Campaign for People’s Rights in Liberalization

The rationale of the proposed project is drawn by indicating the ‘context’ of Globalization, and its implication on poverty and underdevelopment in Bangladesh. The critical and strategic issues have been identified as ‘the concentration of wealth in the hands of the rich few; increasing poverty, especially livelihood insecurity for the majority of the world’s population; and unsustainable patterns of production and consumptions’. The benefit of Globalization is perceived to be reaped by the transnational corporations ‘at the expense of national economics; workers, farmers and other people; and the environment.’

The trend (in socio-political context), is mentioned as the ‘increasing global instability, the collapse of national economics, increasing inequity both between and within nations and increasing environmental and social degradation,’ and the marginalization of the ‘majority of world’s people’. With the initiative of new “Round” of trade negotiations (so called Millennium Round), it is feared that, in new ‘Round’ new issues will be introduced which will further marginalize the LDCs.

The WTO was indicated as one of the main actors contributing to the reproduction and maintenance of the above mentioned problems (critical issues) and the liberalization policies are identified as main contributing factor. It is understood that the liberalization process works through the WTO systems, rules and procedures that are ‘undemocratic, un-transparent and non-accountable’, and the trade negotiations between ‘Developed’ and ‘Developing’ countries under the WTO institutional framework is against the interests of ‘Developing’ nations.
There is also a need of identifying opportunities within the existing framework of WTO.

The rationale of the campaign is based on the understanding that the trade negotiation process is one of the strategic intervention areas, needs to be altered and reformed in a way that it must reflect and recognize the adverse affects of liberalization policies, and most importantly ‘WTO structure should ensure effective participation of the poor in the trade negotiation space’.

It is expected that such reform would contribute to reverse the process of increasing inequality, deprivation, environmental and social degradation in global and national level. And thereby contribute to ensure the livelihood security.

Goal

The goal of CPRL program is to facilitate an empowering process to ensure rights of people at international trade decision space.

Objectives

The main objectives are broadly, empower national decision makers at WTO level, secondly to ensure livelihood security of workers, farmers, women, children and ethnic minorities, and protection of social and natural environment at the face of global threats.

To ensure the broad objectives the immediate objectives of the project are:

  • to raise awareness of the Government Policy makers, trade experts and trade negotiators and other relevant stakeholders on the new Ministerial Conference, the on going negotiations and the implications of the issues raised by the industrial world.
  • to assist the Government of Bangladesh and other policy makers and advocates in the coming Ministerial Conference to protect and promote the interest of Bangladesh trade.
  • to campaign focusing the new Ministerial Conference from the experience of the Seattle and to raise the voice of the people against the WTO measures which adversely affect farmers’ and workers’ rights as well as rights and security of children, women, ethnicity and environment.
  • to mobilize the Government delegates, other trade negotiators and policy makers  as well as the business community to oppose the proposed Millennium Round and introduction of new issues without altering the existing adversely affecting treaties.

Strategy and role

The activities and target audience indicates that the general strategy is practiced as empowerment of various actors, such as government policy makers, women activists and workers, business leaders, trade unions, student organizations, political activists, organization of agricultural workers, NGO/development activists and both print and electronic media through an interactive information, analysis and opinion sharing process. The educative facilitative strategic approach is followed by information creation-production-dissemination, networking, mobilization, advocacy and lobbing.

The CPRL Program intents to influence the policy agenda facilitate the conceptualization process of network partners and alliances; assist them with logistic support and social access to strategic partners. INCIDIN Bangladesh plays the role of a facilitator and coordinator rather than of an organizer. While the contribution of INCIDIN Bangladesh as organizational entity stays less visible, their target audience will carry out the majority of public activities. The organization opted for this strategy consciously, considering the political context of the country as well as their policy approach, focusing on collective ownership rather than on individual or organizational contribution.

Impact

Impact assessment is done by dialogue and interview with the individuals and organizations received published materials produced by the project and participated in discussion forums in forms such as workshop, informal/formal meetings etc.

  • Impact on Livelihood Security of Poor and Marginalized

The CPRL contributed to inform the target audience regarding the threats of WTO policies to livelihood security of the workers and farmers. The information and analysis have impact on the policies and programs of trade unions and NGOs working both in urban and agricultural setting. In general the organizations and people have more clarity on livelihood challenges from the information; therefore it has been benefiting them to formulate strategy and program to address the issue of livelihood security.

In particular, the leading trade unions have formulated a work plan to ensure the livelihood security of the female workers of RMG sector who are facing risks of retrenchment as a result of MFA phasing out. The work plan provided the female workers of the RMG sector a space within the protection of trade union movement of the country and abroad.

  • Impact on Awareness Building and Political Empowerment

In general the printed materials produced by CPRL are used in formal and informal training conducted by NGOs, public meetings, demonstration etc., by political and trade union activists, and policy analysis by the policy makers. Therefore, the printed materials have benefited a wide range of target audience.

Continuation of the discussion with a nationwide network of readers (Bondhushova, the readers’ forum of Bengali daily, Prothom Alo) illustrates the interests and awareness on the part of a general public on the WTO related issues.

Similar example of such awareness and interests is to set up a resource centre for the trade union activists in the RMG sector and build a long term consultative agreement for capacity building of the trade union leaders of RMG sector on WTO related issues.

The growing discussion on political agenda of WTO and globalization/liberalization, the growing solidarity building through alliance and networks, and participation in workshops, rallies, demonstrations etc., are indicative to growing political awareness among the activists.

The increasing awareness among the activists has impact on the poor and marginalized section, especially women workers. Such process leads to the political empowerment of the poor and marginalized section of the society.

  • Impact on Gender Mainstreaming (Achieving Women participation, empowerment and Gender Equity)

In a highly patriarchal society like Bangladesh women are not recognized as workers and bread earners of their families rather they are predominantly portrayed as mere house keepers and mothers, depending on the income of their husbands and male family members.  Around 75% of the RMG workers are women, a majority of them in the age group of 18 to 21. Around 40% of them are married living with their husbands in slum areas and contributing in an average around 50% of the family income. Many of the single women are living with a group of co-worker away from their parent’s home in the rural setup. For the first time in the history of Bangladesh’s young and weak industrial development, women enter this sector of the economy.  Yet, neither political parties and the organized women’s movement nor the Government recognized this female new labor force. Their concerns about low wages, bad working conditions, insecurity and sexual violence did not find its way into the agenda of the established Trade Unions.

The majority of the female worker in RMG sector coming from rural Bangladesh are new-comers in the city, uninformed about their rights and the global regulations effecting their livelihood, inexperienced and discouraged to organize and threatened to loose their job if they raise any complain.

In this situation CPRL program’s impact on gender mainstreaming might be summarized as follows:

The monthly bulletin, issue based booklets and policy papers published by CPRL Program distributed all over the country promoted a new understanding of the role of women as bread earners and challenged old dominant stereotypes of women as mere house makers. Also it educated the female worker on the needs and possibilities to establish their rights as workers, including their right of protection from gender discrimination and sexual violence. Through media work and networking with the readers’ forum Bondhushova the issues of female RMG worker regularly get media coverage. This is changing the understanding of the broader public as well as making the media more gender sensitive of other gender related issues.

The round table meetings, seminars and workshops had more than 25% women’s participation. Here as well as by informal meetings and in alliances the concerns of the female laborers reached political leaders and activists, policy maker, opinion leader and NGOs and created awareness about this new female labor force. The discussions were leading to policy changes within the 11-Party-Alliance, visible in their agendas and demands, the organized women’s movement (Mohila Porishad, Nari Pokkho) and NGOs, who are willing to provide logistic support to the weak and scattered new emerging RMG federations.

These RMG federations, six of them now joined in an alliance, developed an Action Plan of the Trade Unions that for the first time recognizes the concerns of female RMG worker. This has contributed to sensitize the established trade unions towards the special concerns of the female workforce that generally are marginalized. Furthermore the leaders of the RMG federations, 60% men, participating in the CPRL capacity building workshops agreed to bring at least one female member along with the leader to the workshop and plan to organize own capacity building workshops for female RMG worker in their own space or in factory outlets thereby support female leadership building.

Generally it might be noted that CPRL had a strong impact on the recognition of women’s economic contribution- specifically female RMG worker. Thereby it contributed to changes in women’s role perceptions and female leadership building.

  • Impact on Environmental Protection and Regeneration

Three main issues have been published and discussed in relation to both environment and livelihood security: a) the question of bio-diversity, b) trade of seeds (GM etc.) and c) environmental acts and provisions. The agriculture policy issues, especially on subsidy, marketing, subsistence agriculture (farming for own consumptions) and its impact on farmers, urban workers (due to increased food price), livelihood security etc., is agenda of discussion of many NGOs. The information disseminated by the CPRL project contributed to understanding and formulation of strategy and program for protection of environment.

  • Impact on Policy Understanding and Change

Several policy understanding and changes regarding organizational strategy and program orientation and networking is a contribution of the CPRL project:

  • The trade unions and workers organizations of the female RMG workers have moved away from the policy of not working with NGOs; they are using the published materials and cooperating with NGOs.
  • The NGOs have come up with strategy on the livelihood security of the female RMG workers.
  • The WTO cell of the government accepted the NGOs as partners.
  • The formal and traditional trade union federations have adopted a work plan for female workers of RMG sector.

The liberal left alliance, ‘11 Party Alliance’ recognized the non-party-political-actors, the NGOs and social movements (women groups) as their alliance partners. The CPRL contributed to such organizational policy change.

The CPRL also has an impact on the policy of strategy and program formulation of NGOs, concerned about the adverse impact of the WTO measures. Environmental protection is one of the agenda of NGOs participated in CPRL project.

  • Impact on Workers and Farmers Rights

There are concrete examples that the CPRL project contributed in raising and consolidating the workers and farmers rights: August 30, 2002 BGMEA and the alliance of RMG federations signed an agreement on working conditions (including maternity leaves), the right to organization and the implementation of labor laws.

Alliance of 6 RMG federations (Trade Unions) have formulated Action Plan of the Trade Unions, moved away from passive observance and deal with problems faced by the female workers of RMG sector.

  • Impact on Increasing Participation in Solidarity Networks and Mobilization  

Six federations of RMG workers have united in an alliance, crossing the previous political boundaries, jointly developed a plan of action and organized a nation wide strike on September 1, 2002, which finally was prevented by a written agreement with BGMEA. The RMG alliance organized public meetings where they presented and discussed their demands and gained recognition within the national Trade Unions’ movement and among the worker.

In 1st May demonstration 11 Party-Alliance included the demands of the RMG workers. The organized women’s movement (Mohila Porishad) never recognized the needs of the female RMG worker. Their participation in CPRL organized meetings made them more aware of the situation. Including the concerns and needs of the RMG worker will strengthening and broaden their movement.

The CPRL program contributed in expanding the solidarity among various activists (trade unions/women organizations/NGOs) and brings the focus on WTO/Globalization/liberalization related issues.

In this case there is a positive co-relation between the increasing number of organizations and the increasing events of mobilization.

  • Impact on Social Movement with the Vision of Sustainable Human Development

The CPRL project is one of the initiatives among many who are dealing with structural concerns of poverty. This is one of those projects who identified the most powerful actors (WTO, IMF, WB) as the contributing factors to the reproduction and maintenance of inequality, injustice, structural deprivation, therefore existence of livelihood insecurity, environmental destruction, violence and increasing gap between poor and rich. In theoretical level it is established that the ideological and institutional role of these global actors is against the vision and process of Sustainable Human Development.

In Bangladesh, the above understanding is not new and there are endeavors explicitly opposing WTO/globalization/liberalization policies. Nevertheless, the dominant NGO involvement is rather neo-modernist in approach, and the potential social movements with authentic democratic vision is weak if not totally non-existent.

In this context, what strategic impact CPRL has made in the direction towards a peaceful and just society? Following contributions seem crucial:

First, the CPRL focused on the most important strategic issue, the factor/institutions (WTO) functioning as crucial root causes of global poverty. CPRL managed to bring the agenda as vital and essentially critical if not at centre of the development debate.

Second, for the first time in Bangladesh CPRL paved the way to build alliance and networks among activists from a wide spectrum, from political activists to ‘non-political’ NGOs on WTO agenda. Such convergence was unimaginable in near past.

Third, CPRL strategy combines a social movement approach with lobby and advocacy with state and business sector, therefore, have introduced the concerns of workers in the trade negotiation agenda of state and business.

Forth, it supported the understanding of the global trade environment, making headway with existing opportunities within the WTO structures.CPRL has the strategic potential to influence the expansion process of social movements; those are engaged in societal transformation.