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Legalized Human Trafficking
T he World Trade Organization (WTO) negotiations in Hong Kong in December 2005 have been praised in the mainstream U.S. media for further freeing world trade to bring greater global prosperity.
Meanwhile, criticisms of the WTO are diverse, but a common theme emerges; namely, that the WTO is promoting a model of global trade in goods and services that, far from lifting millions out of poverty as proponents claim, will impoverish millions, threaten the space available to them for democratic self-determination, and further endanger the environment.
This article focuses on a specific aspect of the WTO, namely “Mode 4” of the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), which deals with the “movement of natural persons.”
The WTO negotiations cover three broad areas: (1) Agriculture; (2) Services, which include utilities such as water and electricity, banking and financial services, tourism, transportation, health care, education, and a host of other sectors; and (3) “Non Agricultural Market Access,” meaning anything that’s not agriculture and services, including fisheries, forest products, mining, and manufacturing.
The Services area, in turn, consists of four “modes” of trade. Mode 1 deals with a customer in one country obtaining services from a provider in another (for example, a U.S. business hires a French accountant based in Paris). Mode 2 consists of persons from one country traveling to another and using services there (tourism is the obvious example). Mode 3 consists of service firms from one country setting up shop in another. Mode 4 deals with people from one country settling down in another. Mode 4 deals only with temporary migrants who go to a foreign country to work for a limited (specified) time, for a particular job with a particular employer or to fulfill a specific contract. This category is often called guestworkers.
GATS Mode 4 and the system of short-term foreign guestworkers that it promotes is a threat to guestworkers and to native-born workers in the countries where they work. It is a threat to long-standing human rights principles and a threat to the long-term development prospects of the countries of origin of guestworkers.
Trading in People
nder guestworker programs, workers will not
enjoy the customary legal rights they are entitled to in their home
countries or that native-born workers in the host country have.
In theory they will be covered by legal protections from their own
country. In practice, that’s meaningless—being in a foreign
country, they will lack physical access to labor unions, legal services,
human rights organizations, and courts in their own country. Even
in the extremely unlikely event that they were to surmount these
barriers and attempt to file legal proceedings in their home country
against their employer, the jurisdiction of the courts in most cases
will not apply because the abuse will have occurred outside the
territory of the worker’s home country. It’s also quite
likely that the employer will be based in a third country. (For
example, an Australian contractor can win a contract in Germany,
recruit workers in the Philippines, bring them into Germany under
GATS Mode 4, abuse them, and not be accountable under Philippines
Unfortunately for the guestworkers, they are not going to be protected by the laws of the host country either. Under Mode 4, guestworkers will be contractually bound to an employer, they are unlikely to have the right to join a union and they may even be required by contract to pay their employer for their passage out of their country. Such an exploitative scenario is possible because guestworkers will be classified as “service providers” rather than as workers and their movement across borders will be regarded as “trade” rather than migration, according to draft Mode 4 language, thus excluding them by definition from even the limited protections they may enjoy as migrant workers under International Labor Organization (ILO) provisions or under domestic law in the host country.
The treatment of guestworkers will probably vary by host country and by circumstance, with some hosts providing marginally more protection. In the absence of binding legal commitments to provide protections to guestworkers, host countries are under no obligation to do so, and often won’t, whether to appease xenophobia at home or out of deference to foreign investors. Even when a host country tries to protect the rights of guestworkers, they may not be allowed to do so under GATS.
Migrants’ rights advocates worldwide have described this as the creation of a 21st century system of indentured servitude and argue that “migration policy must acknowledge migrants as human beings and address their dignity and human rights” (as proclaimed in a joint statement from numerous U.S. human rights and immigrant organizations).
GATS Mode 4 thus represents a retrograde step for migrants’ rights. Over the last several decades, the definition and coverage of human rights has expanded significantly, at least on paper, with successive United Nations conferences and conventions on the rights of women, indigenous peoples, and other marginalized populations. For migrant workers, the relevant international instrument is the Convention on Migrant Workers, which has unfortunately only been ratified by 27 countries to date. GATS will render this convention obsolete before it can be further ratified, thus undermining decades of work by human rights activists, organized labor, and others to remake global immigration policies in a more humane manner. Effectively, GATS is “setting up a separate sphere of migration not based on rights, which works to legitimize the idea that migrant workers don’t deserve rights,” says Bjorn Jensen of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC).
Speculation has been rife about what categories of workers Mode 4 will cover. At present it appears to be more geared towards the movement of highly skilled workers, such as doctors and computer programmers. While the potential for exploitation of these workers is probably less than for unskilled workers, it nevertheless is a concern. The experience of foreign high-tech workers in the U.S. under the H1B visa program shows how even skilled workers face lack of job portability (i.e., being contractually tied to one employer) and are vulnerable to layoffs. During the “dot com bust” in the U.S, when firms in the computer industry laid off large numbers of employees, the first to lose their jobs were the foreign workers with H1B visas.
A s with any exploitative labor market, particularly vulnerable sectors of workers—mainly women —will fare even worse, as shown by present-day trends. According to the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), women constitute 50 percent or more of migrant workers in Asia and Latin America and they significantly outnumber men in countries such as Indonesia, the Philippines, and Sri Lanka. Colin Rajah of the Oakland, California-based National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (NNIRR) points out that most women migrant workers are in precarious jobs, often at the mercy of their employers and recruiting agencies.
A Wider Race to the Bottom
M igrant workers are not the only workers threatened by GATS Mode 4. It gives employers the flexibility to cut labor costs by firing their own workers and contracting with a labor supplier who can bring in foreign workers at lower pay (with very few legal rights). The incentive to save on labor costs and ensure a docile, easily exploitable workforce is strong and joblessness is likely to increase in the host country as a consequence. Even the threat of bringing in foreign guestworkers can be used by employers to force unions to accept undesirable provisions in contracts or to force employees to give up unionization drives. Thus far, manufacturing workers in wealthy countries like the U.S. have seen their jobs migrate to foreign sweatshops, but service workers have been relatively immune from this threat, since geographical presence is a prerequisite for many types of services. Under GATS, however, employers can legally bring the sweatshop home to the U.S., threatening service sector workers here with the same trend of mass layoffs that manufacturing workers have had to deal with.
The migration of skilled workers poses its own problems for the countries of origin. It is expected that the movement of workers under Mode 4 will typically be from poorer countries to wealthier countries. GATS thus sets up a “brain drain” scenario in which poor countries with a small number of educated professionals will lose many of them to emigration.
For example, for a country with a shortage of doctors, of medical colleges to train doctors, and of people with the educational background to be admitted to medical college, the loss of doctors is disastrous. Similarly, the loss of engineers, computer programmers, architects, accountants, and so on will devastate poor countries.
Some Global South countries, particularly India, have pushed for the expansion of Mode 4 for high-skilled workers, such as computer programmers, in the hope that they will benefit by exporting one of the few “commodities” in which they have a competitive advantage, namely cheap, highly skilled labor. Besides being an unconscionable commodification of their own citizens on the part of these governments, it is also shortsighted economic policy of the kind that noted Indian economist Jayati Ghosh terms the “political economy of self-delusion.”
It is risky for an economy to be too dependent on remittances from emigrants, for a multitude of reasons. The most serious risk is that changing political realities in the host countries—such as a marked shift towards xenophobia— can stop the flow of migrants into labor-importing countries or, even worse, reverse the flow of migrants by sending people back and thereby stop the flow of remittances back to the migrants’ home countries. Rising xenophobia in host countries can also manifest itself in taxes, penalties, and other financial roadblocks to remittances.
Building a Movement
I n the U.S. and other Northern countries, the opposition to Mode 4 provisions comes from opposite ends of the political spectrum. Expectedly, immigrants’ rights and workers’ rights organizations are mobilizing against threats to immigrants’ labor rights, and more fundamentally their very humanity, embodied in GATS. Right-wing, anti-immigrant organizations for their part have their own criticisms of Mode 4 because they oppose any program that brings large numbers of foreigners into their country, even though they often couch their opposition in different terms. For example, the Center for Immigration Studies, a U.S.-based anti-immigration think tank, takes the position that negotiating guestworker programs in the WTO places the entire framework of U.S. immigration law at risk of being challenged as a “trade barrier” and overturned in the WTO dispute resolution process.
Even though motivations are different, immigrants’ rights groups thus find themselves advocating for similar outcomes as the very same right-wing groups whose agenda they are normally battling in the public policy arena.
Most immigrants’ rights organizations (certainly, all the groups the author is aware of) know better than to attempt to form an alliance of convenience with the right wing. Progressives’ responsibility is to articulate a position that is clearly different from the anti-immigrant agenda and to emphasize this difference at every opportunity. As NNIRR’s Rajah puts it, the first and foremost reason that immigrants’ rights groups oppose GATS Mode 4 is “because it jeopardizes the well-being and human rights” of immigrants; this needs to be articulated again and again so as not to allow our opposition to Mode 4 to even unintentionally strengthen the right wing.
Related to this question is how progressives can win labor support on these issues without pandering to xenophobic positions. The labor movement in the U.S. (and other wealthy countries) is legitimately concerned about loss of job security and erosion of working conditions for its membership under GATS guestworker provisions. The challenge is how to channel these concerns into a progressive movement for the rights of all workers, whether native born or immigrant, instead of pitting one group of workers against another. According to Rajah, the struggle is not against foreign workers who will swarm our shores and take away our jobs, but rather against “policies that unjustly drive down worker protections here and abroad, and the incessant demand by corporations for cheap, disposable labor.” Jensen echoes this analysis by stressing that all workers need to “question a system that pits workers against each other to work for less and less under worse and worse conditions while allowing top management to earn salaries hundreds of times the average workers’ pay.” These ideas form the nucleus of a progressive agenda linking immigration and economic justice.
Basav Sen is a freelance writer and activist in Washington, DC, who works on global economic justice, immigrants’ rights, and housing justice issues.
Z Magazine Archive
AnnouncementsLABOR - May 1 is May Day. Workers of the world will celebrate the 124th anniversary of International Worker’s Day. Born out of a call for an 8-hour workday in the United States, this day is an opportunity for all workers to show their solidarity with one another, as well as to renew the call for labor rights.
FARM CONFERENCE - The Farm Conference on Community and Sustainability will be held May 24-26 in Summertown, TN, in partnership with the Fellowship of Intentional Communities. Tour green homes, see sustainable food production, learn about solar installations, alternative education, midwifery, and more.
Contact: Douglas@thefarmcommunity.com; http://www.thefarmcommunity.com/.
PALESTINE - The Conference of the Palestinian Shatat in North American will be held June 3-5 in Vancouver. The conference will examine the future of the Palestinian liberation movement.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.palestinianconference.org/.
LABOR - The Pacific Northwest Labor History Association’s 45th annual conference will be held May 3-5, in Portland, OR. This year’s theme is Labor Under Attack: Learning from the Past and Preparing for the Future. A call for presentations, workshops and papers is currently underway.
Contact: PNLHA, 27920 68th Ave. East, Graham, WA 98338; 206-406-2604; PNLHA1@aol.com; http://www3.telus.net.
MARIJUANA - On the first Saturday of May marijuana legalization activists will hold informational and educational events, rallies and marches in over 300 cities around the world.
ECONOMICS - The Union For Radical Political Economics will hold its 39th annual conference May 9-11 in New York City.
RECLAIM THE DREAM - The 2013 Poor People’s Campaign & March from Baltimore to Washington D.C. will be May 11. Communities, schools and unions interested in participating are encouraged to contact the Baltimore People’s Assembly.
Contact: 410-500-2168; 410-218-4835; BaltimorePeoplesAssembly@gmail.com; Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Baltimore and the Baltimore Peoples Power Assembly, 2011 N. Charles St., Baltimore, MD 21218.
MOTHER’S DAY - The 17th Annual Mother’s Day Walk For Peace will be May 12th, in Dorchester, MA. The walk began in 1996 for families who had lost children to violence. The day has become a way for thousands of people to financially support the work of the Louis Brown Peace Institute.
Contact: http://www.ldbpeaceinstitute.org/; http://mothersdaywalk4peace.org/.
NATO 5 - An International Week of Solidarity with the NATO 5 has been called for May 16-21. Supports call on supporters to raise awareness of the NATO 5 and support funds for the defendants on the one-year anniversary of their preemptive arrests.
Contact: email@example.com; https://nato5support.wordpress.com.
MOUNTAINTOP - The 2013 Mountain Justice Summer Activist Training Camp will be held May 19-27 in Damascus, VA. It will be a week of workshops, field trips to view Mountain Top Removal coal mines, direct actions, and service project.
FEMINIST SCI-FI - The feminist science fiction convention WisCon 37 is scheduled for May 24-27 in Madison, WI.
Contact: WisCon, ? SF3, PO Box 1624, Madison, WI 53701; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.wiscon.info/.
ANARCHY FEST - A month-long Festival of Anarchy is scheduled for May in Montreal. The festival includes The Montreal Anarchist Bookfair (May 19-20).
Contact: http://www.anarchistbookfair.ca/; http://www.radicalmontreal.com/.
LABOR - The International Labor Rights Forum will present: Down the Supply Chain, Driving Corporate Accountability, on May 22 in Washington, DC. The Labor Rights Awards Ceremony and Reception will honor pioneers in supply chain worker organizing, working solidarity and international labor rights policy.
MULTICULTURE - The 26th annual National Conference on Race & Ethnicity in American Higher Education (NCORE) will take place May 28-June 1, in New Orleans.
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MEDIA - The 2013 Alliance for Community Media Annual Conference will be held May 29-31, in San Francisco, CA. Participants will include educators, community leaders, media professionals, journalists, nonprofit leaders, policymakers and students.
RADIO - The 38th Annual Community Radio Conference is schedule for May 29-June 1, in San Francisco, CA, with discussions and workshops.
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BRADLEY MANNING - On June 1, a rally will be held at Fort Meade in support of Bradley Manning.
BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike-A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides scheduled, music, exhibitors and more.
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LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in New York City.
Contact: 365 Fifth Avenue, CUNY Graduated Center, ? Sociology Dept., New York, NY 10016; http://www.leftforum.org/.
VEGAN FEST - Mad City Vegan Fest will be held in Madison, WI, June 8. The annual event features food, speakers, and exhibitors.
Contact: 122 State Street, Suite 405 B, Madison, WI 53701; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://veganfest.org/.
ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16, in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops on civil rights, media and other topics.
Contact: 1990 M Street, Suite 610, Washington, DC, 20036; 202-244-2990; email@example.com http://convention.adc.org/.
CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5 day Seminar at University of Havana, plus visits to a cooperative, urban garden, community development project, social research centers, and educational & medical institutions.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.globaljusticecenter.org/.
NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
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MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
Contact: 4126 Third Street, Detroit, MI 48201; http://alliedmedia.org/.
GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process throughout the U.S.
SOCIALISM - The Socialism 2013 Conference is scheduled for June 27-30 in Chicago, featuring talks and panel discussions.
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LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles under the heading, Intersections: Teaching and Learning Across Media.
Contact: 10 Laurel Hill Drive, Cherry Hill, NJ 08003; http://namle.net/conference/.
IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from branches across the continent to learn new skills and build One Big Union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13th, the 11th Annual Peacestock: A Gathering for Peace, will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
Contact: Bill Habedank, 1913 Grandview Ave., Red Wing, MN 55066; 651-388-7733; email@example.com; http://www.peacestockvfp.org.
CHILDREN’S DEFENSE - July 15-19, join clergy, seminarians, Christian educators, young adult leaders and other faith-based advocates for children at CDF Haley Farm in Clinton, Tennessee, for five days of spiritual renewal, networking, movement building workshops, and continuing education about the urgent needs of children at the 19th annual Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry.
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ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference in the world.
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LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations and panel discussions.
Contact: NCLR Headquarters Office, Raul Yzaguirre Building, 1126 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036; 202-785-1670; www.nclr.org.
LABOR - The Eastern Conference For Workplace Democracy: Growing Our Cooperatives, Growing Our Communities, will be held at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA, July 26-28.
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WOMEN/LYNNE STEWART- Radical Women is asking for support letters and cards to be sent to Lynne Stewart. Stewart is a civil rights attorney and political prisoner who is currently in jail. She has breast cancer and authorities have denied her request for transfer from her Texas prison to the New York City hospital where she received medical attention during a prior bout of breast cancer. Send messages and cards to: Lynne Stewart 53504-054, Federal Medical Center Carswell, P.O. Box 27137, Fort Worth, TX 76127.
Contact: 747 Polk Street, San Francisco, CA 94109; 415-864-1278; RadicalWomenUS@gmail.com; http://lynnestewart.org/; http://www.radicalwomen.org/.
HAITI/WOMEN - Haiti’s government is considering a legal reform measure that would prohibit and punish all sexual assault, including marital rape. MADRE and the International Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict are launching a petition to raise international support for this push to address violence against women in Haiti.
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SYRIA/MIDDLE EAST - The Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA) is currently seeking funds to assist more than 200,000 refugees fleeing violence in Syria.
FOLK FESTIVAL - The Falcon Ridge Folk Festival will be held August 2-4, in the Berkshires, NY.
Contact: http://www.falconridgefolk.com/; firstname.lastname@example.org.
WAR RESISTERS - The War Resisters League will hold its 90th anniversary conference, Revolutionary Nonviolence: Building Bridges Across Generations and Communities, August 1-4, at Georgetown University. The event will focus on the U.S.’ long history of antimilitarism.
Contact: 339 Lafayette Street, New York, NY 10012; 212-228-0450; email@example.com; http://www.warresisters.org.
POPULAR ECONOMICS - The Center for Popular Economics is holding its 2013 Summer Institute August 4-9 at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA. No background in economics is needed for this intensive training. This year’s theme is, The Care Economy: Building a Just Economy with a Heart.
Contact: Center for Popular Economics, PO Box 785 Amherst, MA 01004; 413-545-0743; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.populareconomics.org.
VETERANS - Veterans for Peace is holding the 28th annual convention August 6-11 in Madison, WI. This year’s theme is, Power To The Peaceful.
DEMOCRACY - The Democracy Convention will take place August 7-11 in Madison, WI. The convention brings together nine conferences including topics such as media, education, defense, race, environment and others.
MEN - The 38th National Conference on Men & Masculinity: Forging Justice: Creating Safe, Equal and Accountable Communities, presented in partnership with HAVEN, will be held in Detroit, MI, August 8-10.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.nomas.org/.
OCCUPY - An Occupy National Gathering will be held in Kalamazoo, MI, August 21-25.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://occupynationalgathering.net/.
COMMUNITIES - The Communities Conference is a networking and learning opportunity for co-operative or communal lifestyles, with workshops, events and entertainment; scheduled for August 30-September 2 at the Twin Oaks Community in Louisa, Virginia.
LABOR DAY - The 29th annual Bread and Roses Festival, a celebration of the ethnic diversity and labor history of Lawrence, MA, will be held September 2, in honor of the 1912 Bread and Roses Strike. There will be music, dance, poetry, drama, ethnic food, historical demonstrations, walking & trolley tours.
Contact: PO Box 1137, Lawrence, MA 01842; 978-794-1655; http://www.breadandrosesheritage.org/.
OCCUPY WALL STREET - September 17 is the two-year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Events are planned in New York City and worldwide.
TEACHERS - The 13th Annual Conference, “Teaching for Social Justice: The Politics of Pedagogy,” will be held October 12 in San Francisco, CA. The free event features workshops, resources, and free childcare.
Contact: 415-676-7844; email@example.com; http://www.t4sj.org/.
HAITI - International Action, which brings clean water and chlorinators to Haiti, seeks office space capable of housing up to six people and their office equipment.
Contact: Zach Bremer, Zbrehmer@haitiwater.org; 202-488-0735; http://www.haitiwater.org/.
MEDIA - The Union for Democratic Communications and Project Censored are sponsoring a joint conference on media democracy, media activism and social justice to be held November 1-3 at the University of San Francisco. Proposals for presentations, workshops and panels from activists and critical scholars are invited.