Eva Seidelman, Programs/Administrative Assistant, International Labor Rights Forum
ILRF has been working throughout the year to demand justice for social and labor activists as the Filipino government and military continue their assault on human rights and union rights. Attorney Brian Campbell has continued to put pressure on the US government to uphold labor conditionality simultaneously through military appropriations allocated to the Philippines and through the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) trade preference program.
In 2007, the US Congress voted for the first time to attach human rights conditions to the military aid our government is providing the Philippine government. Partly as a result of this high level of scrutiny by the US Congress, there was a dramatic decline in the extra-judicial killings of social and labor activists in 2008. Unfortunately, though the number of extra-judicial killings has declined significantly over the past year, widespread human and labor rights abuses continue as the perpetrators enjoy impunity.
Even though the Philippine government did not meet any of the human or labor rights conditions required for aid in 2008, the US Department of State provided the Philippines with the full military aid allocation for 2009. As a result of this poor decision, ILRF mobilized hundreds of prominent labor, faith and human rights organizations to call for stricter human rights conditions on US military aid to the Philippines through a sign-on letter distributed widely to US Congressional offices in February. Click here to check out the letter.
ILRF and three prominent church organizations followed up by submitting testimony to the House Appropriations Sub-Committee on Foreign Operations, making front page headlines in Philippines' most read newspaper, the Daily Inquirer. ILRF and other groups urged the US Congress to require that the Philippine government receive no further aid until it meets all of three human rights conditions outlined in the letter here.
In conjunction with the military assistance strategy, ILRF has used trade policy to challenge the notion that the Philippine government is promoting sustainable development by exposing its systemic assault on labor rights.
In June 2007, the ILRF filed a petition seeking an inquiry by the USTR into whether the Philippines is complying with freedom of association as conditioned by its participation in the Generalized System of Preferences Program, which extends preferential trade benefits to Philippine exports to the US. Following unabated violations of labor rights and killings of trade union leaders under the Arroyo administration, the Philippines continues to remain under "active scrutiny" by the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR). This is a success for labor rights activists as the Arroyo administration is under intense pressure to respect labor rights. You can read the petition here.
ILRF is currently preparing new evidence under the current USTR petition to illustrate most recent assaults on labor rights promoted by the Arroyo Administration. ILRF has evidence from partners that the Filipino military has used tactics such as accusing labor leaders of being associated with terrorist groups, holding activists in prison under false evidence, charging activists with criminal libel and forcing workers into anti-union "symposiums" held by the military to weaken unions.
In addition to filing the GSP petition against the Philippines, ILRF used the labor rights conditionality clause of the GSP to put a hold on the extension of trade benefits in October 2008 for certain Dole Philippines pineapple products exported to the US, after exposing Dole's systematic violations of freedom of association and failures to promote sustainable and equitable development. The product approach to filing GSP complaints has been a success for ILRF as Dole must now improve it's labor practices before receiving new trade preferences. Click here to see Brian Campbell’s post hearing brief.