KATHMANDU, MAY 20-23, 1996


* A South Asian Consultation on Labour Rights, in the context of Multilateral Trade Agreements was held in Kathmandu on May 20-23, 1996. The Consultation affirmed the need for a South Asia Labour Rights Charter and agreed upon the principles and elements for the formulation of the charter.

* It also affirmed the principle of Universal Labour Rights as an expression of human rights of labour in the work place, and resolved to work towards the promulgation of a UN Labour Rights Convention.

* The Consultation further resolved to establish a South Asian Labour Forum to strenghten solidarity of labour movements in South Asia.

* Representatives of Trade Unions, NGOs and support organisations of Labour from Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal and India participated in the Consultations held in all the South Asian countries on the same topic.

Review of Global and South Asian Contexts

* The Kathmandu Consultation reviewed the situations of labour rights in South Asia in the context of globalisation, structural adjustment programmes, the new trade system under WTO, and the general developments in the world economy. It noted with concern that the process of globalisation and structural adjustment programmes in South Asian countries has resulted in a steady increase in unemployment and a drastic deterioration in the living and working conditions of the working people.

* It also reviewed the trend in the international economic system to reorganise itself on the basis of economic regions, and particularly, the decision of SAARC to conclude a South Asian Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA) by the year 2000.

South Asian Charter and South Asian Labour Forum

* The Consultation was called to explore methods to establish closer cooperation amongst labour movements in South Asia, in order to effectively face the present challenges. It decided to evolve mechanisms to monitor the situation of labour, take up the issues affecting labour rights and conditions, wage common struggles for effective enforcement of these labour rights, utilise all available instrumentalities and opportunities for the advancement of the cause of South Asian labour and to build a united labour movement. Hence the resolution to evolve a South Asian Labour Charter and South Asian Labour Forum.

Preparatory Committee

* To facilitate the widest possible deliberations and the subsequent adoption of the South Asian Labour Rights Charter, a Preparatory Committee, consisting of two representatives each from all the countries, was formed. The Charter will come up for adoption in the next Consultation to be held in Kathmandu within three months, after a through and domacratic discussion among the trade unions and other support organisations in all the South Asian countries.

On Social Clause & UN Convention

* The Consultation was of the opinion that the move of developed countries to link labour standards with trade through the institutional mechanism of WTO was a pre-meditated political project, to ideologically weaken the internatinal labour movement and to serve their protectionist interests. The UN Labour Rights Convention, that the Consultation resolved to formulate, was intended to codify universally acceptable norms and standards of human rights in the work place; to ensure the accountability of Trans-National Corporations, and to build effective non-trade linked mechanisms for the enforcement of Universal Labour Rights.

On Environmental Rights

* The statement on Environmental Standards and Rights, adopted at the Consultation, while affirming the significance of environmental standards, took an unambiguous position against the linking of environmental standards with trade. It said that the environmental standards should be kept in conformity with the sustainable development of South Asian Countries, the question of environmental standards has to be based on the wider concern for preserving livelihood support systems of large populations that are dependent on traditional access to natural resources. The Consultation has also decided to prepare for the Ministerial meeting of WTO in Singapore in December 1996, with a specific agenda, reflecting commonalities and uniqueness of each country.

On Human Rights

* The statement on Human Rights affirmed the indivisibility and univrsality of human rights. It also held that the promotion and defence of these in their integrated form with due recognition of economic, social, civil and political rights is essential for the development of the South Asian societies. However, the participants took the categorical position that the Social Clasue must not be linked to trade and other economic agreements, because such linking goes against and premise of interantional law and tends itself to misuse. The Consultation proposed the estalishment of effective, independent, statutory and representative national and regional mechanisms to monitor and redress human rights violations in any form in the region.

Meeting with Secretary-General, SAARC

* A representative delegation from the Consultation visited Mr. Naeemuddin Hasan, the Secretary-General of SAARC, at his office in Kathmandu on May 23, 1996. They appraised him of their decision to evolve a South Asian Labour Rights Charter and to form a South Asian Labour Forum.

* The Secretary-General said that SAARC has defined 11 areas of cooperation, and that he would consider proposing the inclusion of labour as one of the areas of co-operation in the next SAARC official meeting.

* The delegation was informed that SAARC has formulated a set of guidelines and procedures for granting recognition to Regional Apex Bodies. The South Asian Labour Forum could seek the status of a SAARC Regional Apex Body for long term regional co-operation with SAARC Secretariat.


1. The Committee in a resolution called upon all foreign powers to cease their influence in Afghanistan to enable the Afghan people to decide their own future independently.

2. The Consultation called upon the Government of Pakistan to withdraw all cases against trade union leaders and demanded the withdrawal of the ban on trade unions and right to organise in Railways, PTE, Security Printing Press, Television, Civil Aviation and other institutions in Pakistan.

3. The Consulation resolved to urge the Sri Lankan governement to take immediate action to pass and implement the National Workers Charter.

4. Trade Unions and support organisations in a letter addressed to the Prime Minister of India demanded the cancellation of licences issued to joint/charter/lease/test fishing vessels operating in Indian Ocean, as it would deplete the fish resources, affecting not only the 80 lakhs of fisher people in India, but also those in other South Asian countries.


The Consultation was inaugurated by Sri. Padma Ratna Tuladhar, Former Minister for Labour, Government of Nepal. The session was chaired by B.M. Sreshta, President, National Labour Academy, Nepal. It was followed by an introductory address of J. John, Executive Director, Centre for Edcuation and Communication, New Delhi, where he outlined the perspective, objectives, the structure and the expected outcome of the Consultation.

After self-introcution by participants, a Steering Committee was formed with two representatives each from all the participating countries, to conduct the Consultation. The members of the Steering Committee were: KL Mahendra, Thomas Kocherry, J John, Sunil Ratnapriya, Anton Marcus, Azra Talat Saeed, Karamat Ali, Sushil Pyakurel and Gouri Pradhan.

In his key-note address, Prof. Muchkund Dubey, former Foreign Secretary, Government of India gave an overview of the impact of globalisation on South Asia. He began by defining the process of globalisation as a two way flow of products, services, technology and culture. The process was not autonomous but policy induced by advanced countries to facilitate penetration of goods, services and capital of TNC's. It expanded the economic space of TNC's and made developing countries' economy subservient to the needs of TNC's. As a result, a permanent drain of foreign exchange is imposed and unlimited international borrowing encouraged.

All the South Asian countries are incurring massive debt. This would enable TNC's to acquire resources and assests at cheap prices, under the "respectable" policy of debt-equity swap. He pointed out the possibility of selective globalisation of Developing Countries which secure integration to world economy in a manner advantageous to them. He cited the example of China. The State has a crucial role to paly and the State cannot be allowed to reduce investment in social sector, decline to control and restrict monopolies and to withdraw from directing and developing the economy.

He said that the developed countries are not adjusting their economies to the imports from developing countries. In the case of textiles it is increasingly becoming clear, on which removal of restrictions have been postponed to year 2005. Further, adopting restrictive regimes like London Club and Australian Club under the pretext of non-proliferation, and transfer of dual-technology are key determinants in globalisation. Controlling the access to
technology is a crucial mechanism of containing and keeping the developing countries as marginalised sectors of world economy.

Emphasising the need for social change, he expressed that it can be brought about by social action and struggles and not by market forces. He said, South Asia cannot avoid integrating into global economy. But, he emphasized the idea that the extent, pace and terms and conditions of globalisation should be determined according to the needs of nation states. The developing countries should have policy choice to design the integration.

In the context of South Asia, he suggested measures to

* selectively delink from globalisation,

* ensure minimum social condition in education, health and

* enbale strict governance by rule of law,

* make State responsible for infrastructural development,

* aviod liberalisation which leads to dependency,

* sequence the liberalisation of finance sector the last and
enable the growth of financial institutions,

* restrain on consumer goods choice that thrives on the
purchasing power of a minority,

* reduce debt.

He viewed the South Asian Consulation as an important step and saw immense role of labour intervening in the process of globalisation. He looked forward to the formation of South Asian Forum of Labour which would enable the labour organisatoins of various countries of the region to share their experience in the process of globalisation, to understand the operation and policies of TNC's and to act as a counter force against TNC's to shape the integration of South Asian cooperation for higher growth and to build solidarity to ensure minimum social conditions and standards.

He appreciated the proposal of UN Labour Rights Convention as a strategy to define, codify and enforce the labour rights from the view of the labour in developing countries. He said that it would take forward the issue of labour rights internationally without taking similar position to that of the governments of developing countries.

In the absence of Mr. Shahid Kardar from Pakistan, Mr. Karamat Ali initiated the discussion on Labour Rights, Environmental Standards and Humna Rights in South Asian Countries. He began by asking for honest examination of the causes for weak alliance of the labour movements in South Asia. The labour movements of South Asia have not shared among others their rich and varied experience of organising labour and fighting for their cause. The problems, issues and concerns, are similar in all these countries because of historical factors. The labour movements are fragmented nationally and disunited regionally.

He emphasized the need for the labour movements to strengthen the SAARC process and actively intervene to shape the agenda of SAARC. He pointed out the problem of arms race between India and Pakistan. Scarce resources are being wasted on defence expenditure which could be invested in the social sector. He appealed for the labour to disengage from their elites' initiative on arms race and begin to collectively oppose it.

The discussion brought out the need for systematic and critical review of the weaknesses of the labour movements in South Asia, building sectoral alliances for developing a vigorous labour movement. The trade unoins are important organisations of civil society which can give impetus to regional cooperation.

Reports from National Consultations.

Representatives from all the countries made brief presentations on the process and the conclusions of respective National Consultations.

Ms. Anuradha Chenoy said that two consultations were held in India. First, in March 20-23rd 1995 was a large Consultation consisting of 100 participats from all mojor Trade Union centres and social movements. It also brought concerned academicians and journalists to give theoretical and empirical inputs to understand the context and dimensions of the social clause. In that Consultation, three working groups - on Labour Standards, Environmental Standards and Human Rights - were constituted. Reports of those working groups became the background material for the second National Consultation held in Bangalore in October 27-29, 1995. In Bangalore, after prolonged delibration in smaller working groups a consensus position was adopted, which defined the underlying problematic in the debate, sharply and clearly. While unequivocally rejecting the linkage of labour rights and international trade, the Consultation recognised the need for enforcing labour rights embedded in the proposal of the social clause and evolving mechanisms for enforcing them without the instrumentality of WTO.

Anton Marcus of Sri Lanka said that their National Consultation was held on 12 May 1996. That was preceded by workshops of United Federation of Labour. But, he expressed the need for holding a broader national meeting to enable wider section of the labour movements to deliberate on the issue of impact of the social clause on workers in Sri Lanka. He said that Sri Lanka was the first among the South Aisan Countries to be globalised and as a result, was well integrated into the world economy. This brought specificities which needs to be assessed in the context of the social clause. He said there are two view points at the moment; one, rejecting the social clause, and second, while rejecting the World Bank - IMF - WTO system, see the possibility of strategically using the social clause in the interest of labour.

B.M. Kutty of Pakistan said that the National Consultation was held in Pakistan 4-5 May, 1996, which was attended by representatiaves of trade unions, NGOs, womens organisations, media and members of Parliament. The key papers presented in the Consultation (1) attempted to understand the evolution and design of WTO and its link to colonial thinking; (2) established the preference of voluntary compliance over punitive measures in ensuring labour, environmental and human rights; (3) stressed the need for viewing the human rights in a holistic and integrated manner which includes civil, political, economic and social rights which are indivisible and interdependent; (4) argued that linkage of trade with labour rights would be disadvantageous to the countries of the South. The Constultation took a categorical stand that the social clause must not be linked to trade and other economic agreements. The Consultation adopted statements on Environment, Labour & Human Rights. It also called for a Convention on Labour Rights under the aegis of the UN; a Charter of Labour Rights for South Asia and regional coalition to achieve it.

Gouri Pradhan of Nepal said that they had not yet reached a national consensus on the issue of the social clause. But the dominant viewpoint looked at GATT as a forum for trade negotiations that has been turned into an organisation for economic domination of the world's poor by a few advanced capitalist countries. They saw the reasons for child labour exploitation in rural poverty and deprivation. The advocates of the rights of the Child in Nepal, have never supported the conception of trade sanctions and boycott of export products made by children.

The Consultation opposed the social clause and sought genuine support and solidarity from the people and organisations of the first world nations. It welcomed the idea of UN Labour Rights Convention from India and called for a regional initiative to ensure the basic labour rights through South Asian Labour Rights Charter.

UN Labour Rights Convention

Ashim Roy of India introduced the subject of UN Labour Rights Convention - the idea which evolved in the course of two national onsultations on the issue of the social clause in India. He argued that the social clause was a political project that reduced the opposition to new trade agreements in developed countries by allowing the protectionist sentiment to co-exist with neo- liberalism. It also accomnoodated the humanitarian concern for the plight of developing countries and consolidated a wide social base for reinforcing the developed countries' control of trade channels.

The social clause proposal forces articulation that is divisive and restricting the space for forging unity among international labour movements.

The dominant strategy of the employers in the developed countries is to create and maintain union free movement. In such a situation one key issue before the international labour movement is to strengthen the capacity to create a system of industrial jurisprudence at workplace which enable the workers' right to be established and enforced. The proposed Convention is an attempt to address this global concern.

The strategy, he stated, should be to elevate the basic labour rights to the realm of universal human rights. The proposed Convention should consist of standards developed from a consensus notion of human rights in workplace. It should also incorporate strict accountability mechanism for TNC's, extending coverage of homebased and informal sector workers in sub-contractual relationship with the TNC's and an effective monitoring mechanism that includes mandatory reporting by States. The conceptual frame work behind institutional mechanism of UN General Assembly is universalism, in contrast to, tripartism of ILO.

It was pointed out that the proposed UN Convention is not a substitute for, but complimantary to various ILO standards and reinforces these standards. For example, UN Convention on the Rights of Child (CRC) has generated universal concern for child rights and has become a strategic instrument to sharpen the struggle.

The consensus was to view the UN Labour Rights Convention as a non- trade-linked enforcement mechanism of labour rights and an affirmation of Universal Labour Rights. The draft Convention should be subjected to debate and discussion with international labour movements to achieve a wider unity before its adoption.

South Asian Labour Charter

Karamat Ali introduced the topic of the South Asian Labour Rights Charter. He recalled that there exists legal and illegal mobility of labour within South Asian countries. For example, it is estimated that 1 to 1.5 million Bangladeshi workers are in Karachi. With the conclusion of negotiations on South Asian Preferential Trade Agreement (SAPTA) and the formation of South Asian Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA) by the year 2000, the legal capital mobility within South Asia is bound to increase, he said. There is also tremendous inflow of Trans-National capital into south Asia under unfair terms and conditions. All these developments will have fundamental consequences for labour in South Asian countries, and also establishes beyond doubt the need for an united response in the form of a common South Asian Labour Rights Charter.

He pointed out that the proposed Labour Rights Charter would be in consonance with UN and ILO Conventions, Convenants and Declarations, and with South Asian constitutions. The Charter also refers to the need for institutional mechanisms in South Asian countries to implement or monitor rights of workers.

The house made a series of amendments to the proposed Draft, and adopted the Draft South Asia Labour Rights Charter as a Resolution that called upon all labour organisations in South Asia to discuss and approve it at organisational and national levels. The final adoption of the Charter will be at the next South Asia Consulation in Kathmandu after three to four months.

Meeting with Secretary-General, SAARC

* A representative delegation from the Consultation visited Mr. Naeemuddin Hasan, the Secretary-General of SAARC, Kathmandu on May 23, 1996.

* The Secretary-General said that he viewed as significant the coming together of representatives of labour organisations and support NGOs in SAARC countries. He said that SAARC has defined 11 areas of cooperation, and that he would consider proposing the inclusion of labour as one of the areas of co-operation in the next SAARC offical meeting.

* The delegation was informed that the South Asian Labour Forum could seek the status of a SAARC Rigional Apex Body of long term regional co-operation with SAARC Secretariat.

* The delegation assured South Asian Trade Unions' support in strengthening the SAARC process not only as a means to ensure peace and prosperity of the people of South Asia but also as an effective economic bloc to counter the pressures of the hegemonic northern economy. At the same time, the Secretary-General was remined that the constituent governments and the SAARC Secretariat should ensure the protection of the rights of labour, especially in the context of perceived increase in trade among SAARC countries, consequent to the signing of SAFTA.

The delegation consisted of Mohsin Al Abbas, Abdul Hussain (Bangladesh); Gouri Pradhan, Vishnu Rimal (Nepal); Saranapala Silva, Anton Marcus (Sri Lanka); Swadesh Dev Roy, R.A. Mittal, J. John (India) and Karamat Ali, Fareeda Rehaman, Tanvir Gondal (Pakistan).

Press Conference

The Consultation was concluded by a Press Conference on 23 May 1996 addressed by K.L. Mahindra, Karamat Ali, Sushil Pyakurel, Ashim Roy and J. John.