As the Senate takes up reauthorization of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), passed in 2000, the bill should include provisions strengthening worker rights, human rights and mandating resource transparency, says Cathy Feingold, director of the AFL-CIO International Department.
Testifying before the Senate Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health Policy last week, Feingold said that the AFL-CIO “strongly supports reauthorization of AGOA,” but it must be strengthened by including provisions to abolish the worst forms of child labor. AGOA also should include a democracy clause that allows trade benefits be limited, suspended or withdrawn when violated, she said, “because “workers are unlikely to freely exercise their rights under a government that fails to respect their political rights.”
(Read Feingold’s full testimony.)
During the 2014 U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, the AFL-CIO hosted a delegation of 38 union leaders and worker rights advocates from sub-Saharan Africa who support AGOA’s reauthorization but argued for improving it.
As the report by the AFL-CIO and Solidarity Center points out, in the 15 years AGOA has been in effect, it has increased exports from sub-Saharan Africa but has not spurred broader development or fostered a robust and equitable economic system.
Following the Summit, the AFL-CIO and the International Trade Union Confederation’s Africa Regional Office issued a joint partnership statement focused on inclusive economic growth, stating that workers must benefit from job creation and access to financial stability, education, health care and social protection.
Solidarity Center Africa Regional Program Director Imani Countess Credit: Tula Connell
The U.S.-Africa Summit in Washington, D.C., last week stood apart from similar trade and investment meetings held by China or by the European Union because African union leaders, representing millions of working people, made their voices heard, said Imani Countess, Solidarity Center regional program director for Africa.
“Any U.S. conversation discussing economic development, trade and investment in Africa couldn’t happen without … people understanding how foundational decent work, labor rights … are to overall growth and economic development,” Countess said, speaking on RadioLabour.
The Solidarity Center and the AFL-CIO facilitated meetings, held in tandem with the U.S.-Africa Summit, that included nearly 40 union leaders from 11 countries to highlight the need for good jobs as a priority in trade and investment decisions.
“As one is looking at promoting investment in Africa, that investment has to be pro-employment, as opposed to the continued emphasis and support for growth that is benefiting a very small minority,” Countess said.
Listen to the full interview.
Joel Odigie says poverty and inequality are worsening in Africa, despite the continent’s economic growth.
“Africa rising” was the catchphrase buzzing around Washington, D.C., last week, as African heads of state met for a three-day summit with U.S. government and private business.
But Joel Odigie, coordinator of human and trade union rights for the International Trade Union Confederation-Africa, says working people are not benefiting from the continent’s economic growth.
“In reality, there is an economic growth in Africa that is for the 1 percent. Poverty continues to increase, inequality continues to widen,” he said,” speaking on RadioLabour. “The question of investment and trade should be the issues of how we are able to use that to address some of these concerns.”
Odigie was among 40 African union leaders meeting in Washington, D.C., to highlight the need for decent work—which includes good wages, safe working conditions and the freedom to form unions and collectively bargain—gender equality and human rights.
Listen to the full interview
Meeting in Washington, D.C., this week, 40 African trade union leaders highlighted creation of good jobs, social protections and freedom to form unions as essential for Africa’s development. One way to do so is to make the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) work for working people.
AGOA must have strong labor clauses “to ensure that workers’ rights are protected, they are given decent work,” said Caroline Khamati Mugalla, executive secretary of the East African Trade Union Confederation. Mugalla spoke with RadioLabour.
AGOA, which gives eligible sub-Saharan countries duty-free access to the U.S. market for a variety of products, is up for re-authorization in 2015. In the 15 years AGOA has been in effect, it has increased exports from sub-Saharan Africa, but by focusing mostly on tariff reductions, it has not spurred broader development or fostered a robust and equitable economic system.
Trade agreements must create decent work, Mugalla said, and decent work “is all about social dialogue, strengthening social dialogue to ensure that workers’ rights are actually met.”
African union leaders met as African heads of state took part in the US-Africa Summit August 4-6 in Washington, D.C.
Listen to the full interview.
Find out more about AGOA
Nearly 40 trade union leaders from Africa are meeting in Washington, D.C., over coming days for a series of events to highlight the concerns and needs of working people throughout sub-Saharan Africa.
The meetings parallel the August 4-6 White House Summit for African heads of state, with union leaders seeking to influence public debate and hold leaders accountable over key issues such as decent jobs, social protections, gender equality and environmental sustainability.
On Monday, Liberian union leaders will take part in the panel “Trade Unions and Democracy from Below,” at the all-day “Empowered Africa” conference at Howard University, which is open to the public. Other events include forums on promoting decent work, inclusive development and a discussion on the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA).
As a recent report by the AFL-CIO and Solidarity Center points out, in the 15 years AGOA has been in effect, it has increased exports from sub-Saharan Africa but has not spurred broader development or fostered a robust and equitable economic system.
Naome Chakanya, an economist with the Labor and Economic Development Research Institute of Zimbabwe (LEDRIZ) who will be among trade unionists in Washington, says workers are looking for “trade agreements which do not compromise the government’s ability to adequately provide social services (public goods) which include health, education, water, electricity.”
Trade agreements benefit African workers only if they include worker rights, social protection, employment creation and social dialogue, Chakanya says, listing the four elements that the International Labor Organization (ILO) defines as fundamental to decent work.
AGOA is due for reauthorization in September 2015. Reauthorization represents an opportunity to promote a coherent regional policy that benefits African workers and communities and addresses the challenges of a changing global economy. The White House Summit also includes an AGOA forum with finance and treasury ministers.
Achieving decent work also requires innovative approaches to addressing the informal economy, one of the key points in a new Solidarity Center report. Based on a 2013 survey of trade unionists in nine African countries, the report calls for worker associations and African governments to share experiences and invest more resources to empower workers in the informal economy and extend social protections to informal-sector workers, especially women. National and global economic trends suggest that more and more workers will seek to make a living in the informal economy in the face of fewer permanent, formal-sector jobs.
The report, “African Trade Unions and Africa’s Future: Strategic Choices in a Changing World,” also calls for enforcement of existing international worker rights standards. A broad body of international and national laws and standards protects workers and their rights, but they generally are not enforced, including by countries participating in programs like AGOA. As a result, workers are vulnerable to abuses such as unsafe and unhealthy workplaces, forced labor, lost wages, sexual harassment and workplace violence.
You can follow events throughout the week on Twitter with the hashtags #USAfrica, #AfricaSummit and #WeAreAfrica, and check back here for updates.