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Media Centre  |  COSATU Speeches

Address by COSATU General Secretary Zwelinzima Vavi to the CTUC on Globalisation and Social Justice: the Trade Union View

12 November 1999

Chairperson Rita Donaghy, President of the TUC
Honourary George Foulkes MP and Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for International Development, UK.
Distinguished guests
Comrades and friends

The theme chosen for this Commonwealth Heads of Governments Meeting "Globalisation and people centered development" reflects both a desire and a challenge we all face in the rapid and deepening process of globalisation.

To a growing number of the world citizens in particular from the developing nations, globalisation has become synonymous with the mostly negatives issues rather than the positives

The survey conducted by UNICEF and the UNDP on social spending in Africa reveals that only three countries in Africa are allocating more than 20% of budget funds for use on basic health care, education and nutrition a target set by the 1995 UN Social Summit in Copenhagen. According to Kofi Annan, the Secretary General of the UN, 44% of all Africans and 51% of these in Sub-Saharan Africa live in absolute poverty.

At the same time Africa's debt stock has increased from $344 billion to $350 billion in 1998, and is equivalent to more than 300% of exports of goods and services from Africa. The average African household today consumes 20% less than it did 25 years ago. Economic growth rates in the African continent continue to decline, as well as development assistance, which has dropped from $23 billion in 1992 to $18,7 billion in 1997.

On the other hand, according to the UNDP report, Americans spend more than $8 billion a year on cosmetics - $2 billion more than the estimated annual total needed to provide basic education for everyone in the world. In 1996 alone Ethiopia had a total foreign debt of $10 billion, whilst in the same year Europe spent $11 billion on ice cream alone! The three richest people in the world have assets that exceed the combined gross domestic product of the 48 least developed countries.

At the end of 1997 nearly 31 million people were living with HIV, up from 22,3 million the year before. With 16 000 new infections a day 90% percent in developing countries it is now estimated that 40 million people will be living with HIV in 2000.

The struggle for alternatives to the type of globalisation system is under these circumstances a struggle for the survival of human civilisation. To billions who have been on the receiving end of brutal global system, globalisation has meant:

  • Growing gap between the rich and the poor within nations and between nations in particular between the North and the South;
  • Destruction of quality jobs and their replacement by casualisation and temporal jobs brought to bear by a process of sub contracting of so called non core business activities;
  • Growing unemployment in particular in the developing countries, which goes hand in hand with poverty that itself leads to more social problems such as HIV/AIDS and violence;
  • Growing number and accidents of using children in the world of work without due regard to their health, well being and future;
  • Displacement of government's role in the economic and social responsibilities as a result of the growing power wielded by the multinational corporations who seek more mobility at the expense of nations development;
  • Intense competition between nations to attract the scarce investment and in the process involve themselves in a race to reach the bottom first and consequently trample on human and trade union rights.

No wonder that some citizens of the world are beginning to shout slogans such as "down with globalisation down with the WTO, IMF and World Bank."

Globalisation is an objective reality we face and it is here to stay, industrialisation process can not be altered. The challenge is not to push our heads into the sand like an ostrich or wish it away. The greatest challenge to humankind as we move closer to the 21 century is to make globalisation relevant to the ordinary people of the world. Currently it is not regarded as the savour of human kind but as the destruction of the gains won by the working people through many years of hard struggles and sacrifices.

A people centered development as the theme of this the 1999 Commonwealth Head of Governments Meeting should be a battle cry for all the human kind interested in contesting the direction of globalisation.

The Commonwealth Trade Union Council (CTUC) has sent a delegation of six senior leaders to this august CHOGM 1999 meeting. We have come to lobby governments about the need to take a new direction. We have compiled a submission for the 1999 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM). In this submission the CTUC is echoing the call of trade unions across the globe, for the globalisation of social justice. We have come here to make a call for the globalisation of core labour standards and human rights. For far too long social justice and people centered development has been absent in the debates about globalisation.

In this century we have seen lowering of labour standards mainly but not limited to Export Processing Zones where labour laws are suspended in the name of export promotion. We have also seen the creation of sweatshops by multinationals. In these conditions reports have been pouring in about the ill-treatment of workers, especially young women workers, who are required to work up to 18 hours a day, with appalling reports that workers are even refused to go to a toilet.

The majority of the members of the Commonwealth are the developing countries, the countries of the South. These are the countries that are underdeveloped and are crying for development. The children from these countries suffer from many diseases and malnutrition. Many of the inhabitants die from HIV/AIDS. Children cannot go to school because their education is no longer subsidised. The solution that has been imposed on the majority of these countries has been the Economic Structural Adjustment Programmes (ESAP's).

The ESAP's have resulted in heavy debt for those countries, removal of subsidies for social services, tariff liberalisation, all this to smoothen the entrance of MNC's. These countries have been promised that if they stick to the ESAP plan their economies would attract more investments and only good things can flow from there. For a long time these benefits have been hard to come by. Instead these countries are drifting further away from development, and their debt obligations increase yearly.

We need to define clearly what we mean when we call for the globalisation of social justice. Our starting point is a call to all the members of the Commonwealth to ensure that they ratify the core conventions of the International Labour Organisation (ILO). These conventions are:

  • conventions 29 and 105 on forced labour,
  • conventions 87 and 98 on the freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining,
  • conventions 100 and 111 on discrimination, and
  • conventions 138 and 182 on child labour.

These core conventions have been in the ILO system for a long time, but most governments have chosen to ignore them. Some governments have ratified most of these conventions but have failed to implement them. We call on our governments to not only ratify, but to also implement these conventions. We also call on governments to ratify other minimum standards conventions that deal with issues such as hours of work, maternity leave, and night work.

It is our belief that the ratification and implementation of the core conventions should be pre-requisites in any trade agreements that are signed by member states. Without this it means having to conduct trade with countries that use forced and child labour to produce goods. Such goods are then sold cheaply because they are produced through forced and child labour.

We also want to support the calls and efforts of the Jubilee 2000 campaign for the cancellation of debt. It is our belief that the, unfair terms of trade where developing countries produce primary goods and sell them at low prices for manufacturing and processing in the developed countries, and then buy the processed goods at higher prices, is grossly unfair. There can be no fair trade in such conditions, and our developing countries will forever be in debt if the situation is not turned around. We therefore call for the removal of unfair terms of trade.

We further call on those countries and governments that want to sell their gold reserves to refrain from doing that, because that will not help the developing countries it is intended to help. We will continue to campaign against gold sales until those who want to do that at the detriment of developing and poor countries abandon such plans. It will be very important for the Commonwealth member states to take a clear position on this issue.

A significant number of the Commonwealth member states are guilty of human and trade union rights violations. The statistics and cases that are quoted in the CTUC submission disturb us. It pains us that some governments and states do not appreciate the value and contribution of the working people in their economies. It is disturbing to us that the Commonwealth still has a soft spot for country like Swaziland, which has been sanctioned for years by the ILO for the violation of trade union rights.

If it was unacceptable to accommodate South Africa and Nigeria, and is unacceptable to accommodate Pakistan for the recent military coup, it surely should be unacceptable to accommodate countries that do not treat their working people fairly. We call upon the Commonwealth to pronounce itself on the violation of trade union rights in member countries. We also call upon the Commonwealth to take action against those member countries that fail to live up to the 1998 ILO declaration on the core conventions.

In conclusion we must say that all the demands made above will not be given on a silver platter. We will never be able to make any impact if we are not strong on the ground. This is a call to the trade union movement in the Commonwealth countries that we should organise and strengthen our local structures so as to strengthen the CTUC.

For the world to notice us we have to take up campaigns on all the issues that have been identified above. The unions in Africa have recently committed themselves to campaign on the 12th of April 2000 for an end to military governments that exist in the continent. We need to extend this campaign beyond the African continent.

We have to campaign against those governments that refuse to ratify the ILO conventions and continue to violate human and trade union rights. We need to take up campaigns for the scrapping of the third world debt, in collaboration with our governments and friendly social movements. For far too long the creditors have been the ones who have been offering solutions, which are no solutions. We support moves to get the highly indebted countries to define the terms of the debt relief measures.

In conclusion we must reiterate our call for the ratification by this Commonwealth Heads of Governments Meeting to ensure that human rights, including workers rights are fully respected. This is particularly true of the rights enshrined in the ILO Core Convention and in Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work. We as mass movement formations remain committed to a dialogue with all governments, which share our vision of a world free from unemployment, poverty, diseases and ignorance. We are calling for creation of platforms in each country to involve trade unions and other Non Governmental Organisations to discuss globalisation of this vision.

Thank you.

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