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2002 National Delegate Conference
9 May 2002

This Conference notes the increasing globalisation of trade in goods and services, and the powerful role played by transnational companies in this process. Conference also notes the huge increase in social inequality both within and between countries that engage in the global economy.

Conference recognises that although international trade has the potential to lift millions of people out of poverty that potential is being lost because trade rules are loaded against the poor. The current world trade regimes favour the narrow commercial interests of the most powerful trading nations and their large corporations, at the expense of poor men and women and the environment. If trade is to be an engine for poverty reduction, then substantial and wide-ranging changes are essential to ensure that the world trade regime promotes poverty reduction, respect for human rights and environmental sustainability.

The benefits of trade have not been distributed fairly. Many workers in developing countries face exploitation on a daily basis and a denial of their fundamental rights. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) has stated that the effective enforcement of core labour standards is essential to make globalisation work for the poor, although UNISON recognises that core labour standards alone will not be enough to resist increasing poverty and widening inequality.

The crisis in the coffee markets illustrates the injustices of the current world trade regime. Twenty million small coffee farming families in Africa, Latin America and Asia as well as coffee plantation workers are falling deeper into poverty because of an unprecedented slump in international coffee prices, which has been fuelled by overproduction. Coffee is just one example of a much larger problem of collapsing commodity prices. The scale of impoverishment is on a huge scale, and the loss of income through falling commodity prices dwarfs the debt relief that has now been approved for heavily indebted poor countries.

Conference welcomes the efforts so far made by the international trade union movement to achieve the application of employment standards based on core ILO conventions, but believes that further action is needed. Conference notes in particular the disappointing outcome of 4th World Trade Organisation (WTO) Ministerial Conference held in Doha in November 2001, where trade union proposals urging the WTO to commit itself to close co-operation with the ILO to ensure that trade rules and policies promote, rather than continue to undermine labour standards, were actively blocked by some WTO members.

Conference welcomes and agrees to support Oxfam’s Trade Campaign, which calls for action by governments, international organisations, corporations and individuals to ensure that trade is made to work for the poor,

This should include action to tackle the coffee crisis:

1)Giant corporations involved in coffee roasting must ensure that their supply chains pay a living income to the poor at the bottom of the supply chain. They must also support measures to tackle the problem of over-supply;

2)The United Kingdom Government should take a lead within the international community in tackling the crisis, through support for an international agreement that will tackle the over-supply in the market and by working with international financial institutions to devise and fund a coherent strategy for commodities worldwide;

3)Individuals should use their power as consumers and investors to support fairer, more sustainable trade through, for example, the purchase of Fair Trade products.

Conference therefore agrees to:

1)Develop, in partnership with the Trade Union Congress, the Public Services International, International Transport Federation, Solidar and our sister unions, a clear strategy for securing the implementation and enforcement of ILO conventions, particularly core labour standards, including their adoption in the work of the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organisation and all other relevant international organisations;

2)Continue to press for the WTO to make a commitment to collaborating with the ILO on its work programme on the social dimensions of globalisation;

3)Seek a full assessment of the impact on public services of the WTO’s General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS);

4)Press the UK Government to take a leading role within the international community to actively support human rights issues, and the application of core labour standards, in its negotiations on international trade and to support a fairer world trade regime;

5)Build partnerships with other campaigning organisations such as War on Want and the World Development Movement, which share these aims;

6)Promote the Trade Campaign and campaign actions to the union membership at all levels;

7)Name and shame transnational corporations operating in Britain and the developing world who breach ILO conventions;

8)Encourage branches to support campaigns which address globalisation and related issues, such as the socially responsible investment of union assets and the pension funds of members in order to promote workers rights around the world;

9)Support attempts to develop local economic alternatives to the global economy, and to press the UK Government to consider legislation that will ensure companies engender responsible global citizenship;

10)Raise awareness among the membership of the issues relating to and the impact of globalisation and international trade by providing information and education materials;

11) Utilising the consumer power of the organisation and its members to encourage the use of Fair Trade products in workplaces and at union conferences;

12)Raising the issue within the TUC and regional TUCs;

13)Raising the issue with the UK Government and the EU urging them to use their influence at the World Trade Organisation and at other appropriate forums to press for improvements in the world trade regime that benefit the poor.