The Real Enemy is the WTO, Not China
by Anuradha Mittal and Peter Rosset*
After a successful battle in Seattle, free trade opponents in the
United States have launched the next big fight: No Permanent Most Favored Nation Status
for China. Even before Seattle, China's possible integration into the World Trade
Organization (WTO), with the signing of a bilateral trade agreement with the U.S., had
intensified the debate on human rights in China.
The AFL-CIO recently announced a major new multi-year campaign, beginning with the
mobilization of working families around the Congressional vote on permanent normal trade
relations for China. AFL-CIO President John Sweeney declared China to be one of the worst
offenders of human rights in the world, using executions and even torture to maintain
order and violating workers' rights. He cited the fact that China has not yet ratified the
two United Nations Covenants on human rights it agreed to sign before President Clinton's
trip to China in 1998. Finally, the AFL-CIO released the Hart Research Survey which
indicates that 65% of the registered voters in the U.S. oppose giving China permanent
The debate over China's accession to the WTO and the granting most favored nation status
is a crucial one to examine, if we are committed to building an international coalition
against economic policies which work against the interests of the world's working poor.
This attack on China is a disservice to those in developing countries who are challenging
their own governments to ensure basic human rights for all. Third World opponents of the
WTO have to defend themselves against unfounded accusations, along with the other
protestors who were in Seattle, of working against the interests of the poor, and of
promoting a U.S. agenda.
The present approach in the U.S., as expressed by the debate on China, labor standards and
child labor, is seen by Third World countries as clearly framed to suit rich countries.
Northern countries would write a social clause into the WTO, and as a result child labor
would be banned (without any guarantee that parents could find jobs), but inhuman
treatment of migrant farm workers and other unfair labor practices in the U.S. would not.
In fact, linking labor and environmental standards to the WTO would be like a double
whammy for developing countries. While the WTO trading rules will open the economies of
the poor countries to foreign investment, products and services, Western countries would
be able to shut off imports almost at will from any Third World country by invoking these
standards. The Third World rightly fears that Northern countries are less motivated by
real concern for children and the environment than they are interested in maintaining
mechanisms that favor them in trade.
Most Third World environmentalists and labor groups have consistently opposed trade
sanctions as a way of enforcing environmental and labor rules, because trade sanctions are
inherently an inegalitarian tool. They can only be used by rich countries against the poor
countries. Any attempt on part of India or Nigeria or Brazil to apply trade sanctions
against the U.S., ironically the world's biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, would not
get very far.
The way the debate on China has been phrased so far, it is a good reflection of the unjust
distribution of power in our unipolar world. Private side deals with the U.S. and the
European Union are the pre-conditions for China's entry into a global body, despite
support from most other nations. The drum beat villainizing China on grounds of its human
rights records legitimizes claims by the Third World that the U.S. will impose Western
values every time it's self-interest is in play. While the Chinese will suffer from their
government's rush to enter the WTO, the Third World will never support an imperial system
that gives one country--the U.S.--veto power. Yet that only scratches the surface of the
contradictions surrounding this issue.
Those castigating China and other developing countries need to recognize that is
hypocritical for the U.S. using trade sanctions to punish countries that violate human
rights. They forget the fact that the U.S. itself has yet to ratify the International
Covenant for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), the Convention on the Rights
of the Child as well as the Convention of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women
(CEDAW). It is not coincidental that the only industrialized country to reject basic human
rights also boasts the highest disparity between the rich and poor, and the highest child
poverty rate. And yet, the U.S. assumes moral authority when it comes to human rights.
Anyone who is opposed to the Chinese joining the WTO, or being granted most favored nation
status on the grounds of human rights, needs to be reminded that the U.S. has, in many
instances, acted like the rogue nations it criticizes. Since when has the U.S economic
system become the paragon of virtue? Maybe other WTO members should be offended by the
quasi-slavery conditions faced by farm workers in parts of the U.S., or by prison labor
and sweatshops here in America. Any member country could say that U.S. law, which makes it
possible to execute a teenager or a grandmother, is an offense against humanity. These and
other charges might form the justification for an embargo on U.S. exports or for its
expulsion from the WTO!
It is not surprising that Western labor unions are concerned about the growing number of
jobs leaving their countries. But they need to point the finger at U.S. support for trade
agreements such as the WTO and NAFTA, rather than at other countries. Let's not forget
that NAFTA-- with its labor side agreement--eliminated over 400,000 jobs in the U.S., and
drove some 28,000 small businesses in Mexico out of business. According to a report put
out by the U.S. Department of Commerce in February 2000, the manufacturing sector alone
lost 341,000 jobs in 1999. Job losses accelerated in 1999 because of the rapid growth of
imports from the NAFTA countries as well as China, Japan and Western Europe that competed
with goods produced by U.S. manufacturing industries. The WTO and NAFTA are the direct
cause of unemployment and poor working conditions, not the tool to correct these problems!
Instead of adding hollow social clauses we should block these inhuman treaties.
We need to question the leadership of the American labor movement--as they support
anti-labor, pro-free trade, Al Gore for President, who claims to support both 'free trade'
and 'union solidarity'--without any recognition of the contradictions between them. The
labor movement in the U.S. needs to be politically free, able to publicly criticize U.S.
policies which hurt working people everywhere, instead of receiving subsidies from the
USAID. One might ask what role U.S. labor's long anti-communist tradition plays in China
If we can accept that corporate globalization will never be effectively countered without
a global movement that crosses North-South boundaries, then the American labor and
environmental movement needs to give up its single-country bashing history. Of course it
is appropriate to castigate China or any other country for accepting only those human
rights that suit the regime's political and economic interests. The Universal Declaration
of Human Rights was drafted to reflect universal aspirations and standards for human
dignity. However, a campaign on China is not going to benefit workers in either country.
The bottom line is that while China should have the same right as any nation to join the
WTO, we should recognize that in fact the WTO is bad for people everywhere, whether they
are Chinese, American, Mexican or Indian. It's not China joining the WTO that hurts
America workers--it is the WTO itself.
* Anuradha Mittal and Peter Rosset are based at Food First/The Institute for Food
and Development Policy < http://www.foodfirst.org>
in Oakland, CA.
Asian Consultation on Tourism and
Participants at "Asian Consultation on Tourism and Coalition
Building" representing 11 countries, urgently called upon the Ecumenical Coalition on
Third World Tourism (ECTWT) and its sponsoring and supporting bodies, including the World
Council of Churches on network in tourism, to respond immediately to the negative social
impact of Tourism. In their consultation statement, the participants called for an
increase the struggle and efforts to ensure that this dynamic explosion in the volume of
the tourism will:
Not encroach upon and erode the rights of the access and control of
the lives of those effected, their resources and the habitat.
Not add to the commodification and packaging of the native cultures
Not have occasion negative consequences to host or guest
Not be monopolised by a privileged class intent on dominating and
exploiting select destinations.
Not be unthinking, consumerist, irresponsible or motivated solely by
greed and financial considerations.
Be equitable in out looking, promoting justice, peace and harmony
between the participating communities.
Take the lead in building a common platform and meeting place for
continence of the North/ South dialogue and partnership.
Work towards more equitable distribution of the resources and
receipts derived from tourism between destinations and port - of departure countries.
The consultation was organised by the Ecumenical Coalition on Third
World Tourism (ECTWT), from the 21st -23rd February 2000, Hong Kong. The ECTWT is a Non
Governmental Organisation established by the Seven Regional Ecumenical bodies in 1980's
which aims to challenge and question the unprecedented growth and importance of the
Green light for Singapore's first public
forum on human rights
Singaporean police has given the go-ahead to the first public
discussion on human rights to be held in the republic on March 10.
Think Centre, the NGO which is organising the forum, was told by an officer from the
licensing division yesterday that their application for the gathering had been approved.
Previously, the organisers were warned by the police against organising a public forum
without a police permit.
Entitled "Every Singaporean matters", speakers at the forum will be
constitutional law specialist Val Winslow, Aware president Khoo Heng Keow, Asian Human
Rights Commission programme coordinator Sinnapan Samydorai and Singapore Democratic Party
leader Dr Chee Soon Juan.
The forum is part of a series of public political discussions in Singapore jointly
co-ordinated by the Think Centre, a political research NGO and political discussion group
James Gomez from Think Centre expects the forum to draw a strong crowd. "Participants
can register online at www.politics21.mainpage.net
or via e-mail." he said.
He said that one of the key issues to be discussed at the public forum will be the need to
set up a National Human Rights Commission in Singapore, in response to similar commissions
being established in other Southeast Asian countries.
A recent spate of liberalisation in the city-state's financial and telecommunication
sectors has created an expectation that state-society relations are slowly loosening up in
Recognise domestic maids as 'workers',
-[Ajinder Kaur, Malaysiakini 2/3/00]
Non-governmental organisations concerned with the plight of foreign
workers urged the government to recognise domestic maids as workers to enable them to be
covered by the Employment Act.
"The first thing that has to be changed is that domestic work must be recognised as
'work' so that foreign domestic maids come under the purview of the Employment Act that
provides for other workers," Tenaganita director Irene Fernandez said.
According to Fernandez, the current situation today discriminates against foreigners
employed here as domestic maids. They are categorised into an informal sector leaving them
unprotected by any legislation.
"Most of these maids do not receive any wages in the first three to six months of
their employment because they have to repay their employers who had forwarded money to the
recruiting agencies on their behalf," Fernandez said.
She added that there is a clause in the Employment Act which specifies that employers are
not allowed to deduct more that 50 percent of a worker's salary in a month.
"This can, however, only be applied to these domestic maids from overseas if they are
covered by the Act," she said, after speaking at a "Consultation on Measures to
Prevent the Violent Assault/Sexual Assault/Abuse of Foreign Domestic Workers" held in
The event, jointly organised by Tenaganita and the Labour Resource Centre, was aimed at
addressing strategies for redressing the current circumstances of domestic workers. There
are growing reports of horrendous abuse, sexual harassment and rapes of domestic maids by
Fifteen representatives from 10 organisations, including the Philippines Embassy, Suaram,
Wanita Pertubuhan Jemaah Islah Malaysia, MCA Complaints Bureau and Amnesty International
Malaysia attended the event.
"We analysed a set of four recommendations today which we will put into a memorandum
to be handed over to the government, especially the Human Resources Ministry and the Home
Affairs Ministry," said Asian Partnership on International Migrant coordinator Saira
The recommendations today included the needs to have a standardised contract for all
foreign domestic maids, to develop more support groups and shelters, as well as to review
the recruitment process.
"The government must coordinate a policy for a post-arrival orientation programme for
these maids. The orientation should include the recruiting agencies and the employers as
well," said Fernandez, adding that a number of organisations were willing to develop
the content of the programme.
The programme would allow newly-arrived domestic maids to be made aware of the situation
in the country and provide a forum to their queries.
"Indonesian maids are given a pre-departure orientation in their home country. The
programme, however, focuses mainly on technical working skills such as how to use home
appliances. They are also advised to be submissive and to obey their employers in order
not to tarnish the name of their country," Fernandez said.
She stated that it was time for long-term comprehensive policies to be implemented.
"We do not want ad-hoc policies. There has to be preventive measures to address the
problems, which have been arising since the 1980s," she said.
WORLD MARCH 2000:
MARCH WITH EYES WIDE OPEN WITHDRAW SUPPORT ON REGARDING 1949 CONVENTION:
SAY NO TO DEMAND V-6!!
This year an action project is being organised called the World March
for Women. It is being organised by a Canadian group La Federation Femmes de Quebec <http://www.ffq.qc.ca/>. It involves a co-ordinated
series of national, regional and international actions by women's groups around the world,
starting on March 8th (International Women's Day) and culminating in a world rally on
October 17th 2000. The focus of the action is on poverty and violence against women.
The Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women (GAATW) supports the idea of a world march
for women, and believes it is an important and timely event to mark the international
solidarity of women and demand recognition and action on women's human rights. However,
GAATW is concerned about one of the demands, Demand V-6 being made regarding the issue of
trafficking in women:
V-6. That mechanisms be established to implement the 1949
Convention for the Suppression of Traffic in Persons
and of the Exploitation of Prostitution of Other,
taking into account recent relevant documents such as
the two resolutions of the UN General Assembly (1996)
concerning trafficking in women and girls and violence
against migrant women.
As an NGO that works specifically on trafficking, GAATW has studied the 1949 Convention on
Trafficking extensively. We are highly critical of this treaty, and our criticism stems
from the nature of the Convention itself, its lack of definition of trafficking, its
failure to distinguish trafficking from prostitution and its failure in recognizing
women's agency. Where laws and policies have been enacted in accordance with the 1949
Convention, they have had a negative impact on trafficked women and women in the sex
industry. For these reasons, GAATW does not support any measures to improve the
implementation of the 1949 Convention. We feel increased implementation will have the
1) Trafficking will remain tied to prostitution. Persons who are trafficked for many
purposes outside of prostitution, such as domestic work, forced marriage or sweatshop
labour, will not be dealt with at all under the 1949 Convention.
2) The reality of women in prostitution will not be addressed. The 1949 Convention
considers prostitution an 'evil'; incompatible with the dignity and worth of the human
person and morally unacceptable even with the women's consent. Such an approach is not
applicable to the current situation of women working in the sex industry. Particularly
now, in times of globalisation, economic hardship and the feminisation of poverty, for
many women the reality is a daily struggle for survival of themselves and their families.
In this context, sex work has become a viable means of earning income, especially for
poorer women from developing countries who do not have the same opportunities for
employment as men in their home countries or abroad.
3) A toleration and crime control approach to prostitution will continue. This has a
negative disempowering impact on
a) sex workers The 1949 Convention focuses on the punishment of third parties: procurers,
persons exploiting prostitution and brothel owners, regardless of the woman's age or
consent. Prostitution per se is not a crime under the 1949 Convention, and women working
in prostitution are not to be criminalised. This is ambiguous and hypocritical, because
the reality is that the laws and measures which follow from the 1949 Convention do target
women in the sex industry. Coupled with this, the nature of sex work is such that third
parties are often required by sex workers for their own protection; personal and economic
security. In sex work, not all third parties exploit and abuse women, though in
trafficking the third party/ies are always exploitative. The criminalisation of such third
parties without distinguishing trafficking from prostitution is very damaging and
dangerous for women in the sex industry.
b) women trafficked into prostitution In any case, criminalisation of prostitution does
not in reality abolish the sex industry or stop the trafficking of women into
prostitution. Where the 1949 position is implemented, the sex industry is driven
underground, so trafficked women and sex workers are in an even more vulnerable position.
They are more likely to suffer from bad working conditions, and be open to violence and
abuse without avenues of recourse. Under such circumstances, the problem of trafficking of
women into prostitution continues to occur and in fact often becomes even more widespread.
4) Subsequent resolutions will not be "taken into account". The two resolutions
Demand V-6 refers to are A/RES/51/65 on violence against women migrant workers and
A/RES/51/66 on traffic in women and girls. In regard to A/RES/51/66 it is unlikely to be
'taken into account' as called for by the World March because the subject matter and
purpose of the 1949 Convention and the Resolution are very different. The 1949 treaty only
deals with trafficking into the sex industry, and it's aim was to stop the movement of
women within and across borders into prostitution, it is anti-migration of women. The
Resolution is pro-migration, in its call for human rights protection in regard to migrant
workers. It seems infeasible for a resolution of such a different standpoint to the 1949
Convention to be incorporated into the treaty.
A/RES/51/66 considers trafficking largely (but not exclusively) in the context of
prostitution. If this resolution is implemented through the 1949 Convention on Trafficking
then the protections proposed will only apply to women trafficked for prostitution.
It is true that one of the more problematic factors of the 1949 Convention is the lack of
protection it affords to victims of trafficking. The subsequent resolutions make
recommendations to curb this effect, yet it is GAATW's belief that if such resolutions are
framed in the context of 1949 they will really be of very limited value.
WHAT CAN WE DO ABOUT IT?
Part of the World March campaign is a signatory campaign in support of the demands of the
World March for Women. GAATW calls for people supporting the World March or signing the
campaign TO WITHDRAW SUPPORT ON DEMAND V-6 IN REGARD TO THE 1949 CONVENTION.
GAATW proposes a new instrument on trafficking grounded in human rights protection for
trafficked persons be recommended instead of the 1949 Convention.
In this regard, GAATW in collaboration with International Human Rights Law Group (USA) and
Foundation Against Trafficking in Women (Netherlands) has developed the Human Rights
Standards for the Treatment of Trafficked Persons to be used as a guideline for
governmental action on the treatment of trafficked persons.
More information on this document and the 1949 Convention can be obtained from:
GAATW: 191 Sivalai Condominium, Itsaraphap Rd, Soi 33, Bangkok 10600 Thailand.
Tel.(662) 864 1427-8, Fax.(662) 864 1637 E-mail: email@example.com
People's Forum 2000
Theme: Time for Fullness of Life for All
Venue: North Sulawesi, Indonesia
Date: 23-30 May 2000
Organised in conjunction with the 11th General Assembly of the Christian Conference of
Asia, the Forum will bring together Church workers, social activists, representatives
of peasants and labour organizations from all over Asia to share their experiences of
struggles. They will also identify and analyze common issues which affect the greatest
number of people in Asia such as liberal trade, foreign debt, repression of race
minorities, caste and indigenous people. It is hoped that the Forum will also build up and
strengthen mutual understanding among these sectors and the Churches in Asia.
Organsied by the Urban Rural Mission, the People's Forum has been a regular pre-assembly
programme since 1973.
The People's Forum 2000 will be focusing mainly on four issues:
* The ideology and theology of URM in the new millennium
* Globalization , Foreign Debt and its impact in society
* Religion and violence
* CCA-URM beyond 2000
For more information on this Forum contact Rev. Josef Widyatmadja: