University of Minnesota
Home || About the Human Rights Center || Applied Human Rights Research || Educational Tools || Field and Training Opportunities ||
Human Rights On-Line
|| Learning Communities & Partnerships || Co-Directors and Advisory Board


Fellow: Eric Gottwald
Fellowship site: Oxfam, Great Britain

Brief History of Organization:

Oxfam Great Britain is a development, relief, and campaigning organization working to find lasting solutions to poverty and suffering around the world. Oxfam GB was started in 1942 as the Oxford Committee for Famine Relief- one of a number of groups seeking to highlight the need for relief aid for civilian victims of the Allied blockade of Nazi-occupied Greece. Since then, it has grown into a major humanitarian non-governmental organization that works with partner organizations in poor communities around the globe.

Responsibilities of Fellow:


Conduct research in support of Oxfam’s upcoming campaign on global value chains and the precarious employment of women. Precarious employment describes the terms of employment commonly offered to women who work in the low-wage, labor-intensive export industries that have fueled job growth in many developing nations: short-term contracts – or with no contract at all –for long hours, low wages, no sick leave, maternity leave, or employment protections.

Focus on the role International Financial Institutions (IFIs) -- particularly the World Bank and International Monetary Fund -- may have played in weakening labor laws and employment protections in developing nations.

Based on this research, write a draft campaign report on the extent to which IFI labor market recommendations may contribute to the phenomenon of precarious employment for women in global value chains. Critique existing IFI policy on core labor standards and suggest reform proposals.

Participate in meetings with industry representatives and World Bank officials to better understand the market forces that create precarious employment.

Your accomplishments:


For 10 of the12 campaign countries, provided the in-country research teams with a summary report of IFI labor market reform proposals for the country.
Wrote the first draft of the eventual campaign report on how World Bank and IMF support for labor law “flexibilization” has helped to create conditions of precarious employment in developing nations.

Your challenges:

The first challenge to overcome was getting up-to-speed with the various documents, acronyms, and policy concepts that are key to understanding how IFI lending programs have shaped the terms of development in recipient nations. Thankfully, my co-workers were more than willing to help out by sharing their accumulated wisdom or pointing me towards the right resource.

Writing the draft campaign report posed a number of challenges. Campaign-style writing is very different from legal writing. Both are (hopefully) persuasive, but the target audience for this campaign is the general public and policy-makers. I had to find a way to demonstrate the very real, but somewhat indirect, ways that Bank and Fund lending policies helped to encourage the phenomenon of precarious employment. A campaign report needs to tell a compelling story, but that’s difficult to do if it’s weighed down by too much technical economic and policy jargon.

Personal essay Section: How has the fellowship changed the ideas and expectations you had before leaving?

One of the reasons I chose this particular fellowship was the opportunity to explore the “underside” of the global economy- the political, institutional, and market forces that keep many workers in developing nations trapped in poverty. Poverty is not solely an economic phenomenon, but also a state of powerlessness where people are often unable to assert their basic human rights.

There is a very polarized debate over whether globalization – decreasing trade barriers, foreign direct investment, privatization – has helped women in developing nations escape poverty and achieve greater equality. Trade and foreign direct investment have drawn millions of women into labor-intensive export jobs. At the end of transnational corporation’s global supply chains, the vast majority of workers – picking fruit, sewing garments, cutting flowers and assembling toys – are women.
The first thing that struck me is that there is no simple answer to this question. It’s true the jobs generated by foreign direct investment provide employment and much needed income for women and their families. Many are desperate to escape rural poverty and dependency on men who tend to own the land in most traditional societies.

However, what is often overlooked is how the terms of employment that accompany these jobs undermine the ability of women to assert their basic human rights in the workplace. Working without a contract, basic employment protections, or union representation, many women in these sectors are subject to sexual harassment, non-payment of overtime, mandatory pregnancy tests, and other forms of discrimination.

Before my research, I did not realize the extent to which gender roles and stereotypes impacted the terms of employment offered to women workers. Demographically, the women tend to be young, poor, and from rural areas, factors that employers (mostly male) exploit to intimidate them from demanding their legal rights (where they exist) to maternity leave, overtime pay, or the right to organize. As the weakest economic and political link in global supply chains, women workers are made to bear most of the risk and cost associated with this model of production.

The heart of my research focused on how World Bank and International Monetary Fund policies have helped to create precarious employment. This was a great project because I had the freedom to criticize existing policies and give ideas for reforms.

While I knew the IMF and World Bank were powerful players in the global economy, I did not realize the extent of their influence over low-income countries. Often saddled with debts and balance of payment problems, many developing nations are not able to obtain credit in the private market and must turn to the IFI loan programs. The IFIs frequently use their tremendous leverage to promote labor market reforms by using formal conditions or more informal policy “advice” given with an implicit understanding that non-compliance will negatively affect the country’s credit standing.

IMF and World Bank advice to developing nations is remarkably consistent: the way to succeed in the global economy is to eliminate barriers to trade and investment, privatize state owned enterprises, and create more “flexible” labor markets. For the 10 campaign countries that were the focus of my report, the Bank and Fund consistently advised nations to attract investment through lowering wages and benefits, weakening job protections, and increasing the use of temporary or seasonal contracts not subject to traditional labor laws.

This zealous promotion of labor market flexibilization stands in stark contrast to the institutions’ tepid support for international core labor standards – especially regarding the right to freedom of association and collective bargaining. By explicitly encouraging greater flexibility without simultaneously calling for core labor standards to be enforced, the Bank and Fund risk sending a message to governments that growth can come at the expense of workers’ rights. For example, in Sri Lanka the right to unionize is routinely violated in its export processing zones where women are over seventy percent of the workforce. Yet, the 2003 joint IMF/Bank country review section on labor markets ignores this reality, focusing exclusively on supporting the government’s efforts to further reduce labor regulations. This unbalanced approach to labor issues is also reflected in the Bank and Fund’s institutional practices. The IMF has no published policy to ensure that its lending promotes the ILO core labor standards. The Bank has a Core Labor Standards Toolkit available for use by in-country staff, but it is only advisory. Even among other international financial institutions, the World Bank and IMF are behind the curve when it comes incorporating core labor standards into their work. At least rhetorically, the Asian Development Bank has a clear policy that all of its lending must be designed and formulated in accordance with the Core Labor Standards.

I found it very surprising that two major U.N. institutions who consider fighting poverty to be part of their core mission have not made the link between U.N. core labor standards, decent work, and poverty reduction. I hope to stay involved with the effort to encourage multilateral institutions like the Bank, Fund, and WTO to actively promote core labor standards and other human rights.

Has your motivation for human rights work changed/altered or remained the same? Why?


While my motivations for human rights work have largely remained the same, the fellowship focused my human rights interests on labor rights in the global economy. Globalization will not reach its promise to alleviate poverty unless workers in developing nations are allowed to right to organize to improve the terms of their employment.

Who had the greatest effect on you during your fellowship experience and why?

My supervisor, Kate Raworth, probably had the greatest influence on me. As research director for the campaign, she had the challenge of keeping tabs on the progress of research at headquarters and in all 12 of the campaign countries. From a leadership perspective, she was able to motivate and keep the team on schedule without micromanaging everyone’s work. I was also impressed by her vision to reach out to several international unions, realizing that Oxfam had overlapping interests with them on this campaign.

How do you anticipate bringing your fellowship experience back home to your local community?


Currently, I am working with the American Constitution Society student group to host a speaker on importance of integrating the U.N. core labor standards into trade and investment agreements. I hope to edit the World Bank/IMF report I wrote for Oxfam and submit it as an article for publication and/or as an Op/Ed in the local press. I’m also looking into working with the Resource Center for the Americas’ Workers Rights Center, which offers ESL classes with a labor rights component.

Organizational Profile

Full Name of Organization: Oxfam- Great Britain

Abbreviation and initials commonly used: Oxfam-GB

Organizational address: 274 Banbury Road, Oxford, United Kingdom, OX2 7DZ Telephone number: 44 (0) 01865 311311

E-mail address: http://www.oxfam.org.uk/

Names of Executive Director and Senior Staff: Kate Raworth- Policy Advisor

Number of Employed Staff: 600 in Oxford HQ; 200 in field around the world.

Number of Volunteers: 2-3 in the policy department

Domestic/International Programs: Oxfam Great Britain is part of Oxfam International, which has offices in the United States (Boston and DC), Canada, Australia, Belgium, Netherlands, Hong Kong, and several other countries.

Date of Information: October, 2003

Information Supplied by: Oxfam Great Britain/Eric Gottwald

Human Rights Library || Human Rights Resource Center