Focus on modern slavery: Global expert

Advocacy around inequality, failure of austerity policies, faults in the international trade system and failure to create enough jobs was central to ITUC work, said Sharan Burrow.

GN Bureau | February 6, 2017


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Sharan Burrow
Photo: www.ilo.org

The focus we have put on modern slavery has galvanised enormous support, and despite resistance in particular from some Gulf countries, governments and employers alike now know that the world is watching and is ready to act to end the evil of forced labour, wherever it occurs, said Sharan Burrow, general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC).
 
In an interview to ACTRAV INFO, a monthly newsletter produced by the ILO Bureau for Workers' Activities (ACTRAV), Burrow said that the world of sport is not immune to this, and the exposure of egregious violations of workers’ rights connected to mega sporting events has led to the establishment of a platform for human rights and mega-sporting events, involving a collaboration between unions, sports bodies, employers, human rights and anti-corruption groups, as well as the ILO and the UN High Commission for Human Rights.
 
 
She said that through this, we aim to end the “groundhog day” of repeated violations virtually every time a major global sports event is prepared. Also, with ten ratifications already of the protocol to Convention 29 , which has now entered into force, we have a powerful instrument and momentum to move forward the struggle to end slavery. Convention 29 deals with forced labour.
 
 
Burrow said that while 2016 was a turbulent year in international politics, with the global economy still very weak, inequality at historic levels and conflict causing enormous loss of life and driving millions of people from their homes, trade unions all over the world continued to get real and important results for working people. Internationally, it was a busy year, with many successes and yet many challenges still ahead.
 
She added that our frontlines activity on global supply chains exposed the scandal of 50 of the world’s largest companies having a hidden workforce of 94 percent of their total labour force having no direct relationship with the multinational itself and CEOs taking no responsibility for the people who generate the wealth for shareholders. With very strong public engagement in this campaign, more and more CEOs are recognising the scandals of exploitation and even slavery in their supply chains, and we need to maintain pressure to make them act as responsible employers across their entire supply chains.
 
Burrow went on to say that the ITUC’s “Countries at Risk” programme has enabled us to refine and focus international action around countries which are the worst offenders. Pressure on these governments has in many cases led to positive change, however, the challenges are still huge, with some governments still imprisoning trade unionists, and workers still facing discrimination, physical violence and even death simply for standing up for their rights.
 
Advocacy at the global level around inequality, the failure of austerity policies, faults in the international trade system and the failure to create enough jobs was central to our work in 2016. Inequality in particular is now widely recognised as a problem in the vast majority of countries, although the international financial institutions in particular are still to learn the lesson, despite the warnings of their own researchers.
 
Read: Sharan Burrow’s complete interview here 
 

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