Free Trade and the 'Starving Child' Defense
G. Rajasekaran is secretary general of the Malaysian Trades Union Congress.
I don't think the WTO should be abolished. But reformed, yes. Our approach is, yes, we support free trade. We support certain objectives of the WTO. But make sure it benefits the vast majority, meaning the working people.
Core labor standards are not about wages but about prohibiting child labor or forced labor, like using prisoners to carry out production work. We are not a rich country, but we feel that having core labor standards will benefit the poor countries.
I see ourselves as allies with all workers of the world. If there is competition, it should not be unfair competition like putting children to work at one-third of an adult's wages. This is unfair competition, which is not right, and it also is not benefiting consumers. You know, some US companies contract out and produce branded products in Third World countries. But the people who have gotten the jobs do not benefit; they're just working for meals. And the companies bring the products back and sell them at the same price in their own country.
In the past two years we have been invited to participate in some of the consultation processes at the World Bank as well as the IMF. We believe that when they lay down conditions, they seem to be talking only about corporations and businesses and tax systems and so forth. But they should also look at ways in which they can achieve the goal they say they are interested in: how to eradicate poverty all over the world.