part in promoting those standards. Technical assistance programs and training toward this end should be promoted. Where persistent violations of rights continues, the ILO should take action to secure compliance. Create fair and transparent rules for the cross-border movement of people, particularly protecting the rights of migrant workers and combatting trafficking, especially of women. Establish a global forum for exchanging views and information on crossborder migration issues.



Unions have specific reasons to be concerned about the new globalization, as well as sharing concerns expressed by others. Central to union concerns is a fear that globalization means a ―race to the bottom‖, a world-wide lowering of wages and labour standards and a decline everywhere of independent, democratic trade unions. If corporations are free to always seek cheaper sources of labour, there is a fear that capital will flee high-cost developed countries where unions remain strong and flow toward union-free ―export processing zones‖ and other havens of low-wage, union-free economies. Were that to happen, it would spell doom for unions everywhere. The international trade union movement Long before anyone spoke about globalization, there was already an international trade union movement. The International Workingmen's Association (known as the ―First International‖) was established as far back as 1864. By the beginning of the twentieth century, the international trade union movement was already a wellestablished force – and was coping with an earlier, different kind of globalization.

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The two world wars, the rise of fascism and the cold war all disrupted the steady progress of that movement, but today the international trade union movement is more united and larger than ever before in its history. The recent merger of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) and the World Confederation of Labour (WCL) into the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) has created an organization representing 168 million workers in 155 countries and territories, with 311 national affiliates. Those affiliates are national trade union centers – unions of unions in various countries. In addition to the ITUC, the World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU) continues to exist, though following the collapse of the Soviet bloc, it has significantly declined in size and influence. Accurate figures for its membership are difficult to obtain. Several large national trade union centers remain outside both the ITUC and WFTU, including Change to Win in the United States and the All China Federation of Trade Unions, which claims to be the largest union in the world, representing 134 million members. The ITUC works closely with the autonomous Global Union Federations (GUFs) which are international federations consisting of national trade unions operating in specific sectors of the economy. These federations operate on the front lines of the struggle over globalization – they are the labour movement's tool for dealing both with multinational corporations and international institutions such as the ILO. Global campaigns are often run through the GUFs, and the GUFs together with the ITUC develop the labour movement's positions on issues of global importance. Today there are ten GUFs – a decline in recent years following the mergers of a number of GUFs. These include the Education International, International Metalworkers Federation, International Federation of Journalists, International Union of Food Workers, International Federation of Chemical Energy and General Workers, Building and Woodworkers International, International Textile, Garment, and Leather Workers' Federation, International Transport Workers Federation, Union Network International, and Public Service International. Collectively, they represent tens of millions of organized workers around the globe.

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The Trade Union Advisory Committee (TUAC), founded in 1948 to advise the OECD, is another important international body, representing 58 national trade union centers and 66 million workers in unions in the world's 30 major economies. Regional trade union bodies play an increasingly important role. The ITUC has its own regional organizaitons for the Americas, Africa, and the AsiaPacific region. In addition to these, most European unions are affiliated to the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), which was founded in 1973. It's important to understand the difference between the types of international structures of the trade union movement. On the one hand, organizations like the ITUC and its regional bodies, as well as TUAC, consist primarily of national trade union centers, such as the AFL-CIO in the United States, the Canadian Labour Congress, the Trades Union Congress in Britain, LO in Sweden, the DGB in Germany, the CGT in France, the FNPR in Russia, COSATU in South Africa, ACTU in Australia, Rengo in Japan and the KCTU and FKTU in South Korea. Individual national unions, with rare exceptions, do not affiliate to these bodies. The ten Global Union Federations, on the other hand, consist entirely of individual national unions – such as a teachers' union in a particular country, or a union of miners. This has led to an informal division of labour at global level, with organizations like the ITUC, ETUC, and TUAC dealing directly with global public institutions such as the United Nations and World Bank, while the Global Union Federations deal directly with transnational corporations. Still, there is considerable overlap between the work done by the various bodies, and a great deal of cooperation among them. In recent years, they have gone so far as to attempt to create a global ―brand‖ for the trade union movement -- ―Global Unions‖ -- with its own website. International labour standards Central to the labour movement's activities in the era of globalization are the international labour standards set out by the International Labour Organization (ILO).

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Of the four key areas covered by the ILO's core conventions, unions are most concerned with the ones guaranteeing trade union rights and collective bargaining – conventions 87 (Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize, 1948) and 98 (Right to Organize and Collective Bargaining, 1949). These conventions and other key instruments came into existence with union support and are the cornerstone of union campaigns in the new era of globalization. While no one claims that these conventions represent enforceable international law – after all, countries continue to violate basic workers' rights decades after their adoption, even countries which have signed up to those conventions – they are still a powerful expression of an international consensus on what is permitted and what is forbidden in the workplace. And that international consensus says that workers have a right to join and form trade unions – a right that is recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations in 1948. These international labour standards give unions both a target to achieve, and a powerful tool to expose, violations of workers rights. This can be done through the International Labour Organization itself, and both the ITUC and global union federations have increasingly done so. Unions use the ILO's annual international labour conference to raise issues of rights violations around the globe, and also use the ILO's freedom of association committee to do so. There is a well-established procedure in place to file complaints, and the global union federations in particular have considerable experience with this. The ILO's Bureau for Workers' Activities, known by its French acronym ACTRAV, is the main link between the International Labour Office (the organization's permanent secretariat) and labour organizations. ACTRAV is based in Geneva, with regional offices around the globe and an international training programme in Turin. Its activities include international campaigns to promote the ratification of ILO conventions, organizing seminars and conferences on subjects of interest to workers, making representations to governments regarding their commitments to respecting international labour standards, organizing technical ____________________________________________________________ Workers' Activities Programme (ACTRAV) ILO International Training Centre (7)

cooperation in the field, and training trade union leaders. Global governance While there is no world government, there are a number of global institutions which have come into existence in the last six decades – institutions whose role it is to regulate globalization. The first of these, known as the international financial institutions, are the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. Both were created towards the end of the second world war at a conference in Bretton Woods, in the USA. They both aim to ensure financial stability and economic growth around the world. The IMF specifically focusses on the stability of the international monetary and financial system. It does this by monitoring and advising countries on policies that are conducive to its goals, by providing technical assistance to those countries, and by providing financial assistance. The World Bank, which cooperates closely with the IMF, promotes longterm economic development and poverty reduction. For example, it builds schools and health care centers, provides clean water and electricity, and helps fight the spread of disease. Both institutions have come under heavy criticism by unions and others in recent years for seeming to impose a ―neo-liberal‖ agenda on countries in exchange for the services they offer. That agenda includes privatization of what were previously public services, labour market flexibility, liberalization of capital flows and trade, pension reform, and restrictive fiscal and monetary policies. These are often seem to work to the detriment of working people and the poor. The international institutions of the labour movement – in particular the ITUC, TUAC and the global union federations – have increasingly attempted to engage the IMF and World Bank in dialogue, with some success. There are more consultations with unions at country level as well. The biggest success unions have had with these insitutions has been to get them to state their commitments to promote core labour standards as part of their poverty reduction mandates. This has been reflected in a number of World ____________________________________________________________ Workers' Activities Programme (ACTRAV) ILO International Training Centre (8)

Bank publications. Another major player in the field of global governance has been the more-recently founded World Trade Organisation (WTO), the successor to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), which deals with trade between countries. It aims primarily to liberalize trade and reduce tariffs. Unions have encouraged the WTO to include a ―social clause‖ in trade agreements to guarantee the rights of workers. The international trade union movement has pressured the WTO on a number of issues, including:

Calling for the reduction – or elimination – of agricultural export subsidies in developed countries. Dealing with the massive rise in unemployment due to the phasing out of the WTO's agreement on textiles and clothing. Coping with problems raised by intellectual property rights, and in particular, better and cheaper access to medicines to combat HIV/AIDS and other health problems in the developing world. Making sure that privatisation of public services, especially in education and health, is not seen as the solution to all problems.




While at the global level, institutions like the IMF, World Bank and WTO have been the subject of trade union pressure to recognize workers' rights and combat social injustice, unions have had considerably more success at regional level – most notably in the European Union. For many years now, workers' rights have been incorporated into European law, and European Works Councils represent an innovative approach to involving workers and their unions in the management of companies. Unions and globalization: dialogue and conflict Many methods have been proposed to give globalization a ―human face‖ - to ensure that governments and corporations behave responsibly and in the interests of society as a whole. Pressure exerted on global insitutions like the WTO, IMF and World Bank is one way. Others include the promotion of corporate social responsibility (CSR), ____________________________________________________________ Workers' Activities Programme (ACTRAV) ILO International Training Centre (9)

framework agreements between global union federations and multinational enterprises, and global campaigns. Corporate social responsibility has become increasingly fashionable in recent years as corporations seek to promote a better public image. This is often done through annual reports and so-called social audits which reveal the extent to which a corporation promotes broadly-accepted values such as sustainable development, human rights, and so on. Unions have been very critical of CSR, seeing it as a poor substitute for genuine social dialogue and truly independent verification of corporations' compliance with accepted standards. Instead, the ITUC and global union federations have advocated a central role for trade unions, arguing that there can be no more effective monitor of corporate behavior than independent and democratic trade unions. There have been an increasing number of framework agreements signed in recent years between multinational enterprises and global union federations. The agreements vary widely in scope but usually include a corporation's acceptance of a legitimate role for unions and a recognition of core international labour standards, often mentioning ILO conventions 87 and 98 specifically. One of the first such framework agreements was signed in August 1988 between Danone, the French-based food multinational, and the IUF, the global union federation for the food sector. This was followed by agreements with such multinational enterprises as Ikea, Volkswagen, Daimler-Chrysler, Renault, Chiquita, Carrefour and H&M. While some see these framework agreements as being the first steps toward global collective bargaining, others have been more skeptical and in some cases have suspended the pursuit of further agreements. While a national collective bargaining agreement can be enforced both in a country's courts and by effective union action in the field (such as strikes), there is no clear enforcement mechanism for international framework agreements at present. In many cases, framework agreements and social dialogue are not enough and unions are forced to launch global campaigns to pressure corporations and governments – sometimes to recognize the most basic rights, such as the right to join a trade union. Many such campaigns have targetted well-known multinational ____________________________________________________________ Workers' Activities Programme (ACTRAV) ILO International Training Centre (10)

enterprises, while others have focussed on countries with a poor record of respecting workers' (and human) rights, such as Belarus, Colombia, Iran and Burma. (The ITUC publishes an annual report on violations of trade union rights around the globe which is compulsory reading for those who care about workers' rights.) Other campaigns have drawn attention to specific issues that span the globe, such as child labour, HIV/AIDS or gender equality. Some campaigns last only a few days while others have gone on for many years with no end in sight. Unions increasingly partner with others to reach a much wider public. Amnesty International has worked closely with unions on campaigns which focus on basic workers' rights, drawing attention to killings and imprisonment of trade unionists. Unions also partner with NGOs that focus on particular sectors, such as the Clean Clothes Campaign. The same information and communications technologies that have made globalization possible – and in particular email and the world wide web – have created a new kind of global campaign which takes place primarily online. A number of the global union federations have launched such campaigns using their websites and mailing lists, and several have partnered up with the news and campaigning webiste LabourStart to bring their concerns to a global online audience. These campaigns have had a powerful – and sometimes immediate – effect in many cases, leading to the release of jailed trade unionists, bringing corporations to the collective bargaining table, and achieving other union goals. The involvement of hundreds of thousands of trade unionists in these campaigns has created a world-wide grassroots activist network that was unimaginable only a few years ago.Resources Globalization: World Commission on the Social Dimension of Globalization – established by the ILO:—en/index.htm Wikipedia entry: Global governance:

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World Bank: International Monetary Fund: World Trade Organization: Global unions: International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC): Trade Union Advisory Committee to the OECD: Global Unions: Global campaigns: LabourStart: Amnesty International:

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