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The President : Delegates, we now move to the International section starting on page 88 of the General Council's Report. Paragraph 8.1? Paragraph 8.2? I now call Composite Motion 19, Ethical trading and fighting human rights abuses. Although the General Council supports this composite motion, I will be allowing the seconder to speak and also the other listed speakers as well as Garfield on behalf of the General Council.
Ethical trading and fighting human rights abuses
Mr Peter Donnellan (Public Services, Tax and Commerce Union)
moved the following composite motion:
(Insert Composite Motion 19)
He said: Congress, social justice has been a key theme of this week's debates. We have debated these issues against a background of our expectations from a Labour Government and our desire for a better Britain. But whilst social justice and fairness at work in the United Kingdom are, of course, essential, our Movement's concerns do not end there. Whilst injustice and exploitation exist anywhere in the world, there is a threat to social justice everywhere. Too often in the past the concerns of workers about labour conditions outside the western world has been the narrow one of the threat to jobs by cheap labour. My union rejects that approach. We do not believe it tackles the real problems.
What is needed in today's global marketplace is an ethical approach to labour standards, to trade, to investment and to the conduct of international companies. My union welcomes the fresh approach that the new Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, has brought to the Government's international trade policy. We believe his visit to Indonesia showed a willingness to begin to tackle embarrassing and often uncomfortable issues. We in the trade unions can take heart, I believe, from that determination and look again at the practical steps that we can take to get fair labour standards throughout the global marketplace. Tackling exploitation, harassment and the enslavement of children must, surely, be at the top of that list.
In South East Asia, Latin America and Africa, official estimates show that 200 million children below the age of 15 are working more than 15 hours a day, often in dangerous and life threatening conditions.
If you have ever drunk from a paper cup, kicked a leather football or bought an oriental carpet, you may well, unconsciously, have used a product of child labour. Within the media, child exploitation in Thailand is normally linked with the so-called sex industry, but child workers in Thailand are much more likely to make fashionable wood furniture, leather bags, cotton and silk garments and jewellery.
A raid on a Thai factory found young children working 15 hours a day in dreadful conditions. They had skin burns from the glue and were treated abysmally by their employer. Report after report by the ILO and the ICFTU document many examples of cruel exploitation of that sort. Of course, indignation and moral outrage are not enough, and they end up, all too often, as prostitutes.
The question is what we, as trade unions in Great Britain, can do in real terms? It certainly is not enough to hail just from the sidelines.
First, Congress, we should recognise that these issues are not straight forward - quite the reverse. They are immensely complex. At all stages we should think before we act and consult widely with the appropriate organisations. Many of the problems are rooted in the crippling poverty and debt, including the debt burdens faced by third world countries and the effect of capitalism in the world generally.
We ask the General Council to press for a new ILO Convention on Child Labour to be adopted next year and for trade agreements to be linked to the acceptance of human rights. We want the TUC to work with the international trade union Movement to negotiate codes of conduct with international companies to guarantee minimum labour standards and the role of unions. Yes, we do want to consider the appropriateness of product boycotts, but my union understands that they are not problem free. We want to work in partnership with our new Government. We want to build on the initiatives that Robin Cook spoke to us about this week. We believe we can make progress on an ethical approach to public sector purchasing, to trade agreements and to social labelling which will give consumers information about the conditions under which products are made. We believe that these are real practical steps that will begin to make a difference.
Mr George Brumwell (Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians) seconding the composite motion, said:
Colleagues, our Executive Council recently met an international delegation of fellow workers at which a UCATT bricklayer found himself sitting next to a brickmaker from the other side of the world. The bricklayer was a 50 year old man from Lancashire; the brickmaker was an 11 year old boy from Pakistan, a bonded labourer. The debt bondage system in Asia and Latin America is a form of slavery. Families and individuals who take out a loan in return for labour are ensnared, often forever. The interest rate set by the employer is so high that it can never be repaid from the poverty wages paid so the debt is simply inherited by the children who are then condemned themselves to a life of slavery.
In Pakistan the debt bondage system is illegal. The Bonded Labour System Abolition Act 1992 freed Pakistan's debt bonded labourers, yet 20 million Pakistanis, including 8 million children, remain in bondage because the Act is not enforced.
Ninety per cent of bonded workers come from the lowest castes whose existence is not even recognised in the Pakistan population census. Their masters act with impunity. Torture, corporal punishment and sexual abuse can be inflicted to punish escape attempts or to force them to work harder.
In 1993 Amnesty International documented the torture and rape inflicted on 50 women, 80 men and 90 children in just one of the many private prisons run by the agricultural landowners in the Sind Province. Chains, electrified fences and armed guards were all deployed to subjugate the bonded workforce. Children, who are easily controlled and highly profitable, are used both in the domestic and export sectors of Pakistan's economy. They can be found labouring in a host of industries including brick kilns, textile factories and agriculture. About 70 per cent of this child labour is directly involved in the import and export business.
As a result of child labour in south Asia, that area is providing cheap products and services to the developed world and to multinational companies. The profitability is such that the army of child labourers is growing day by day. Day by day more children lose their rights to freedom, education, play and pleasure. Day by day more children are being denied their childhood. More than that, they suffer from poverty, malnutrition and ill-health. Further, it is estimated that of the 50,000 children working in the carpet weaving industry, about 50 per cent die of overwork and diseases, such as TB, before they reach the age of 12.
Congress, we need to step up our support for organisations like the Bonded Labour Liberation Front of Pakistan, which takes great risks in struggling for the freedom of bonded workers, and for the liberation and education of child labourers. Goods and services provided by child or bonded labour must be boycotted. We need to ensure that the Government extend their foreign policy of human rights to ensure that the trade missions and agreements have human rights at their heart.
In the words of a young 12 year old Pakistani boy, who was murdered for his campaigning on child rights: "Children should be in schools learning and not being exploited in workshops".
Ms Jocelyn Prudence (Chartered Society of Physiotherapy): I speak in support of Composite 19. In a world of increasing globalisation where the race for profit is ever more intense, we desperately need a set of universal ground rules to fight against the appalling exploitation and human rights abuses which are continuing in many parts of the world. There will always be someone who can do the job cheaper. There are plenty of transnational companies which roam the globe in pursuit of the lowest possible labour costs looking for areas free of trade unions and workers rights. When that is not cheap enough, children and forced workers can do the job cheaper.
But we are not powerless in the fight against exploitation. As workers and consumers we can vote with our pockets. We can make choices about what we buy and where we invest our pension funds as trade union trustees. We can demand information about the conditions under which products are made and companies operate. If we can find out the nutritional content of food from labels and what goes into pharmaceutical products from the outside of the packet, do we not have the right to be informed about the human rights contents of goods? We must press hard for work on social labelling to advance so that we can decide for ourselves whether we want to buy things made from workers who are suffering from human rights abuses.
As trade unionists and pension fund trustees, we can exert substantial influence on the investments of our pensions funds. Billions of pounds are tied up in pensions funds and we can insist that ethical and social criteria are taken into account when deciding how this money is invested.
The Government's commitment to place ethics at the heart of foreign trade is a welcome change of attitude but, as we all know, commitment without action is meaningless and we must look to the Government to show leadership internationally and domestically. We can ask the Government to commit to the ethical Movement by asking its own public services to take account -- to make a social check -- of what goes into the products they use and buy. We can ask the Government to press hard for minimum labour standards to be built into international trade agreements. We can ask the Government to press hard for international codes of conduct for companies to protect basic workers rights, and these must be independently monitored and verified.
We know that there are no easy answers to the complex problem of child labour, and we know we need effective strategies to end labour abuses and not to make them worse. The new ILO Convention on Child Labour, which we are all hoping for next year, will be crucial in this quest. But we must support this ourselves as consumers and trade unionists. We must support the ethical Movement and vote with our pocket, campaign internationally and campaign for our Government to play centre stage in this struggle.
Mr Tony Robinson (British Actors Equity Association): We are lending critical support to this motion along with a number of other delegates. We believe that if we are going to be serious about trying to end the scourge of child labour rather than it being a little emotive indulgence which we all partake in at the end of Conference each year, we require an analysis and a strategy. We believe that that is, sadly, lacking from this motion which has been composited out of all recognition.
The first thing, surely, that we require in a strategy towards the ending of child labour is that we should listen to the voices of the communities in which that child labour takes place. Suppose you come from a community where the whole culture has been based on children working for centuries and centuries. How are you going to feel when a bunch of white folk in Brighton tell you what you are going to do and what you are not going to do? Suppose your whole economy is in a state of collapse and is only just held together by the work that children do? How are you going to feel about our talk of bans and boycotts?
For centuries millions of children throughout the world have had to work. In our own society today children work, for example, by delivering newspapers and cleaning cars. Today children are working on the land throughout the world. There are child dancers and child violinists. In Equity we ourselves represent hundreds of children who do a fine job working on television. Are we really suggesting that we ban Biker Grove and Grange Hill?
One of the first things we need is a clear and adequate definition of what we mean by "child labour".
What about an analysis? Why does child labour exist? It does not happen by magic. Any intelligent child in the developing world will tell you that when capital is squeezed, the first people it looks towards for extra profit are the poor, the voiceless and the disenfranchised. In other words, in this case, children.
Every time the IMF or the World Bank decline to reschedule world debt and every time our politicians and bankers collude in this, and every time we collude in it via our pension funds, it is the young people throughout the world who suffer.
A global march against child labour is scheduled for 1998. I know that already many unions have signed up to it. I hope that by 1998 you will all have signed up to it. I urge you to read the 7 point plan, but essentially it asks us all to try and break the mindset of all of us concerning child labour, both in the developed world and in the developing world. It asks us all to raise awareness about child labour, to help in educating people who employ children, to reform social and cultural practices as well, obviously, as asking for the immediate elimination of the most exploitative and dangerous aspects of child labour.
I ask you to support the global march against child labour, to look at that 7 point plan and to come back next year not just with a political wish list but with a clear analysis and strategy so that we can help to defeat this scourge. Children throughout the world deserve no less.
Mr Garfield Davies (General Council): The General Council are asking you unanimously, without qualification, to support Composite 19. The General Council are not asking you to do this for any sympathetic indulgence but because of the plight of children throughout the world.
It is a pity that Equity misses the point of our struggle on behalf of millions of children throughout the world. For years we have been at the forefront of the campaign being waged by the international trade union Movement, to enable working people to secure basic human rights in their employment. For years, internationally as well as nationally, in Tory Britain we seemed for so long to be crying in Thatcher's wilderness where concepts of morality and community were regarded as irrelevant. But now our voice is being heard and our campaign is taking off. People are no longer taken in by the morally indefensible. Increasing numbers will not put up with it. They realise that in large parts of the world working and living conditions still exist which are no better than the darkest moment of our own industrial revelation.
Even today, as the Archbishop reminded us, children are born into slavery and are worked to early death without ever having a chance to grow into adult human beings.
Our stand for human rights in employment, for freedom from bonded and child labour, for freedom of association, and for freedom from discrimination, is appreciated by increasing numbers of people as being entirely just. They know, as we know, that there is no need for the injustice which treats workers as of less value than machines or raw materials. People are not units of production, they are human beings, and must be treated as such, throughout the whole of the world. We now see many signs that people in Britain are indeed prepared to forgo the advantages of low prices in order to demonstrate that exploitation must be abolished. Growing numbers of companies are responding to ethical pressures, and they also realise that good employment practice also makes good commercial sense. They appreciate that treating employees with respect and human dignity, and enabling them to have a voice at work, does not impede productivity or reduce profit. In fact it promotes them.
This moral and dignified approach weakens oppression wherever it raises its ugly head, and there is no doubt that this is the reason for the continuing opposition to the regimes in Indonesia, Nigeria and Sudan. That is why these regimes fear the growth of trade unions and do all they can to prevent trade union development, but they will not succeed in their repression. Trades unions will eventually succeed in those countries, as they have elsewhere, and will become the cutting edge of the struggle for democratic freedom.
Renewed sensitivity of ethical considerations is in tune with the national mood that swept Labour to power on May 1st. We warmly welcome the commitment of the New Labour Government to promote human rights and all its international policies. We will not have any hesitation in urging Robin Cook and his ministerial colleagues to encourage ethical trading and investment, to see that the massive influence of the British public bodies as purchasers of goods and services is used on the side of justice and human rights.
We want to see our trade missions used properly to serve the British people's economic and political interest, in justice and in peace in the developing world. We are already discussing with government the most effective ways of progressing the ILO agenda for social labelling, for a new convention to help eradicate child bonded labour and all the most oppressive and inhuman forms of child labour. We are working with anti‑slavery and non‑governmental organisations to see that the operation of codes of conduct for companies are independently monitored. We are playing a full part in the national and international discussions in the trade union Movement with the government and with the NGOs to develop effective monitoring mechanisms.
This is my last formal speech as TUC spokesman for international affairs. I have been privileged to speak for the TUC, for this Congress, in the bodies of the ICFTU and the ETUC. I have appreciated the keen interest you have shown in the approaches to the General Council on these issues covered in our report. I am very happy to say that in the six years I have spoken for the General Council there has been immense progress towards international trade union unity throughout the ICFTU. It will be enhanced later this year by the admission of COSATU from South Africa.
With a changed British governmental climate, I am sure the TUC will make great progress for workers and their families, both in Britain and throughout the world. I wish you every best wish and good luck to you all.
* The composition motion was CARRIED.
Mr Steve Sinnott (National Union of Teachers) speaking to paragraph 8.3 said: I wish in particular to concentrate on the section on Ethiopia on page 92. The paragraph that deals with Ethiopia, and the language contained within it, is indeed chilling, and it describes the way in which the Ethiopian Teachers Association has been treated by the Ethiopian Government. The language describes the way in which the President of the Ethiopian Teachers Association has been imprisoned and manacled, and goes on to describe the murder of the Deputy General Secretary of the Ethiopian Teachers Association. The Deputy General Secretary of the Ethiopian Teachers Association was, in fact, assassinated by the security forces within that country.
The International Centre for Teachers, Education International, whose language is always moderate but describes the way in which the Ethiopian Government was treating the Ethiopian Teachers Union, described it as being moved against, excluded and destroyed by using the forces of assassination, of murder, and of violence. Whilst the General Secretary of the Ethiopian Teachers Association was out of Ethiopia, visiting the National Union of Teachers and visiting the TUC, his deputy was assassinated. Indeed, it was likely that if he had remained in his country he too would have met the same fate.
Mr Gemoraw Kassa has asked me to speak to this paragraph here at Congress and to make just a few specific points. First of all, he has asked me to relay his thanks and the thanks of his Association to the General Council for their support during the course of the past twelve months and beyond. They are very, very grateful indeed for the support that has been given by the General Council. They also wish to make a further request of the General Council which is that it do everything that is possible to ensure that the ICFTU supports those organisations within the country that still exist, that are seeking to promote free trades unionism and that are independent of the government -- organisations such as the ETA. They ask that you do that with considerable vigour.
I am sure that you will meet that very important request from the Ethiopian Teachers Association and I am sure that I would be right in being able to take the greetings of this Congress back to Mr Gemoraw Kassa and his organisation.
The President : I am sure you will join with me in giving a very warm welcome to the European Social Affairs Commissioner, Padraig Flynn, who will be joining us on the platform now and speaking to Congress a little later. (Applause)
Mr Wayne Sloane (Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians) speaking to paragraph 8.3 said: I speak to that part of the paragraph concerning Southern Africa. Shortly after our last Congress, fifteen construction workers were brutally murdered in Southern Africa at the hands of the Lesotho police. This appalling slaughter of striking trades unionists took place at the Lesotho Highland Water project, a government contract awarded to a consortium of contractors, including the British company Balfour Beatty.
The long running dispute erupted into violence after contractors invited the intervention of the Royal Mounted Lesotho Police to protect government property. Amnesty International reported that the police stormed the workers' camp using tear gas and then opening fire with live ammunition. Injuries among the fifteen dead and thirty wounded indicated that they were shot while attempting to reach a safe haven. Among those arrested was a driver who tried to use a company ambulance to assist the injured and was shot by police.
There has been much talk of partnership this week. For UCATT, one of the most important partnerships we seek to sustain is our friendship with fellow building workers around the world. UCATT's General Secretary, George Brumwell, will be leading the delegation from the International Federation of Building and Wood Workers to Lesotho in November in order to make representations to the British High Commission and Lesotho Government. The delegation will also make a donation to the families of the murdered workers.
Chair, I would like to ask whether the General Council will support representations to the Lesotho Government condemning these murderous attacks and seeking assurances that basic civil rights will be upheld in future. We would also ask the General Council to add its weight to the call for adequate compensation for the families.
Finally, the African representative at the IFBWW has been warned against entering Lesotho because of fears for his safety. Will the General Council endeavour to seek a guaranteed safety for the IFPWW delegation in November?
Mr Garfield Davies (General Council): I can assure Congress that the General Council will continue to protest about the gross violation of basic rights in Ethiopia, will continue to make further representations through the ICFTU, the ILO and also make direct representations to the government.
As far as Lesotho is concerned, the delegate and Congress can rest assured that the TUC will do all that it can in order to secure compensation for the just claims that have been made for the grievous loss of those in Lesotho. We do this through the ICFTU and other trade union organisations throughout the world.
Mr Jeremy Day (National Union of Journalists) speaking to paragraph 8.4 said: I refer in particular to the opening paragraph of paragraph 8.4 which relates to a major dispute in Detroit. I have just recently returned from paying a solidarity visit to that dispute and would like to take a brief moment to update people on what is happening.
I was visiting to show NUJ support for striking newspaper workers at the Detroit Free Press and News and to join in a major action called Action Motown 97 which was a weekend of union activity against Gannett and KnightRidder, the owners of the two papers which operate in the city as a kind of cartel. I could not have arrived at a better time because the court had just released a 108 page report on the strike, finding the employers guilty of ten out of the twelve charges of breaching US labour law and of provoking the strike by bargaining in bad faith.
The court ruled on top of that that the company must reinstate the 2500 locked‑out workers, dispose of the 2000 scabs they had hired and pay more than $30 million in back pay to the striking workers and to bargain in good faith with the unions. Of course, that provoked some euphoria on the picket line the day I arrived, but things are not over yet. The company is appealing, going back to the courts, dragging the process out, hoping that the strikers will give up. The unions are going back to court to get a federal injunction to try and force the company to take the workers back on whilst the appeal goes through.
The Detroit strike which began in July 1995, when the employers tried to force through redundancy, cuts in pay and de‑recognition of one of the seven unions at the paper, is like nothing I have seen. The company employs its own private army to guard its premises, to harass and intimidate pickets, strikers and their families. Hundreds have been hospitalised, beaten or arrested, including the local Bishop, the President of the newspaper union, the President of the Detroit City Council and the Vice President of the AFL‑CIO who, of course, spoke to Congress last year.
Local police have been reported in other newspapers as having been paid to protect the company and the scabs.
The support from the community is amazing. The strikers have launched their own newspapers which regularly outsells the other newspaper. After the court ruling the strikers rushed out a special edition of their newspaper.
Of course, we have been very proud of the support we have given. We organised a tour for one of the strikers last year to come to Britain and, on the action I went to, there were 100,000 trades unionists from across America, from Britain, from France, from Canada, from the Americas, showing their support for that important struggle.
It is a vital struggle, given the globalisation of these companies. It has implications for us all, certainly all of us in the media industry, and I would like to urge the General Council and all the unions here to give whatever support they can and to continue to support those strikers. A victory for them is a victory for all workers.
Mr Charles James (GMB) speaking to paragraph 8.4 said: I was born in Monserrat in the West Indies where the volcano has devastated the island. This problem has been going on for two years. I have noticed that nothing has been said about it at Congress. We spoke here about trade unionists, world‑wide. It seems to me that we have many trades unionists within Monserrat. Some have died, some have lost properties, some have lost families. We speak about unity, we speak about solidarity, and when the time comes I see solidarity is only a word that has no meaning.
The question is, as trades unionists when we speak about solidarity, what is the TUC doing about it? Those people need help. This week for the last few days we have two women, worlds apart but they left the world a legacy that you and I might fulfil. I speak about Diana; I speak about Mother Teresa. They are two women of different backgrounds and worlds apart and yet they have left the world a legacy for you and I. Each in her own right showed what it is like to live a life of humanity, what it is like to live a life of concern for all mankind.
I am saying to you, Congress, with all the compassion in my heart I am saying to you, let Congress send a message not only to this government, not only to Clare Short, but I want you to show compassion, I want you to show dignity, and I want you to show a message of love. I want you to show the people not only of Monserrat but of the whole world that the Conference and Congress are concerned. I am asking you with true love in my heart to help them to overcome this problem, not only in words but also in deeds, by setting up some kind of fund through which you can help these people.
It is devastating when people are baked like sardines and, when they go to bury them, they actually have to break their arms to bury them. I ask you in God's name for help.
Mr Garfield Davies (General Council): I am absolutely sure that there is no one in this hall who is unsympathetic to the plight of the people of Monserrat. We have seen the devastation that has been taking place as a result of that continuing eruption by the volcano in Monserrat and the disaster that is taking place throughout the whole of the island. I was at a meeting only a few nights ago with Clare Short, with Amnesty International, and Charlie James was at the same meeting. It was reported that the situation was getting worse and scientists are now feeling that the consequences of that eruption are going to be much greater than was previously thought. Certainly the TUC will be doing all that it can.
I can advise Congress that the Musicians Union has already set up a fund to which contributions are being made to assist the people of Monserrat, and that they are arranging for a massive concert to take place at the Albert Hall to raise further funds to support the people of Monserrat.
The TUC will certainly send a message of solidarity and give them whatever help we can in the plight that they now face on that island.
Mr Ralph Gayton (UNISON) speaking to paragraph 8.5 said: I am speaking to that part of paragraph 8.5 which refers to the Middle East.
Shaher Sa'ed, who is the General Secretary of the Palestinian General Federation of Trades Unions, should have been here as a guest this week but he has been caught up in the latest round of border closures and is not even able to leave his home town of Nablus. I know Shaher Sa'ed very well, which is why I am here this morning to take the opportunity of speaking on this paragraph.
I want to thank the General Council for the action which they have taken since the resolution in 1996, and their visit to the area. I know that the Palestinian unions were encouraged by that contact.
Two years ago I was a member of a UNISON delegation which went to Gazza and the west bank to make an assessment of the progress towards peace. We found a widespread desire for peace at all levels of Palestinian society. The desire was not uncritical, nor was it wildly optimistic, but wherever we went the message was the same: we want peace, we hope for peace. However, since then the situation has changed, and the Peace Congress which was always fragile is now in danger of total collapse.
Following the assassination of Prime Minister Rabin the extreme right came to power in Israel and the mood changed from one of a positive search for agreement to one of confrontation and provocation. Regrettably this has played into the hands of the extremist minority on the other side who, for their own reasons, also want to destroy the peace process.
Misguided and criminal acts have been exploited by Prime Minister Netanyahu to put the onus on to the Palestinians. 1997 marks thirty years of Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands, 30 years of political and economic bondage, 30 years of the absence of social progress, 30 years of colonisation and confiscation. We say 30 years is enough, and my union asks the General Council, and indeed all unions here, to continue to increase the efforts to promote the peace process under the Oslo Accords. Its failure is likely not just to continue the injustice to the Palestinians but to blow open the whole of the Middle East conflicts once again, which could have untold dangers for the world as a whole.
Mr Garfield Davies (General Council): Ralph Gayton referred to the TUC delegation which I led earlier this year, both to Israel and Palestine, where we met representatives of the Histadrut and the Palestinian trade union Movement. Of course, he is quite right, there has been a change of government there which has worsened the situation. But we within the TUC are still working closely with the Palestinians and the Israelis to advance the peace progress and hope it does not break down, because it is the trades unions, the men, women and their children, who will suffer as a result.
The TUC will continue to do all it can to support the trades unionists on both sides of the border.
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