International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (1997)

This document has been made available in electronic format
by the International Co-operative Alliance (ICA)
Dec., 1997
(Source: ICA Review, Vol.90 No.4, 1997, pp.77-80)

International Confederation of Free Trade Unions
by Mr. Eddy Laurijssen*
It gives me great pleasure to address this special seminar and I would
like to thank you for inviting the ICFTU to speak.  We welcome your
initiative to explore new means of co-operation between the ICA, the
ICFTU and other like-minded organizations.  Indeed, listening to the
speech of Yehudah Paz, I can say that large parts of it could also have
featured in my own speech here today!  Your concern to promote the
environment, global development and peace in the context of
interdependence and globalization is very much a concern also of the

I believe the prospects are good for us to have a fruitful discussion here
today.  Indeed, over the last century many trade unions have made an
important commitment to co-operative development. Many co-operatives
were founded either directly or indirectly by trade unions.  The underlying
aims of the trade union and co-operative movements are the same: the
improvement of the social and economic situation of the working
population through the democratization of economic life. Both movements
are designed to combat poverty, ignorance, lack of equal opportunity and
unfair distribution of economic resources.  Both have endeavoured during
the course of their histories to correct the imbalances in society which have
worked against justice and equitable distribution of wealth and

Trade unions continue to have a significant interest in and commitment
towards co-operative development, at the national and the international
levels.  At this point, I would like to make a few comments about the
structure of the ICFTU and the international free trade union movement as
a basis for our further discussions.  

The ICFTU, established in 1949 and based ever since in Brussels,
nowadays represents 124 million workers in 195 affiliates, which are
mainly national trade union centres, in 137 countries and territories. The
ICFTU undertakes a wide range of activities including the defence of trade
union rights, promoting equality of opportunity for all people and
particularly for disadvantaged groups such as women, representation
of trade unions at intergovernmental institutions and the promotion of
social and economic policies to meet the needs of working people. Our
core activities are financed entirely by the fees paid by member

The ICFTU works closely with fourteen international trade secretariats
which represent workers in particular industrial sectors and some of these
have particular relevance to the co-operative movement. One is the IUF,
whose sector includes  food industry co-operatives and consumer
co-operatives as well as a substantial segment of the rural economy. 
Another is the IFBWW, representing industries where workers work
alongside forest workers' co-operatives, handicraft and building workers'
co-operatives and housing co-operatives.    

Another organization with which the ICFTU has a very close relationship
and co-operation is the International Labour Organization.  As you know,
the ILO has an extensive and very active co-operative programme which
probably provides the most important share of co-operative development
activities of all the United Nations agencies.  The  ICA plays a full part in
this programme.  The ICFTU, for its part, has a direct input through the
Workers' Group to the tripartite decision-making process on all levels,
including the Governing Body, the International Labour Conference,
Industrial Committees and so on.  Through these channels, the ICFTU
has always firmly supported the ILO's programmes and activities for
the promotion of co-operatives.  We should, therefore, be able to develop
a complementary approach to the ILO, through the ICFTU's link to
tripartite decisions through the Workers' Group and the ICA's link to
the ILO's co-operative department.

In this way, we can promote co-operation within the ILO.  But I believe
we also both have a very strong common interest in promoting the role of
the ILO outside the ILO itself.  The importance of the ILO was recognized
by the World Summit for Social Development in 1995, which singled out
the ILO for special work in the follow-up to the Social Summit because of
its role in employment creation and poverty alleviation.  But conference
declarations are one thing. The commitment, and most critically the
financial commitment, of ILO member governments is something else! 
Regardless of the rhetoric of the Social Summit, the reality is that the
ILO's budget is shrinking and is under pressure to fall further.  This is a
grave development both for trade unions and for the co-operative
movement, in view of the benefits we both enjoy from the ILO and the
importance we ascribe to it.  I believe there is a lot we can both do to
emphasize the unique task of the ILO in today's interdependent world. 
The ILO, with its tripartite character and historical mandate to raise
employment and social standards, should be at the heart of the
international community's response to a globalizing world economy.
We can, I am certain, make common cause to promote an increase in the
role of the ILO and I would suggest that we consider holding further
discussions on how best to do so.

Other United Nations agencies such as the FAO, UNIDO and Habitat
are  also active in the field of co-operatives. The ICFTU has Consultative
Status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations and
with its different agencies, as does the ICA.   The ICFTU and the ICA
have been working together at the FAO and UNESCO and on occasions
such as the World Food Summit organized in Rome last year and the
World Social Summit in 1995.  We can, I believe, continue to do so and we
could also meet to review our co-operation and consider other possible
areas for common approaches to UN agencies.  In particular, we could
consider the co-ordination of strategies in making representations to and
liaising with these agencies.

The ICFTU's 16th World Congress last year set further priorities for our
work which could provide scope for examination for future co-operation
with the ICA.  Foremost among these is our support for the promotion of
human rights, including trade union rights.  Basic questions of freedom of
expression and freedom of association are surely a common principle for
both trade unions and co-operatives and we may be able to find common
areas of work.  Our campaign for the elimination of child labour is one such
area where I am sure co-operatives in developing countries are themselves
most active and we should discuss co-operation.  

A related question is that of negotiating codes of labour practice with
multinational companies to ensure they respect basic workers' rights and
do not have recourse to practices such as child labour.  You have no doubt
heard of companies announcing codes of conduct in response to negative
publicity arising from their violations of human rights.  Our view is that
such codes must involve trade unions, as the representatives of the
workers concerned; that the compliance with such codes must be
internationally monitored; and that they must be based on international
labour standards.  We are willing to work closely together with NGOs
and we would be very interested in talking to representatives of the
International Co-operative Consumer Organization about the possibilities
for using the purchasing practices of your national member organizations
as a means of increasing the pressure on companies to respect workers'

Another part of our struggle for human rights in the context of economic
development is the ICFTU's campaign for a social clause to be included
in international trade agreements, particularly the World Trade
Organization, the WTO.  The aim of this proposal is to ensure that the
expansion of world trade should be linked to universal respect for
fundamental workers' rights.  The WTO is starting to prepare the agenda
for its next Ministerial Meeting, which will take place here in Geneva late
next year.  Perhaps we can discuss how to make progress at that Meeting
in those areas where we have a shared viewpoint.  It is not acceptable to
the ICFTU that the globalization process, economic development and the
expansion of world trade should benefit only the shareholders and other
privileged minorities while a growing part of the population is left in
poverty and without jobs.  No responsible institution, not even the WTO,
can turn its back on this dilemma and we should resist, with all the means
we have, the tendency of some the world's most  important international
decision-making bodies to think and talk solely in economic terms, ignoring
the social dimension and consequences of their policies.  

We would like to invite the world co-operative movement not to stand
on the sidelines but to join the ICFTU as an ally in this fight for basic
workers' rights.

The ICFTU 16th World Congress also  emphasized that gender parity is a
crucial part of the ICFTU's drive for a just and humane society. There is
no doubt in our mind that the place of women is as vital in the
co-operative movement as it is in trade unions.  Particularly in developing
countries, we may, therefore, well be able to work together on projects to
promote the rights of women.

The ICFTU and the international trade secretariats may also be able to
discuss with you how we can interact with your specialized organizations
or committees in particular sectors, such as the ICA agriculture, banking,
fisheries and housing organizations, the ICA Global Human Resource
Development Committee and the ICA Global Women's Committee.  We
agree with you as to the important role of co-ordination which COPAC
should play in the agricultural sector. Finally, at a practical level, both the
ICFTU and the ICA could  consider when it is relevant and beneficial to
invite each other to the various meetings, seminars and conferences we are

Lastly, I would like to say this.  We live today in an increasingly
globalized world economy, as Yehudah Paz has most eloquently shown
us in his speech to this meeting.  But this new global market will not work
effectively unless nations can agree on some core principles. 

The task of both our organizations is to make sure that globalization of the
economy goes hand in hand with globalization of social justice. We must
ensure that our movements are at the forefront of change, helping ordinary
people to determine their own future. 

Therefore, the ICFTU would like to thank you again for your invitation
and say that we, too, look forward to building co-operation and linkages
with you so as to make sure that our common concerns are an integral part
of the interdependent global economy.  The ICFTU will be following the
debates and the outcome of this seminar with great attention, and I would
like to wish the General Assembly of the ICA well in the debates which
you are holding. 

*   Mr. Laurijssen is Assistant General Secretary of the International
     Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) in Brussels.