Trading away our rights

An Oxfam report

Globalisation has drawn millions of women into paid employment across the developing
world. Today, supermarkets and clothing stores source the products that they sell from
farms and factories worldwide. At the end of their supply chains, the majority of
workers – picking and packing fruit, sewing garments, cutting flowers – are women.
Their work is fuelling valuable national export growth. And their jobs could be providing
the income, security, and support needed to lift them and their families out of poverty.
Instead, women workers are systematically being denied their fair share of the benefits
brought by globalisation.

Commonly hired on short-term contracts – or with no contract at all – women are
working at high speed for low wages in unhealthy conditions. They are forced to put in
long hours to earn enough to get by. Most have no sick leave or maternity leave, few are
enrolled in health or unemployment schemes, and fewer still have savings for the
future. Instead of supporting long-term development, trade is reinforcing insecurity
and vulnerability for millions of women workers.

The harsh reality faced by women workers highlights one of the glaring failures of the
current model of globalisation. Over the past 20 years, the legal rights of powerful
corporate entities have been dramatically deepened and extended. Through the World
Trade Organization and regional and bilateral trade agreements, corporations now enjoy
global protection for many newly introduced rights. As investors, the same companies are
legally protected against a wide range of governments’ actions. Workers’ rights have
moved in the opposite direction. And it is no coincidence that the rise of the ‘flexible’
worker has been accompanied by the rise of the female, often migrant, worker.
The result is that corporate rights are becoming ever stronger, while poor people’s rights
and protections at work are being weakened, and women are paying the social costs.

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