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Interregionalism - multi-lateral meetings between different regions – has become an important aspect of governing global economic, financial and political issues. One such interregional exchange is the Asia-Europe Meeting, (ASEM). The 8th meeting just has been taking place in Brussels 5th-6th of October. ASEM is an informal dialogue bringing together Heads of Governments of the 27 EU Member States and 16 Asian countries, the European Commission and the ASEAN Secretariat.
The first ASEM meeting took place in Bangkok in 1996 in order to foster economic development and counterbalance the US influence in the Asian region. While these meetings are informal and non-binding, they are nevertheless aiming at strengthening economic and political relationships between countries. This year’s summit was dominated by the financial and economic crisis. Under the heading ”More Effective Global Economic Governance” European and Asian officials agreed upon closer economic cooperation as well as financial coordination, and stressed the importance of sustainable growth and climate protection goals.
Such meetings – as international trade politics in general – suffers from the lack of democratic participation and support of citizens. Negotiations take place behind closed doors, the negotiation processes are intransparent and the parliaments are largely shut out of such processes. Consultative bodies and advisory committees are dominated by business interests or business affiliated lobbying groups.
As a response to the lack of transparency and democratic checks and balances, unions and NGOs found counter summit, the Asia-Europe People’s Forum (ASEF) where labor unions and social movements across Asia and Europe expressed their concerns about marketization and demanded a “social and market regulatory dimension” of trade negotiations.
But in how far does challenging this global economic governance institution contribute to any kind of change?
At first sight it looks like a success story: Labor, environmental and human rights issues play a promomient role in the final ASEM declaration and the ASEM leaders promised a people-to-people approach. But the disappointment about the discrepancies between words and action is huge.
On January 23rd 2010 US China labor exchange met for the 6th time. The China Labor Exchange group has been meeting for 2 ½ years now. It is a meeting between some US labor union members and individuals with close ties to the Chinese labor movement. But despite the absence of official Chinese union representatives, these meetings present an important opportunity for exchange and mutual learning about the labor movement in the US and China, as well as for discussing potentials for future collaboration. This is of particular importance in a context, where high level union talks between the AFL-CIO (American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations) and the ACFTU (All-China Federation of Trade Unions) are not yet taking place.
What do Chinese and American workers have in common? Where are potentials for cooperation? Before summarizing the meeting, I first give some background information about the US labor movement and China to make clear why such a meeting is rather unusual for the US context.
A lot of people – labor groups as well as compliance people – talk about empowering workers. In the Chinese context this often means educating people about their rights. This is usually done by training programmes. These training programmes have also become part of the demands of NGOs as well as company CSR rating agencies in Europe and the US, and therefore became the next step in the labour supply chain management agenda.
Whereas no big differentiations are made between training programmes, a whole industry is emerging in China, where consulting companies compete with buying companies’ own compliance programme and NGOs, offering a variety of different services. A recent study of the Sino-German Social Responsibility Project on training providers evaluated 29 providers, including nine international providers. Read the rest of this entry »
As a newcomer to blogging who recently learned that series are particularly “in”, I decided to start my own series as well. I’m travelling China right now as a researcher, trying to better understand what all the people I’ve talked to in Germany mean by managing labor issues in the supply chain, compliance systems, training arrangements, etc.; but also seeking to understand how labour groups deal with the issue, form their strategies or give up strategising around it.
I’ll share my impressions here, so forthcoming posts in the series will be about compliance management, worker training, management training and how labor groups try to deal with this issues (spoiler: there is a big difference between Hong-Kong-based and mainland-China-based, and you often simply cannot name it, activism).
I’m talking to all kinds of people here in China: consultants, compliance managers, labor NGOs; I’ve taken part in an audit, a manager and a worker training. As this is China I’m writing about, the first thing people tell you is: There is always more than one truth in China…
How to become a compliance manager in one day
Auditing has become an important business in labour supply chain management. Seminars and training courses are offered all over the world on how to become a successful auditor. But, actually, it doesn’t take you more than a day. It means having an open eye for obvious problems which are often so similar that you almost don’t need to go into the factory to know about them. Read the rest of this entry »
How can you win small and medium sized companies to take responsibility for their suppliers in China? Each year, this topic is brought up at the international toy fair by civil society organisations and the international toy association.
The challenge seems tremendous: Big companies who source in developing countries usually establishe a whole department or CSR team, whereas smaller companies lack the capacity at home as well as the buying power abroad to influence factory behaviour. Therefore it is even more surprising, that the toy industry, with a high share of medium sized enterprises has established an international, industry wide approach – But how do you get companies to join? Read the rest of this entry »