In late November of this year, the world's trade ministers will meet in Seattle for the World Trade Organization's (WTO) third ministerial conference. The ministers will decide whether or not to launch a new round of trade negotiations and what that round will cover.
The WTO's preamble explicitly commits the WTO to increasing the standard of living worldwide through reduced unemployment and increasing incomes. It has failed to fulfill this mandate. WTO rules permit and, in fact, encourage the exploitation of labor and the degradation of our environment and do nothing to limit the growing power of multinational corporations and capital. The WTO has undermined legitimate national regulations protecting the environment, human rights, and public health.
Workers and our communities deserve better. We deserve a WTO that gives priority to the welfare of working families and that recognizes that in a healthy global economy, people must earn enough to buy the goods that they produce. It is time for the international community to stop the heedless rush toward further trade liberalization and focus its attention on how to reverse the pattern of growing financial instability, how to combat increasing income inequality, and how to lay the basis for sustained economic development that promotes broadly shared prosperity.
Our government must reorder its priorities, making enforceable workers' rights, rising living standards and the protection of the environment the focus of the global trade regime.
We call upon the trade ministers at the 1999 Seattle WTO Ministerial to:
1. Incorporate core workers' rights and environmental protection into WTO rules with strong enforcement procedures. These core workers' rights must include:
- freedom of association;
- the right to organize and bargain collectively;
- prohibition on the use of any form of forced or compulsory labor;
- a minimum age for the employment of children; and
- prohibition on discrimination in employment.
2. Ensure that WTO rules do not undermine legitimate national regulations protecting public health, the environment, and social programs. Unrestricted movement of goods and capital must not take precedence over public welfare.
3. Ensure that governments at all levels can protect human and labor rights by withdrawing benefits from governments that fail to guarantee and enforce them.
4. Strengthen the safeguard provisions to ensure timely and effective national actions can be taken when unanticipated import surges threaten domestic industries.
5. Develop accession criteria to ensure that new WTO members are in compliance with core workers' rights.
6. Undertake major institutional reforms to improve the transparency and accountability of WTO proceedings and ensure access to the WTO's dispute settlement process by unions and other citizen organizations.
New negotiations on investment and competition policy are headed in precisely the wrong direction - toward shoring up the rights of investors at the expense of other members of civil society and U.S. laws. We support efforts to enhance transparency in government procurement, but in doing so we must protect the ability of governments, at all levels, to use their purchasing power to reinforce their values and standards.
What is needed today are global rules that protect workers, communities, and the environment; enunciate clear responsibilities for investors; and create democratic accountability over capital. We call for a WTO based on these principles and upon our government, on behalf of the American people, to carry this banner in Seattle.