The International Labour Organization Essay

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This report looks into the International Labour Organization (ILO) Core Labour Standards dealing with ‘minimum age of employment’ and ‘forced and compulsory labour’. The report examines the broader definition of the conventions and determines their applicability and effectiveness in a country such as Malaysia and compares/contrasts it with Indonesia.

Finally it summarizes the key issues covered within this report.Core Labour StandardsThe ILO defines the core labor standards in conventions which are based on agreements reached between the governments, employers’ and workers’ organizations of the member states of the ILO (ILO 2004:16).Mark Rix mentions that “International labor standards were originally intended to circumvent the danger that a country would attempt to suppress the wages and conditions of its national’s low thus giving it a competitive edge in international trade” (2001:17). But also to address humanitarian issues as a result of the physical dangers of industrialization.

With countries competing with each other to improve there economies and attract increased trade, they are likely to reduce wages and working conditions to extreme lows (Rix, 2001).The ILO Convention 29 defines forced or compulsory labour as ‘all work or service, which is exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty and for which the said person has not offered himself voluntarily’. It has as its objective ‘the suppression of forced or compulsory labour in all its forms’ (ILO 2004:16).Why is this important? With globalization taking its impact on the developing countries who are desperate to gain a competitive edge are willing to look the other way and are constantly underbidding each other in an unseemly ‘race to the bottom’.Wolfgang suggests that products manufactured without compliance with the core labour standards can be produced at lower costs and are thus more competitive in the world market than those where production complies with these standards.

“But bearing in mind that the economic ‘benefits’ of non-compliance with core labour standards are largely exhausted in comparative cost advantage, it is evident that an incentive for non-compliance can only be maintained for as long as more than just a tiny proportion of participants in the global economy wishes deliberately to exploit this cost advantage” (Wolfgang et al, 2002). Essentially, the larger the proportion of participants in global trading that really keep to the core labor standards, the smaller will be the comparative advantage from non-compliance.Certainly exploitation of workers under these harsh conditions should be unacceptable to any one who is concerned about human rights violations.The ILO Convention 138 states as its objective ‘the total abolition of child labour’, defining a minimum age ‘of completion of compulsory schooling and, in any case, shall not be less than 15 years’ (ILO 2004:18).

Children working under horrendous conditions in, mines, factories, as young as eight years old, who are trying to survive, have not had a childhood as most of us in the developed countries have. They have very little education and a lot of exploitation.According to the UN there are approximately 375 million child labourers in the world (ILO: 2004). Since the industrial revolution, children have always been dragged into the factories, exploited and killed in many cases by their employers.

Child labourers are being treated to the worst human rights violation and it is extremely sad that such extreme exploitation of human beings could exist even in 2004. Based on these observations of child labor conditions, surely one is very tempted to state any country where child labor exists, that it is disgusting and horrible, but nothing is as what it seems. The question that arises, are there any circumstances when child labour is acceptable?Ideally a child should not work, but for a child who may be deprived of food and his only way to survive is to work. Necessity forces them to work in some capacity. In agricultural societies, where a father relies on his children to assist in the harvest process, or a kid learning from his father working in a small shop – learning the trade so that there could be transfer of skill and he would be ready when he is handed down the family business. These are people who have to be working.

Is it child labor? Technically it is… but surely within that setting and circumstances, and given these conditions it is alright.For there to be an international standard that says there should be no child labour, one would have to look at the detail and examine the circumstances in which it exists. The concept to child labor is just too easy to say that – it should never happen as these kids are having their childhood taken away.

But essentially the whole concept of childhood is one from the perspective of privilege. The childhood involves educations and other activities which just cannot be assessed by these kids.A clear distinction has to be made between the different forms of child labour. Clearly the children who work in mines/factories, who are in danger, who are being exploited, being abused and subjected to the worst human rights violation, that this is never acceptable.

But on the other end of the spectrum, there are children who are fixed into the social fabric of the society. Where in farming societies children help with the harvest or the sowing of seeds, and the opportunities that the developed countries take for granted are not present, but it is not the exploitation of child labour. Who are we to invalidate these actions and claim it inappropriate? Whoever said that a kid should be able to go to school?Malaysia’s government is one which is of an authoritarian type which enjoys theAccording to the ILO website, Malaysia has ratified core conventions 138-180 dealing with ‘the total abolition of child labour’ and has defined the minimum age of employment to be 15. Along with core convention 29 dealing with forced labor, but has openly denounced core convention 105 – “abolition of forced labor” (ILO:2004).The Asian financial crisis of 1997-1998 had an averse affect on the south-Asian countries including Malaysia.

Yun reports “About I % of the workforce have been retrenched in 1998 (83,865 workers compared to 18,863 in 1997). Apart from retrenchment, wage reduction was also practiced with some firms cutting as much as 50% of wages to avert massive layoffs besides defaulting from paying their share to the EPF” (2002: 313).Increased migration is occurring at a time of general increase in activism in Malaysia and regionally. It is estimated that approx. 75% of migrants come from Indonesia, with the balance coming from Bangladesh, the Philippines, Pakistan and Thailand (Gurowitz: 2000). Malaysia needs migrant workers but does not want them and therefore they then to look the other way.

These migrant workers are essential in providing the labour resources for sub-contractors.The majority of the contractors deny their domestic and foreign contract workers most, if not all, of the benefits provided for under Malaysian labour laws.Malaysia, in the interest of obtaining foreign investments from Multinational corporations (MNCs) has created ‘Export Processing Zones’, employing females and suppressing unions.Abott defines Export Processing Zones as, “a relatively small, geographically spread area within a country, the purpose of which is to attract export-orientated industries, by offering them especially favourable investment and trade conditions as compared with the remainder of the host country” (Abott, 1997).Due to the weak bargaining position of workers (vis-�-vis their employers), jobs can be easily compromised at any moment.

Furthermore the industry usually requires a relatively unskilled workforce with the goods produced relatively light to ensure a high added value. Consequently most EPZs concentrate on the production of textiles, clothing and electronics for the mass market.Child labourers, once a major issue in this country, not so much anymore, are still employed mainly to work on the farms. The majority of them are migrants mostly young kids and women, who are just trying to survive. In fact, Parker observes that in countries where child labour is common, street jobs and begging are seen as the catchall for children who cannot find steady paying work.

Laws that restrict child labour in the formal sector, but do not extend beyond this area, can shift children from factories to streets “Unduly affected are female children and youths. The increasing unemployment of children and youths actively seeking work is worrisome since they become vulnerable to informal, illegal and hazardous activities. Out-of-school unemployed youths are also vulnerable to the dangers of drugs, juvenile delinquency and other forms of violence (2002: 2069)As Wolfgang points out that the key argument provided by government officials of developing countries such a Malaysia is thatcompliance with the core labour standards would unquestionably involve considerably higher cost of manufacture of products in the developing countries. This would inevitably impair the export opportunities of the countries affected. (18) That in turn would mean that the share of developing countries in world trade would be drastically reduced, which would be unacceptable in view of the small share which the developing countries anyway have in world trade (2002: 885).

As is the case in Malaysia, Indonesia too houses an authoritarian government which due to fear of communism etc. has stifled development of unions within its borders. (Rix 2001).According to the ILO website, Indonesia has ratified core conventions 138-180 dealing with ‘the total abolition of child labour’ and has defined the minimum age of employment to be 15. Along with core convention 29-105 dealing with abolition of all forms of forced labor (ILO: 2004).Indonesia’s government is desperate to attract foreign investment by getting a competitive edge in the labor resource market.

The government in Indonesia believes that it needs to maintain low wages in order to achieve this objective. In doing so it is able to provide an attractive package to the MNCs, who view the lower labor wages as an opportunity for them to significantly lower their own operational costs through sub-contracting companies.The Asian financial crisis of 1997-1998 probably put the most stress on Indonesia as compared to Malaysia. It is estimated that roughly 6-12 million people were put out of work (Rix, 2001).

Along with severe wage reductions of about 50%, minimum wage in 1998 was about 68 cents a day, which meant that the already low wages were even lower. As a result this would perhaps put them on the map as the cheapest labour.Bessell observes that many Indonesian labourers often work in small ‘sweatshops’ (e.g. garment manufacturing) which are sub-contracted to both small and large European, Asian, North American and Latin American companies. Indonesia makes extensive use of child labour, (estimate: approx.

2 million children) (Rix, 2001). In fact many child labourers find themselves working under horrendous conditions in factories such as Nike and Reebok.According to the government is committed to the idea of a push for a wage ‘ceiling’ to maintain competitiveness. In order to maintain this competitive edge, massive layoffs and wage reductions among the labourers is a common practice.

In addition to this ‘Feminization’ of the workforce is imposed to ensure greater compliance.In the 1990s, there were some unionization allowed due to external pressures from the various international NGOs. This was offset by the creation of ‘Export Processing Zones’ (EPZs) employing females and suppressing unions.There has been a rapid increase in migrant labour in Indonesia. The UN reports approx.

80-97 million. As noted in Malaysia’s case which received over 16-20 million migrant labourers from Indonesia, a high level of migrant labour ensure high levels of compliance (Rix, 2001).It should be of no surprise that the two south Asian countries are some what similar in their approach and practices of labour rights. Even tough both countries have ratified to the core conventions 29 and 138, dealing with forced labor and child labor respectively; there is an issue of enforcement of these conventions within their state borders.To prevent countries getting a competitive edge by driving down worker wages/conditions it is absolutely necessary to have them ratify to the convention dealing with ‘forced and compulsory labour’ and enforcing them to comply.

The governments of these countries should present incentives to the various sub-contractors, who are ultimately the ones who employ these child labourers, to assist in controlling child labor.Labour relations in developing countries can be directly influenced by the need for foreign investment. These foreign companies use developing countries as a pool of cheap labour through sub-contracting. It is convenient to these companies that there are sometimes authoritarian governments who restrict the development of unions. ‘Free Zones’ and the ‘feminization’ of labour ensure a compliant workforce within the state borders along with high levels of migrant labor.

In fact, Wolfgang claims that ” Once the vast majority of those participating in the world economy has renounced violation of core labour standards for support of their own national economy, factual global compliance is only a question of time. Then there will be increasing economic pressure backed by moral reasoning, compelling any states that might still be non-compliant in order to support their own national economy to change their views. Non-compliance would then no longer give significant comparative cost advantages. On the contrary, keeping to this kind of trading strategy would risk economic isolation (2002: 888-889).

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