Thursday, September 29, 2016

Colombia: Violence against trade unionists impacts OECD bid, trade relations with U.S.

My two recent pieces on labor issues in Colombia  highlight how important effective protection of freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining are to a country's participation in the global community.

The first piece in The International Employment Lawyer USA - Department of Labor Accepts First Labor Petition Under US-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement (Fall 2016) discusses the recent labor petition filed by Colombian trade unions and the AFL-CIO under the U.S.-Colombia free trade agreement.  At issue is whether or not the Government of Colombia has fully complied with labor-related commitments in the FTA and a 2011 Labor Rights Action Plan outlining a number of pre-conditions to be met by Colombia before the FTA went into effect.  If Colombia cannot effectively protect trade unionists from murder and violence, it risks losing U.S. trade benefits.

The second piece in IntLawGrrls Violence against trade unionists, application of labor laws at issue in Colombia’s bid for OECD membership (September 2016) discusses labor and social protection issues related to Colombia's bid to become a member of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).  The OECD's 2016 report on labor and social protection in Colombia highlights the same issues raised by Colombian and U.S. trade unions - including failure to protect trade unionists from violence - as areas of improvement to be addressed before Colombia can joint the club of elite governments in the OECD.  If Colombia cannot find a way to improve Rule of Law and protect trade unionists from murder and threats of violence, it may fail in its bid to join the OECD.

Now that Colombia has signed a Peace Agreement with the FARC, it will be interesting to see whether efforts on an international level and within Colombia will lead to meaningful change for Colombian workers.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

OECD: Some progress made in Pacific Alliance, but more must be done to lift women out of poverty

Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru should be doing better for women.  Now is the time to act.

- Gabriela Ramos, OECD Chief of Staff, Sherpa to the G20
and Special Counsellor to the OECD Secretary-General

Since 2013, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has pursued a robust  research and policy agenda to support the reduction and elimination of gender equality in member states.  This agenda is based on the OECD's 2013 OECD Gender Recommendation and 2015 OECD Recommendation on Gender Equality in Public Life.

As part of this agenda - and at the request of countries in the Pacific Alliance - on August 26, 2016 the OECD released the report Gender Equality in the Pacific Alliance : Promoting Women's Economic Empowerment which compares gender-related economic outcomes in Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru.  The Pacific Alliance is a regional integration project established in 2011 by the four Latin American countries.  Three of those countries (Chile, Mexico and Peru) are parties to the still unratified Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).  Two are members of the OECD (Chile and Mexico) and one is being considered for membership in the OECD (Colombia).  All four countries are signatories to free trade agreements with both the U.S. and Canada - most notably Mexico, which has been a member state of the NAFTA since 1994.

As a result of the leadership of outgoing President of Chile Michelle Bachelet, gender equality was on the agenda of the 2016 Pacific Alliance Summit held in Puerto Varas, Chile from June 28 to July 1, 2016.

The overall message of Gender Equality in the Pacific Alliance is that all four member states have made significant strides in improving gender equality but a significant amount of work is still required.  Overall issues that hit women particularly hard are the pervasiveness of work in the informal sector, high rates of poverty, weak rule of law and inadequate institutions.

The report examines and compares participation rates for women and girls in education, the labor market and business ownership, highlighting three major areas of concern: (1) the high rate of girls and women who are Not in Education, Employment or Training (NEET); (2) unequal sharing of unpaid housework and childcare borne by women; and (3) the persistence of traditional attitudes about gender roles.  The report then goes on to make the economic case for gender equality and concludes with a number of policy recommendations to level the playing field between girls and boys and women and men.

All four of the countries in the Pacific Alliance made significant progress in primary education rates for both girls and boys - over 90% of children in Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru attend primary school.  Rates drop off for both girls and boys at the secondary school level, with the lowest participation rate in Mexico at 67% and the highest at 86% in Chile.  More girls attend secondary school in Colombia than boys (80% of the girls and 74% of the boys).  At the college/university level, Chile made the most advancement.  The total college enrollment in Chile is now 71%.  Compared to 2000 when 35% of young women in Chile attended college or university, today 84% attend.  Only 23% of Chilean women in college graduate with a degree in science or math, however - compared to 42% and 46% in Colombia and Mexico respectively.

Labor market participation rates for women in the four nations have increased over the last two decades, especially in Chile and Peru.  In Chile, the percentage of women in the workforce increased from 37.4% to 55.7%.  The percentage of Peruvian women in the workforce increased from 52.7% to 65.5%.  The percentage of women in the Colombian and Mexican labor markets increased about 5%, from 39.6% to 46.8% in Mexico and from 57.4% to 62.9% in Colombia.

Despite increased participation in labor markets, women in the Pacific Alliance tend to have lower quality jobs and earn less than men.  They also tend to work in the informal sector such as in home-based and domestic work.  This means that in addition to having low earning potential, a high percentage women are not participating in national social security systems - meaning no access to new increased maternity benefits legislated in Colombia in 2010 (for example) and no pension benefits in old age.  Thus women in the Pacific Alliance start out poor, remain poor during adulthood and end their lives in poverty.

Particularly troubling are the statistics for Mexico, where 64.6% of women (and 48.8% of men) report having never paid social security contributions.  In 2010 Colombia passed the Formalisation and Job Creation Law to incentivize formalization of companies and employment - providing government support, simplifying administrative and legal procedures and providing tax relief to encourage the hiring of workers from "vulnerable population groups" like women over 40.

One particularly hard-to-overcome problem is the gender pay gap - despite equal or better school completion rates for girls.  The OECD attributes this to employer discrimination, women's career breaks, occupational segregation and the heavier housework (including childcare) burden on women.  The report points out that increasing women's labor force participation and Equal Pay are good for both women and men.  Halving the current gender gap in Mexico would increase the country's projected growth rate by 0.16 percentage points a year.

The OECD highlights a number of policy measures to address economic inequality between women and men.  One policy measure is paternity leave, to enable fathers to take a greater role in childrearing.  Chile offers 12 weeks of parental leave that can be divided between the mother and father.  Mexico recently introduced 5 days of paternity leave.   Mothers in Mexico are entitled to 12 weeks of maternity leave.  The report emphasizes at each point it discusses these maternity leave laws that the majority of women cannot access the benefits because they are working in the informal sector.

Another policy measure effective in reducing women's poverty and allowing them to improve their earning capacity is childcare and early childhood education.  Mexico has made some progress in this area.  In 2002, 54% of children aged 3 to 5 were in pre-primary or primary school.  Today, that number has increased to 91.3%.  Between 2005-2014, the number of Peruvian pre-schoolers increased from 66.5% to 78.9%.  One particular Mexican program highlighted by the report is the Estancias Infantiles para Apoyar a Madres Trabajadores (Childcare to Help Working Mothers) program which both provides childcare and certification mechanisms for childcare providers (many of whom are women).

Not surprisingly, one of the report's main policy recommendations is that more women should be moved into formal employment and social security systems.  Some of the recommended steps to achieve these two interlinked goals are:   providing tax credits and enabling individual unemployment savings accounts; improving women's (especially poor, rural and indigenous women's) access to banking and loans; making it less expensive to formalize an informal business or self-startup in the informal sector; and strengthening labor inspection of informal businesses with workers on the payroll.

Another set of key recommendations in the report relate to the elimination of gender inequalities in the workplace - particularly eliminating the gender wage gap by promoting pay transparency, tackling stereotypes, emphasizing equal pay for equal work and strengthening laws and enforcement for combating all forms of discrimination in pay, recruitment, training and promotion.    In addition to  these workplace-related recommendations, the OECD emphasizes the need to improve educational outcomes for girls and women, especially in the scientific, technical and math fields.

Gender Equality in the Pacific Alliance : Promoting Women's Economic Empowerment is an excellent report.  It is an example of just how critical leadership by women at the top levels of government and the private sector can be to getting women's issues at the top of the international agenda.  Anyone interested in sustainable economic development, women's economic empowerment and regional legal and social systems or the well-being of women, children and men in the Pacific Alliance should immediately read this report.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

President of Chile Michelle Bachelet speaks at the Wilson Center

This afternoon President of Chile Michelle Bachelet spoke at the Wilson Center.  A video of the event is available.  She spoke of a wide range of subjects like the absolute necessity for the empowerment of women to ensure sustainable development; her leadership of the 2016 session of the Pacific Alliance and her request to the OECD for a special report on gender equality in Pacific Alliance member states Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru (subject of a separate post on this blog); the sometimes harshness of politics; the necessity for quotas and affirmative action to encourage women to participate in politics and private sector leadership; the need to excite children in school rather than have them sit at their desks quietly and passively; and her feelings about the impeachment of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and the media's treatment of U.S. Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.  The event was moved from the Wilson Center's normal conference room to a major lecture hall in the Ronald Reagan International Center.  The audience was engaged and buzzing with excitement.

According to her biography, Michelle Bachelet has served as President of Chile twice.  During the period between her two terms as President, she headed up UN Women, the UN agency dedicated to gender equality and the power of women.  Today, the UN Women released the First report by High-Level Panel on Women's Economic Empowerment, which outlines drivers to advance gender equality.

President Bachelet observed that it is necessary to constantly update strategies to effectively empower women - and that development is unreachable when half of the population is not empowered.  While women's participation in the Latin American workforce has increased from 49.2% in 2000 to 52.9% in 2010, much work still needs to be done - particular in the areas of addressing the wage gap and ensuring a higher percentage of women at top levels of leadership in the government and private sectors.  In addition to her work on an international level ensuring that a gender perspective is incorporated into the Pacific Alliance, President Bachelet's administration has a number of gender-related initiatives to empower women within Chile - like facilitating women's access to capital and credit for businesses and coming up with strategies to increase the number of women scientists and engineers.  She observed that today, there are more female engineers graduating in India than men.

Of particular interest was the Bachelet Administration's participation in foreign affairs in Latin America.  President Bachelet participated in the peace talks leading up to the negotiation of a peace accord between the Government of Colombia and the FARC.  The 297-page peace accord, to be signed on Monday, September 26, is one of the first to specifically include provisions related to gender and pays special attention to the fundamental rights of women, indigenous communities, girls, boys, adolescents, the Afro-Descendent community, those with disabilities and the LGBT community.

Also of interest were Chilean assistance programs in Central America which are being used to support agricultural projects and encourage trade unionism.

It was exciting to be in the presence of the Chilean Head of State - and more exciting to see how she incorporates gender leadership throughout her administration's national and international policies.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Oversold and under-delivered: The Trans-Pacific Partnership and Women's Economic Empowerment

This piece was simultaneously published on the Huffington Post.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership should not be ratified without meaningful provisions on Women's Economic Empowerment.

U.S. ratification of the Trans-Pacific Partnership is up in the air due to opposition by both major party presidential candidates, a number of members of Congress and U.S. trade unions. If negotiations are to be reopened to address the public's concerns, one area that must be revisited and reopened for negotiation is that of Women's Economic Empowerment.

Women's Economic Empowerment was clearly a goal of the Obama Administration in the negotiation of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a proposed free trade area between countries on all sides of the Pacific including Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Japan, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam. In April 2014, U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman published a post on the USTR blog Tradewinds extolling the advantages free trade can have for women. Froman references a USTR strategic paper that highlights 4 areas in which the TPP would enhance women's economic empowerment - protecting vulnerable workers, increasing formal employment, promoting development and encouraging development.

It should come as no surprise that the Obama Administration would want to prioritize the empowerment of women in its international trade agenda. Women's Economic Empowerment and achieving gender equality are also global policy goals for the international community. Two critical gender-equality targets under the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals are (1) ending all forms of discrimination against women and girls everywhere and (2) eliminating all forms of violence against women and girls everywhere in the public and private spheres. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has a robust research and policy agenda in support of the achievement of gender equality - most notably exemplified by its May 2013 Recommendation on Gender Equality in Education, Employment and Entrepreneurship. Gender equality was a key agenda item for the 11th Summit for the Pacific Alliance (a regional integration project of TPP signatories Chile, Mexico and Peru as well as Colombia) held in Chile in June-July 2016. An OECD report on gender equality in the Pacific Alliance published in August 2016 emphasizes not only the need to create a supportive business environment for women entrepreneurs, but the damaging role unequal pay for women has on the economy and the importance quality childcare and early childhood education programs have both for working women and the overall wellbeing of a country's inhabitants.

When I first heard a rumor at a conference in Toronto in May 2014 that there would be provisions on Women's Economic Empowerment in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, I envisioned an entire chapter dedicated to Women's Economic Empowerment on the same level as Labor (Chapter 19), Environment (Chapter 20) or Intellectual Property (Chapter 18) - something like the wide ranging 2012 U.S.-Mexico Memorandum of Understanding for the Promotion of Gender Equality, the Empowerment of Women and Women's Human Rights signed by then U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and then Mexican Minister of Foreign Affairs Patricia Espinosa. The scope of cooperation in the 2012 MOU includes the strengthening of citizenship security (particularly for women and girls) and promotion of economic empowerment and opportunities, social development that supports women and increased access to justice for women.

An entire TPP chapter devoted to Women's Economic Empowerment would make history, putting women and issues facing working women and business owners at the center of U.S. trade policy.

The actual result in the TPP is a little more underwhelming. A February 2016 blog piece by former Acting Deputy USTR Wendy Cutler in The Hill highlights that the Women's Economic Empowerment text is tucked away in Article 23.4 of TPP Chapter 23: Development.

In fairness, inclusion of an entire FTA chapter devoted to development is new to U.S. trade policy. Article 23.1.1 of TPP Chapter 23 on Development affirms the parties' "commitment to promote and strengthen an open trade and investment environment that seeks to improve welfare, reduce poverty, raise living standards and create new employment opportunities in support of development." TPP's development chapter emphasizes the concept of Inclusive Growth, which it defines as "broad-based distribution of the benefits of economic growth through the expansion of business and industry, the creation of jobs, and the alleviation of poverty."

Inclusion of any text at all devoted to women's role in economic development is also new to U.S. trade policy. Article 23.4 extends the concept of inclusive growth to include women, In the first clause, the parties to the TPP recognize that enhancing opportunities for women contributes to economic development. This covers women as both workers and business owners.

The second clause of Article 23.4 commits the parties to the TPP "to consider [my emphasis] undertaking cooperative activities aimed at enhancing the ability of women, including workers and business owners, to fully access and benefit from the opportunities created by this Agreement." Examples of cooperative activities include developing women's leadership networks; identifying best practices related to workplace flexibility; helping women build their skills and capacity; and enhancing women's access to markets, technology and financing.

On the one hand, Article 23.4 creates an opening for international dialogue on women's economic empowerment in the context of the TPP. With the right leadership and attention, women's rights advocates within and outside government policy circles can do a lot even with this little text. Much more has been built on a smaller foundation.

On the other hand, the gender-based commitment in Article 23.4.1 is highly contingent - flimsy almost. The parties do not even commit to undertake cooperative activities to enhance opportunities for women - they commit to consider undertaking cooperative activities to enhance opportunities for women. Is that even a binding commitment? "We've considered it and decided it against it." Even if it were a binding commitment, Article 23.9 specifically excludes Chapter 23 on Development from TPP's dispute resolution mechanism.

Thus, no TPP chapter devoted to Women's Economic Empowerment. No strong statement about the importance of women in the global economy or in Trans-Pacific Partnership member states. No binding commitment to empower women economically or otherwise.

The lack of meaningful provisions on Women's Economic Empowerment and gender equality in the TPP is just another instance where the promise of a modern "21st Century" trade agreement did not materialize. The political head winds against the TPP create an opportunity for improvement, however, and women's advocates throughout the Trans-Pacific region should take this opportunity to make their voices heard. TPP should not be ratified without a fully enforceable chapter on Women's Economic Empowerment.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Tim Gunn: Fashion Industry Loses Billions - literally $20.4 billion - a year not clothing Real American Women

I want to take a break from the normal fare of my blog and the invisibility of women on the international trade agenda to talk about the invisibility of women in the U.S. fashion industry.

Tim Gunn's recent Op-Ed in the Washington Post Designers refuse to make clothes to fit American women. It’s a disgrace. highlights just how backwards, short-sighted and maddeningly obtuse the mainstream fashion industry can be.  They are literally leaving $20.4 billion a year - let me repeat $20.4 billion dollars a YEAR - on the table because they don't want to - or don't have the smarts and talent to - help the average American woman look beautiful and have great clothes to buy.

It just goes to show how prejudice hurts the pocket books of these designers and, in fact, our entire economy.  How much money could these designers earn and add to our economy if they opened up design houses and clothing manufacturing in the U.S. to serve an underserved market and make ALL the women in our country feel great about themselves?

According to Gunn, the fashion industry is still using aesthetics, business models and fashion runway techniques developed before American women had the right to vote.

Even more startling, Nike has only 5 designs - 5 designs! - of sportswear for larger women.  With the fitness craze, with almost everyone wanting to get out and move it to improve our health regardless of how or whether it improves our waist lines - I cannot wrap my mind around the fact that Nike is so blind that it cannot see it can make not just more but gobs and gobs of money by catering to all these women who want to get out and jog and lift weights just like their thinner counterparts.  Planet Fitness anyone?  Someone needs to fill this vacuum.

It's enough to make me want to beat my head against a wall - and I've already got a dent there from beating my head against the wall about the short-sightedness of the global manufacturing industry which cannot see the link between absurdly low wages, excessive overtime by moms and dads in factories and kids at home running amok without adequate supervision and education in economies that aren't growing in the right places.

I'll close by making a shout out to my nephew Chris of Closet by Christobal who started out his fashion design career in high school helping his aunties, classmates and cousins look beautiful no matter what their size.  A frequent feature in the annual Philadelphia Fashion Week, Chris is in his own personal basement sweatshop night and day designing and sewing beautiful outfits for all kinds of women.

Let's just hope that investors and backers start pulling designers like Closet by Christobal out of their basements and into the limelight where they belong.