Please contact us if you would like to receive DAGAinfo via eMail


9 March 2000
No. 102

In this issue:
    The Real Enemy is the WTO, Not China
  2. NEWS in Brief
    Hong Kong - Asian Consultation on Tourism and Coalition Building
    Singapore - Green light for Singapore's first public forum on human rights
    Malaysia - Recognise domestic maids as 'workers', urge NGOs
    Pakistan - Sister dies in Convent raid
  3. Urgent APPEALS
    WORLD MARCH 2000
    People's Forum 2000


1. FEATURE - top

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 trade access.

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 bashing today?

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 <> in Oakland, CA.


2. NEWS in Brief - top


Asian Consultation on Tourism and Coalition Building

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:

  1. Not encroach upon and erode the rights of the access and control of the lives of those effected, their resources and the habitat.

  2. Not add to the commodification and packaging of the native cultures and traditions.

  3. Not have occasion negative consequences to host or guest participants.

  4. Not be monopolised by a privileged class intent on dominating and exploiting select destinations.

  5. Not be unthinking, consumerist, irresponsible or motivated solely by greed and financial considerations.

  6. Be equitable in out looking, promoting justice, peace and harmony between the participating communities.

  7. Take the lead in building a common platform and meeting place for continence of the North/ South dialogue and partnership.

  8. 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 Tourism phenomenon.



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 Socratic Circle.

James Gomez from Think Centre expects the forum to draw a strong crowd. "Participants can register online at 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 Singapore.


Recognise domestic maids as 'workers', urge NGOs

-[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 a hotel.

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 their employers.

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 Shameem.

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.


3. Urgent APPEAL - top


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 <>. 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 following effects.

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.


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:




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:



Return HOME



We hope that the materials in this website have been useful to your work and ministry. You are free to reproduce the information on this website in your publications. We only ask that proper credits be given to the writers as well as DAGA/CCA-URM. We will also appreciate it very much that a copy of the publication be mailed to us at the address below:

Documentation for Action Groups in Asia (DAGA):
96 Pak Tin Village Area 2
Mei Tin Road, Shatin, NT
Phone: (852) 2697-1917
Fax: (852) 3017-2377