ITUC OnLine – September 8, 2014

This article was produced by the International Trade Union Confederation. To visit ITUC on the web click here.

Rights Under Unprecedented Attack in the Arab World

Brussels, 8 September 2014 (ITUC OnLine): Human rights are under sustained and unprecedented attack across the Arab world, as thousands of young people, members of a generation of dispossessed, are drawn into the vicious embrace of violent jihadists seeking to bring the entire region under their control. 

The conditions for the current crisis in the region, described by UN Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay as the “murderous summer” of 2014, represent a collective failure of government, both within the region and in the international community. 

“Islamic State” which has received huge financial support from within the Gulf State monarchies is now building its own financial base through robbery, extortion, human trafficking and the sale of captured oil reserves to its friends and enemies alike.  It and other violent sectarian groups, also supported by the Gulf monarchies, are aiming to subjugate entire nations through extreme violence and intimidation.  The peoples many Arab countries are increasingly caught between fundamentalist, misogynist extremists on one side and autocratic dictatorship or absolute monarchy on the other.  Human rights, democracy and any prospect for economic and social development are being suffocated under this duopoly of tyrannical forces.

Responsibility for the situation today is not however limited to within the region itself.   Those countries which have been staging points for foreign fighters entering the region’s conflict zones must be held to account.  And the world’s major economic and political powers share a heavy burden of blame for a catalogue of political and economic failures in recent decades which have deepened instability and helped create the conditions for the swift and unprecedented rise of the jihadists.

The popular uprising against the Syrian dictatorship has been eclipsed by fundamentalist groups which have exploited the mounting chaos, supported by outside interests intent on fighting proxy wars on Syrian soil.  With nearly 200,000 killed, 3 million refugees and a more than 3 million displaced Syrians trapped inside the country, the UN’s Antonio Guterres has described the crisis as “The biggest humanitarian emergency of our era, yet the world is failing to meet the needs of refugees and the countries hosting them.”  In Iraq, more than 6,000 people, the vast majority of them civilians, have been killed in the past three months alone and the humanitarian crisis continues to grow.

The vast majority of people in the Arab world, like people everywhere, aspire to live in peace and mutual respect and to have the means and possibilities to build decent lives for themselves and future generations.   These aspirations are under relentless attack from those who seek to create and aggravate sectarian divisions, exploiting economic inequality and social exclusion.

The independent and democratic trade union movement, with its deep and unwavering commitment to peace, equality, human rights and non-discrimination, is a bulwark against division, violence and exploitation.  It is no coincidence that trade unions, in the Arab world as elsewhere, are amongst the foremost targets of those who seek to destroy these enduring values.  The international trade union movement will remain steadfast in its support and solidarity for the trade unions of the Arab world, and will redouble its demands on the entire international community to bring economic and social justice to the region, and defeat bigotry, subjugation and repression from whatever quarter it may come.

Unions call on World Bank to adopt as strong a labour standard as other development banks

Brussels, 8 September 2014 (ITUC OnLine): ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow has urged World Bank President Jim Yong Kim to ensure that the institution he leads adopts a labour standard lending requirement that is as comprehensive as those adopted by other multilateral development banks, and to correct the major weaknesses in the draft “labour safeguard” that was recently issued for consultation. 

Burrow stated:

“While we welcome the intention of the World Bank to adopt a labour safeguard, the version proposed would have almost no impact in protecting the rights of those who work in Bank-financed projects, since it would not apply to contracted workers nor, except for some very limited provisions, to public servants. The Bank’s proposed labour safeguard would to all intents and purposes exist only on paper.”

Burrow noted that the no such exclusions from protection were included in labour safeguards adopted in 2006 by the World Bank’s private-sector lending arm, IFC, by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development in 2008, and by the African Development Bank in 2013: “An important feature of all of the other banks’ labour safeguards has been their application to contractors and sub-contractors, thus ensuring coverage of a category of workers that is highly vulnerable to exploitation and abuse. By proposing to not protect these workers in its projects, the World Bank will perpetuate instances of unsafe working conditions, child labour, unpaid wages and denial of freedom of association that we have seen in Bank-funded projects.”

A second major weakness of the World Bank’s draft labour safeguard is the proposal that the ILO’s core labour standards only be fully complied with if they are incorporated in national law.  Specifically, the freedom of association and right to collective bargaining provisions would apply only “where national law recognizes” them, thus opening the door to retaliatory measures by project managers against workers who wish to exercise those rights.

“This is another example of the World Bank taking a step backwards, in this case not only relative to the provisions protecting those rights in projects of the other development banks, but also relative to the Bank’s stated support for all of the core labour standards since 2002,” said Sharan Burrow.  “We fully hope and expect that the World Bank will catch up to the labour standards provisions adopted by the other development finance institutions over the past several years, and not undermine the progress that has been made by adopting a labour safeguard that is full of exemptions and exclusions.” 
Burrow announced that the ITUC, Global Unions Federations and national trade union centres would make their views known during public consultations that the World Bank is scheduled to hold in the coming months on its new social and environmental safeguards policy. 

An analysis prepared by the ITUC/Global Unions’ Washington office of the major weaknesses in the World Bank’s draft labour standards safeguard is available by clicking here.