Fair Trade and Workers Rights

Fair Trade & Workers Rights

Doug Cameron, National Secretary, AMWU, Public Meeting 14 March 2001

Thank you for the opportunity to address this public meeting.

We are seeing significant change in political and public attitudes in Australia to the prevailing economic orthodoxy since Seattle. Acceptance of the rhetoric that globalisation, free trade and its attendant domestic policies of privatisation, competition policy, balanced budgets and market based solutions are becoming increasingly subject to public analysis and rejection.

The Australian government is even embarking on a re-education programme on ``the benefits of free trade''. The WTO, World Bank and IMF who are all being forced to deal with increased public scepticism and scrutiny are beginning to look at ways to soften their image.

However, the international push for core labour standards to be included in the WTO and international trade agreements will not go away with this re-education program. This debate is a reaction to the increasing inequality around the globe not to peoples perceptions.

We are seeing a number of divides in place around the globe. Epitomised by divides of:


  • 1 billion people live on less than $1/day.
  • There is increasing wealth divisions both between and within countries.
  • Unemployment, part time and low paid work is increasing, this has a particular impact on women.


  • Many multinationals have more power than nation states.
  • Out of the 100 largest economies 51 are corporations and 49 are nations states.
  • Out of control financial markets create global instability and harm the poorest most.


  • Democracy is still not universal and the rights of workers are often abused. We are seeing trade unionists and those fighting for their labour and human rights suffering assassinations, torture and intimidation.


  • Infectious disease is the world's biggest killer;
  • Life expectancy is falling in some countries due to dire poverty; and
  • Medical research is isolated to the rich markets.


  • Illiteracy is still widespread;
  • Spending in developing countries is sidelined to debt repayments and restructuring programmes over education.


  • Global warming is a reality.
  • Depletion of resources is widespread and the adoption and research of sustainable energy has stalled.
  • The developed world consumes more but will not accept responsibility of this and work to reduce their greenhouse emissions.


  • Digital divide - where new technology is isolated to the wealthy both in and between countries
  • Pharmaceutical divide - where the worlds medicines are isolated to those that can pay the prices demanded by pharmaceutical companies. Companies who will not allow subsidies or production of generic brands in developing countries so the poor and sick can access essential medicines.
  • Patent divide - research is isolated and often restricted to the developed world.

There are solutions for these problems and we must develop global solution to these global problems. However, individual nations can underpin any solutions to these divides by creating more inclusive decision making for the global economy. The public and their organisations must be included and have a voice.

We must counter the power of multinationals by encouraging more dialogue between global unions and global corporations.

The AMWU has been at the forefront of the debate surrounding globalisation, the WTO and advocated for Fair Trade not Free Trade. At the recent public hearing into Australia's Relationship with the WTO, conducted by the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties submitted some solutions to Australia's involvement with the WTO:

1. Information and consultation on trade policy should be in accessible forms and free of cost. Government must accept and consider a wide range of advice on trade and policy issues. There must be consultation and public debate before negotiations are started and trade agreements are signed.

2. Greater Parliamentary scrutiny before agreements signed.

3. NGO's must be included on the Trade Advisory Policy Council and in WTO delegations.

4. Government must ratify and implement all ILO core conventions which include:

- the abolition of forced labour;
- freedom of association and the right to collectively organise and bargain;
- equal remuneration and the elimination of discrimination; and
- the minimum age convention and the worst forms of child labour.

5. WTO agreements and processes must give clear recognition to human rights, labour standards and the environment.

6. An inquiry must be undertaken looking at how to incorporate labour standards and trade into WTO mechanisms.

7. Establish a Trade and Labour Standards monitoring group in DFAT.

8. Upgrade Australia's representation at the ILO to at least levels seen prior to 1996.

9. A National Interest Analysis must be undertaken before any treaty's or trade agreements are signed. This analysis must incorporate, but not be limited to:

- access to social and welfare services;
- access to health services;
- access to appropriate education;
- widening of economic base from agriculture and mining;
- fund community organisations to conduct social audits in particularly regional areas.

10. Government must ratify and adopt all ILO conventions. Australia has not signed either core conventions concerned with child labour.

11. Legislate to support ongoing WTO/ILO collaboration.

12. Adopt a test to evaluate involvement in bilateral and multilateral agreements that ensures economic capacity improves economic independence. That means any analysis must ensure that the Australian government can make laws in relation to specifically:

- the environment and especially the use of quarantine laws;
- manufacturing industry and the development of viable nation-building policies;
- the government must be able to retain its independence in relation to services particularly in health, education and welfare.

Fair Trade is about incorporating the social, environmental and human rights agenda.

Australia needs a government with courage, commitment, alternative ideas. Not one that will simply capitulate to the free trade, corporate led agenda that we see currently.