Supporting workers’ rights and women’s rights would help to ensure a more just global economy. That’s according to US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, who addressed a Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Policy Dialogue in Cambodia on 12-13 July.
Clinton made it clear that, in her view, respecting the role and rights of working women and men was “not just the right and moral thing to do”, it was also the economically smart and strategic thing to do.
Clinton pointed out that the international community and international law recognise that workers everywhere, regardless of income or status, are entitled to certain universal rights, including the right to form and join a union and to bargain collectively.
“Child labour, forced labour, discrimination based on gender, race, ethnicity, religion, or other factors, should be universally prohibited,” she said. Defending these labour rights and improving working conditions was a smart economic investment, as well as a very important value, she said.
The Secretary of State said that respecting workers’ rights leads to positive, long-term economic outcomes, including higher levels of foreign direct investment.
Bringing workers, especially women, into the formal economy led to a decline in inequality and increase in mobility, increased payment of taxes, and that countries and communities were stronger and better able to meet the rising expectations of their people.
She pointed out that, when women have the chance to participate in the economic and political lives of their communities, not only do their lives improve, but the lives of their families do as well. “Commerce flourishes, instability declines, and you see a general uplifting of societies and nations,” she said.
Ms Clinton decried the fact that outdated legal and social barriers continued to limit women’s participation in business and politics.
According to the World Bank, she said, more than 100 countries had laws that restricted women’s economic activity, whether it was opening a bank account on their own, signing a contract, owning land, or pursuing the profession of their choice.
She pointed to the fact that millions of women in Southeast Asia were trapped in the informal economy, labouring in fields and factories for very low wages with very few protections. Some of them, she said, have it even worse: they are victims of forced labour, forced prostitution, or other forms of modern-day slavery.
In her address, Clinton said that, too often, discussions of these issues were on the margins of international debate. There were separate parallel conversations about women’s rights, about alleviating poverty, and then another conversation about international economics.
"All of these issues are related, and people need to start thinking about them in an integrated way", she said.
A means to an end
“What is an economy for?” she asked. “An economy is a means to an end. It is not an end in itself. An economy is to enable people to make more out of their own lives as well as to make a living,” she said.
She believes the best economic systems are those that give the most opportunity to the greatest number of people. Economies should work for people and not just people at the top, but people throughout society, she said.
“If the results of people’s hard work in any society is not spread across all the people but instead goes up to the top, you will not see the kind of progress that is possible,” she concluded.
For the full text of the US Secretary of State’s address, click here.