Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum from the Commonwealth Trade Union Council


  1.1  For 50 years, the trade unions in the Commonwealth have interacted, supported one another, and built a considerable solidarity network. The Commonwealth Trade Union Council links trade union national centres, representing over 30 million trade union members, in 51 of the 54 countries. It is a co-ordinating organisation providing educational support for trade union activities in developing countries and seeks to promote a democratic and prosperous Commonwealth in which international labour standards are observed.

  1.2  The CTUC shares the FCO's objective to promote human rights in all countries and welcomes the opportunity to submit a memorandum to the Foreign Affairs Committee inquiring into the Human Rights Annual Report 2001.


  2.1  We welcomed the establishment of the High Level Review Group and submitted our views to the Group. We share the FCO view that the remit of CMAG should be expanded to cover situations where governments are acting in breach of the Harare Declaration principles. In the past, when the Commonwealth focus has been on high-profile countries such as Nigeria, Pakistan and Fiji, human rights abuses have continued in many others without attracting any attention at Commonwealth level. Swaziland is currently escaping Commonwealth scrutiny when so much attention is rightly focused on Zimbabwe.

  2.2  We support the FCO view that there should be greater co-operation between the official Commonwealth and civil society in Commonwealth countries. Trade unionists have a particular contribution to make in this regard. We look forward to seeing the emphasis on the contribution of civil society translated into meaningful opportunities for trade unionists to participate in policy consultation at Commonwealth and national government level.

  2.3  We note that because of the postponement of the 2001 CHOGM the draft report of the High Level Review Group has been circulated to Commonwealth governments but has not been circulated to those who made submissions. We believe that the FCO could use the period leading to the postponed CHOGM in March 2002 to consult UK and Commonwealth organisations about the draft report. This would strengthen the case for Commonwealth reform and help to build a momentum for change at Commonwealth level.


  3.1  Many countries have excellent legislation on the statute books but do not enforce it. The majority of Commonwealth countries are members of the International Labour Organisation and are bound by membership to abide by ILO Fundamental Declaration of Principles, whether or not they have ratified particular ILO Conventions. We note and welcome the emphasis in the FCO Report on slave labour and child labour. However, we would like to see abuses of the other Core Labour Standards Conventions—on freedom of association, collective bargaining and discrimination—highlighted in the Report in future years.


  4.1  Zimbabwe

  We welcome the concern expressed about Zimbabwe and note the mention of illegal action by war veterans against foreign companies and NGOs. Trade unionists have also been attacked by war veterans and the regime has attempted to destabilise the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions by establishing a rival organisation, the Zimbabwe Federation of Trade Unions. Pressure has been put on employers to pay union dues to this body instead of to the legitimate ZCTU. We would like the UK's development programme to provide material and practical assistance to civil society groups in Zimbabwe and believe that UK and international NGOs, such as the CTUC, can assist in targeting funds.

  4.2  Swaziland

  We cannot find any mention of Swaziland in the Human Rights Annual Report. For some time we have been concerned about repressive measures taken against the Swaziland Democratic Alliance—a broad-based movement including trade unions, professional bodies, churches and students. The recommendations of the Swaziland Constitutional Review Commission, published recently, include: children born to Swazi mothers whose fathers are not Swazis should be treated as immigrants; there should be no bail; Swazi citizens must refrain from denigrating the country by speaking badly about it, inside or outside the country; political parties must remain banned. We believe that only a concerted international effort can stop the implementation of these measures and would like the Foreign Affairs Committee to consider the human rights situation in Swaziland.

Commonwealth Trade Union Council

29 November 2001

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