Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs
Issue 13 - Evidence
OTTAWA, Tuesday, November 26, 1996
The Standing Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs met this day at 4:07 p.m. to
examine and report on the growing importance of the Asia Pacific region for
Canada, with emphasis on the upcoming Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC)
conference to be held in Vancouver in the fall of 1997, Canada's year of Asia
Senator John B. Stewart (Chairman) in the Chair.
The Chairman: Honourable senators, we are honoured to have with us this
afternoon Mr. Suranjit Sen Gupta, member of Parliament, Leader of the
Delegation and Advisor to the Prime Minister on Parliamentary Affairs of the
People's Republic of Bangladesh. He is accompanied by Mr. Abdul Hasanat
Abdullah, member of Parliament and Chief Government Whip; Mr. Abdus Shahid,
member of Parliament and Government Whip; Ms Ayethein, member of Parliament;
Mrs. Professor Sabita Begum, member of Parliament. With them is Mr. Abdul
Hashem, Secretary, Parliament Secretariat, Mr. Md. Nojibur Rahman, Private
Secretary to the Speaker, and Mr. Abdus Sobhan Sikder, Private Secretary to the
Chief Government Whip. Also here today is His Excellency Mufleh R. Osmany, High
Commissioner for the People's Republic of Bangladesh, the Deputy High
Commissioner and the First Secretary.
Appearing before us today as a witness is Mrs. Maureen O'Neil, President of the
International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development. I believe
that it is accurate to say that immediately before assuming her present
position she was President of the North-South Institute and, before that,
Deputy Minister of Citizenship in the Government of Ontario.
Also with us is Mrs. Heather Gibb, a senior researcher with the North-South
Institute, and Mrs. Betty Plewes, President and Chief Executive Officer,
Canadian Council for International Cooperation.
Mrs. Maureen O'Neil, President, International Centre for Human Rights and
Democratic Development: I wish to thank this committee for calling hearings on
APEC and, in particular, for providing this opportunity to talk about issues
that are not, in the strictest sense, economic or business related, but which
encompass the broader social, environmental and human rights implications of
participating in APEC.
I shall discuss two main issues today. The first is the participation of
citizens of civil society in APEC, and the second is the question of human
rights and, more particularly, the rights of workers in APEC countries. Canada
has an opportunity to make a real difference on these two issues in the coming
Again and again it has been said that APEC is a forum for discussion about trade
and, to a certain extent, economic and technical cooperation and that there is
no use muddying its waters with other issues. In our view, this is
short-sighted and will ultimately prevent APEC from achieving its goals of
sustainable and equitable development.
It has become increasingly clear that issues of trade and investment ought not
to be discussed in isolation from human rights and democracy. There is growing
recognition of this relationship in the OECD, in the ILO, at the World Trade
Organization, within the international trade union movement amongst, not
surprisingly, the most respected international human rights organizations and,
slowly but surely, in the business community.
The active non-governmental forums which were associated with the UN world
summits in Rio, in Vienna, in Beijing, in Copenhagen and in Cairo demonstrate
that governments alone can no longer deal with major issues confronting the
world. In successive APEC summits, beginning with the one in Seattle,
non-governmental organizations have come together to exchange amongst
themselves, to articulate their analyses, to formulate positions for leaders to
consider and to look ahead at what APEC could mean for them. Unlike the fora
that take place in conjunction with UN world conferences, no formal
relationship exists between these non-governmental bodies and APEC itself. The
attendees at these non-governmental forums on the edges of APEC meetings range
from those who reject APEC to those who want to make it more open; from those
who see it as a tool for regional development to those who see it as an
instrument of U.S. economic hegemony, those who seek dialogue and those who do
The International Centre sees its role as participating in and facilitating a
dialogue between APEC leaders and civil society. At Kyoto we held a forum on
workers' human rights, and you have received copies of that final statement.
Last year Mr. Broadbent had the opportunity to discuss our concerns and
recommendations from that Kyoto meeting with officials from a number of
countries, including Mr. Ouellet, the then Minister of Foreign Affairs for
However, the non-governmental forums around the APEC meetings have no official
connection to what goes on within APEC meetings. Generally, non-governmental
organizations are not allowed anywhere near the official proceedings. No formal
consultative procedures have been set up either nationally or multilaterally.
People attending NGO forums have even had trouble obtaining visas, and some
member countries in APEC are categorically hostile to any such participation.
Canada, as next year's host, has an extraordinary opportunity to change that
situation. Just as an aside, Canada has played perhaps the strongest role in
opening up and extending the reach of the non-governmental forums associated
with UN world conferences.
There is a coalition of groups in Canada which is interested in APEC, and they
have already begun organizing an NGO forum to be held next November, just prior
to the leaders' summit. I urge you to support the idea of this forum. We look
forward to a time when the NGO forum will be formally welcomed into the
proceedings of APEC and when its deliberations will be facilitated by the host
government. Perhaps we can find a model for this in the experiences of the APEC
Business Advisory Council and the APEC Women Leaders Summit.
The APEC Business Advisory Council is a formal body of appointed business
representatives who meet throughout the year to make recommendations to APEC.
Each member country sends three representatives and together these people write
up a formal report to the APEC leaders. The council has a budget of $500,000
(U.S.) and is funded by the taxpayers of the 18 APEC economies. ABAC organized
events during the leaders' summit this year in the Philippines, and many
business people made the trip to Manila. Next year ABAC will hold its
preparatory meetings in Canada.
The mandate of ABAC is to establish an ongoing dialogue between business and
government, precisely what is needed for the rest of civil society. The
International Centre would be happy to explore adapting and refining the
current model for civil society, to find a format that would make sense. It
would not be simple given that many of the countries in APEC are not
democracies, but we should not let that obstacle stand in the way of opening
some kind of dialogue. Many countries sitting around the table at UN
conferences are not democracies, either.
Another possible model, less formal than ABAC, would be similar in structure to
the Network of Senior Women Leaders from APEC Economies, which defines itself
as a flexible consultative forum and strategic partner in APEC's work. It held
its first conference in October of this year in Manila, which was partially
funded by CIDA. The purpose of the meeting was to work toward integrating
gender as a cross-cutting concern within APEC programs, policies and projects. I
will leave the substance of their deliberations to Heather Gibb of from the
North-South Institute, who knows this field much better than I do. Indeed, the
North-South Institute has been involved with APEC in work relating to gender
for some years now.
One could imagine a more broadly based coalition of churches, women's groups,
environmentalists, human rights and development organizations, trade unions and
others from several countries who could be part of a flexible network with
which APEC leaders could consult. That is the second model, a broader, more
flexible model than ABAC.
Whatever form it takes, civil society must have more than an ad hoc voice within
the APEC process. Let me say that the Department of Foreign Affairs and
International Trade has welcomed ideas from non-governmental organizations
relating to more structured consultation between the Canadian government and
organizations outside government.
Democratic countries simply cannot make decisions which will affect the lives of
their citizens without any consultation. Decisions relating to trade and
investment definitely affect the lives of their citizens, not just business.
Canada, as host of the next APEC meeting, will have an extraordinary
opportunity to open the process to Canadians and, to a lesser but not
insignificant extent, the APEC meetings themselves. Canada should work with the
democratic countries in APEC to see that this happens. Democratic countries
ought not agree to exclude citizens from multilateral discussions which are
supported by their tax dollars. Canada contributes 10 per cent of the APEC
secretariat's budget; surely we should also be putting some dollars toward
ensuring democratic debate about the issues with which is dealing.
I should like to turn now to workers' human rights. There is a variety of human
rights concerns among the members of APEC, ranging from East Timor and Tibet to
electoral fraud and military excesses in some countries, to violations of
freedom of speech, to the practice of torture and use of the death penalty.
Since APEC is primarily an economic forum, the rights of workers immediately
stand out as being directly related to its mandate. Workers make the products
that are traded, and their working conditions are a significant variable in
investment decisions. Workers' rights have been the focus of the International
Centre's work on APEC. I note that APEC does, ever so indirectly, address labour
issues through its working group on human resources development. However, APEC
in its own documents says that it is ultimately concerned with people and,
according to the international instruments which Canada has signed, people are
entitled to certain rights.
Workers' rights were the focus of the meeting sponsored by the International
Centre in Kyoto on the edges of last year's APEC and, as I mentioned, you have
that statement. I would simply like to underline the importance of integrating
labour rights into international trade discussions and eventually into the
international trade agreements. If people are to benefit from trade and
investment liberalization, they must enjoy basic human rights. We see what a
challenge this is with countries like China. I know that the committee had an
opportunity to discuss some of these issues with Professor Ozay Mehmet a few
weeks ago, and I would endorse the main ideas he presented on this topic.
Just to illustrate the importance of workers' human rights within APEC, I will
describe briefly the situations of two individuals with whom the International
Centre has worked on the issue of human rights. I hope their stories will
illustrate the problems workers are facing in many APEC countries.
Han Dong Fang is a Chinese trade unionist, representing the Autonomous Railroad
Workers Union, who is now in exile in Hong Kong. He was one of the last people
to leave Tiananmen Square in 1989. He spent time in jail, was badly beaten by
Chinese authorities, went to the United States for medical treatment, and now
lives in forced exile in Hong Kong where he writes and edits the China Labour
Bulletin. Last year the Centre brought him to Canada to speak to the business
community and to the media about labour rights in China. He was invited to our
forum in Kyoto, but the Japanese government refused to give him a visa,
presumably for fear of offending the Chinese Prime Minister.
Muchtar Pakpahan, an independent trade unionist from Indonesia, was able to
attend our forum and made a useful contribution. He received death threats
before leaving and today he is in jail charged with subversion in connection
with the upheavals in Indonesia this past July. Subversion in Indonesia is
punishable by death.
While governments of the Asia Pacific are hospitable to international capital
flows, some governments are making it more difficult for workers to organize to
defend their rights. These two stories illustrate real consequences of the
denial of the right to freedom of association. This is the right upon which
other rights for workers hinge. If workers cannot exercise their right to
organize themselves collectively, their wages, their working conditions and the
quality of their lives will depend on the goodwill of their employers. There is
ample evidence throughout history that that goodwill is simply not good enough.
We have countless examples around the world, including in our own history, of
the important role that trade unions have played in democratization.
This year's ABAC report states that business is the principal constituency in
APEC's quest for freer and more open trade and investment. I respectfully take
issue with this assertion. More open trade and investment policies affect all
economic actors, and it is one-sided to say that business is the principal
It is odd that democracies around the APEC table support this position, and
surely it conflicts with our own foreign policy in which both the promotion of
trade and the promotion of human rights figure prominently. As we said, in
Canada and in the world, we will make effective use of all the influence that
our economic trading and development assistance relationships afford us to
promote respect for human rights. With international partners the government
will promote reform that helps achieve objectives, such as respect for human
rights, poverty reduction, and social and gender equity into the work of
multilateral institutions, as well as to increase their accountability and
transparency. The question is: Are these goals being met in our approach to
I am not asking that we change our foreign policy, but merely that we apply it
not only in the heart of Africa where our humanitarian goals are clear but also
in the Pacific Rim where our economic interests are substantial.
Mrs Heather Gibb, Senior Researcher, North-South Institute: The North-South
Institute has been involved formally in the APEC Human Resource Development
Working Group for the past four years. We represent Canada as the main contact
point in one of the working group's four sub-groups, the Network on Economic
Development Management. As Canada's representative, and with the financial
support of CIDA, we have attempted to create a space in APEC for consideration
of a broader concept of economic development, one which includes issues related
to equity and poverty alleviation -- that is, issues related to participation
in the processes of economic development and to the distribution of the
benefits of that development.
Sometimes equity issues are referred to as social issues, but increasingly
international, economic and financial organizations are recognizing that they
are in fact economic issues. Indeed, APEC's core documents explicitly set out
the link between economic development and the well-being of the people in the
region. The Seoul Declaration of 1991 states that APEC's first objective is to
sustain the growth and development of the region for the common good of its
peoples. Subsequent dialogue in APEC forums has oriented APEC activity more
specifically toward sustainable growth and equitable development.
The 1993 Leaders' Economic Vision Statement affirms that we envisage a community
of Asia Pacific economies in which our people share the benefits of economic
growth through higher incomes from jobs requiring high skill levels and
increased mobility. This year's report on the state of economic and technical
cooperation in APEC specifically links these APEC goals to longer-term
objectives and to reducing poverty in the region.
The most visible work of APEC, however, is the trade and investment
liberalization and facilitation, or TILF, agenda. The stated framework for
these APEC initiatives is that trade liberalization will generate economic
growth, thereby improving the well-being of Asia Pacific peoples. Some APEC
members are quite insistent that APEC's real agenda rests with this narrow focus
on market liberalization and trade facilitation. Whether benefits from this
kind of growth will necessarily be widespread is increasingly being questioned.
The 1996 UNDP Human Development Report has found, rather, that global growth in
income has been spread very unequally and that the inequality is increasing.
There is considerable evidence that unfettered market forces, in fact, further
marginalize those already marginalized and benefit those who are already in a
fairly strong position. The same UN report found that there is no link between
growth and human development where that development is lop-sided. The structure
and quality of growth must be directed to supporting human development, to
reducing poverty, to protecting the environment and to ensuring sustainability.
We hear much about globalization and the global pressures to remain
internationally competitive. Many view APEC's creation as part of a global
trend toward the formation of regional trade regimes, beginning with the
European Community, the Australia and New Zealand Closer Economic Relations
Agreement, and the NAFTA.
Some analysts suggest that we are actually experiencing two processes of
globalization: economic globalization and social globalization. The first
process is carried forward through such institutions and processes as the IMF,
the G-7 and the Uruguay Round of the GATT negotiations and the second by such
processes as UN world conferences on human rights, social development,
environment and development, human livelihoods, culminating in the Beijing
World Conference on Women which was held last year.
In APEC we see these two processes coming together. We see them in the economic
agenda of Part I of the 1995 Osaka Action Agenda, the so-called trade and
investment facilitation and liberalization agenda, and in a broader eco-tech
agenda through Part II, which addresses economic and technical cooperation,
human resources development, industrial science and technology, fisheries,
agricultural technology and so on.
The activities of APEC's Human Resource Development Working Group fall under
Part II. In November 1994 APEC ministers issued a Declaration on Human
Resources Development Framework, identifying objectives, principles and
priorities for human resources development. As part of the Osaka Action Agenda,
APEC leaders and ministers endorsed the Action Program for Human Resources
Development. I will mention two of the basic principles.
The first is that the people of the Asia Pacific are the most important resource
in economic growth and development, one of the goals of which is to enhance the
quality of life and well-being of the people of the region. The second
principle is that the development and protection of human resources contribute
to the attainment of such fundamental values as the alleviation of poverty, full
employment, universal access to primary, secondary and vocational education and
the full participation of all groups in the process of economic growth and
While there is a tendency in the APEC machinery to consider gender equity as
somewhat extraneous to the real APEC agenda, the HRD working group has had a
gender program for some time. One of its sub-groups has set out an explicit
mandate in its vision statement to sensitize APEC members to the value of
maximizing the participation of women in members' economic activities and to
analyze policies and development recommendations to ensure that all people
share equitably in the benefits of economic growth.
Other forums in APEC have addressed gender differences in human resource
development, such as the conferences on small and medium-sized enterprises in
1995 and 1996 and the recent APEC Industrial, Science and Technology Ministers
Meeting in Seoul.
To illustrate the relevance of gender equity to APEC, I should like to summarize
some of the broad trends in women's employment in the sectors of the formal
economy that are relevant to APEC's agenda. Women's jobs in many APEC countries
are predominantly in the low-skilled, low-wage sectors which are substantially
affected by trade liberalizing agreements such as the GATT, such as textiles,
clothing, and personal services. Women's jobs in the manufacturing sectors in
developing countries tend to be non-unionized and short term. Jobs in the
service sector tend to be semi-skilled. However, increased levels of
export-oriented manufacturing have resulted in increased formal sector
employment of women. Employers in the light manufacturing sector have
demonstrated a preference for hiring women because of perceptions that women
are biddable and are willing to accept lower wages.
As base wages rise in many APEC countries, companies must adopt various
strategies in order to remain internationally competitive. These strategies
include relocating to a lower-wage country. Such a move tends to affect women's
jobs more than men's since it is low-skilled jobs that are being relocated.
Automation tends to replace the unskilled jobs predominantly held by women, with
a shift to more sophisticated products and a more highly-educated or more
The human resource issues for women workers arising from these trends include
the following: The unskilled have difficulty in acquiring the necessary skills
to remain employed in the formal labour market; training programs tend to be
directed to men; because of domestic commitments, women find it difficult to
make use of training opportunities.
A cursory examination of the much broader eco-tech agenda and of the emerging
FEEEP, Impact of Expanding Population and Economic Growth on Food, Energy and
the Environment, reveals how profoundly APEC's trade and investment expansion
agenda will affect women's lives. The constraints on women's economic
activities are different from those on men and a broadly-based, integrated
analysis of that agenda is urgently needed. Such an analysis cannot be carried
out in a balanced fashion by an organization equipped to receive business input
APEC's most visible focus is on trade and investment and priority is given to
business interests. Ms O'Neil has outlined the business structure, particularly
the APEC Business Advisory Council.
Another source of expert advice is the Women's Senior Leaders Network in APEC
Economies, which I will call the Women's Network. In October 1996 the
Philippines hosted the inaugural conference of the Women's Network, and I
believe you have a copy of the Call to Action from that conference. This
conference, which was supported by the Canadian International Development
Agency, UNIFEM, the Philippine government and Philippine private sector, brought
together approximately 80 delegates from 15 APEC member economies. Some
delegates represented their respective governments and some represented their
national women's organizations and machinery. The delegates included senior
scientists and engineers, businesswomen, government officials and academics,
representatives from NGOs and non-governmental institutes.
The objectives of the conference were to promote and support the integration of
gender consideration into APEC policy, programs and projects; to identify
mechanisms by which gender issues could be integrated into APEC; to organize a
network of experts whose expertise could be tapped in identifying the gender
dimension within APEC's various areas of concern and to have this network
recognized by APEC leaders.
The Call to Action was delivered to President Fidel Ramos who undertook to
deliver it to APEC leaders. I wish to underline that the Women's Network had
very solid support from the president and from his government. We were guided
and received enormous support during the three days of the conference by his
Undersecretary for Industry and Trade, who was also his acting secretary that
week, and by a senior APEC official from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The network focuses on women as active agents of change and important
contributors to national economies in both the formal and informal sectors. The
objective of the network is to ensure sustainable and equitable development by
enhancing the participation and contribution of women and by advancing an
appreciation of the different impacts of trade, investment and development
policies on the lives of women and of men.
The purpose of the network is to provide a gender dimension in the APEC process.
The Call to Action calls for gender equity to be incorporated as a
cross-cutting concern in APEC to ensure equitable development. The network
offers itself as a resource to APEC members, to the ministerial meetings, to
meetings of senior officials, to working groups and to committees.
At the meeting in Manila Canada agreed to chair the network in 1997 and to host
the second conference. This conference is scheduled to be held in Ottawa, in
September 1997, at the time of the APEC SME Business Forum and Ministerial
Meeting. In the interest of continuity, Malaysia, who will be APEC chair in
1999, also agreed to serve as the chair in 1998.
The Government of Canada has recognized that economic growth, which involves
change, can have a greater impact on women than on men. Canada recognizes that
it is critical for multilateral organizations to incorporate gender equity
considerations in their policy and programming. Indeed, Canada's federal plan
for gender equality states that the promotion of gender equality is an important
part of Canada's foreign and aid policies.
Canada's foreign policy explicitly includes a commitment to pursue gender
equality objectives in various multilateral fora, to promote the reform of
international and multilateral institutions and mechanisms in order that their
policies and programs better reflect and meet the needs of women, and to
promote the integration of gender equality issues in activities of international
A major challenge during Canada's year as APEC chair will be to reinforce the
creative and constructive interface between the two globalizations. In this
respect, APEC's unique features as a body based on equality and respect for
diversity, mutual benefit and assistance, constructive and genuine partnership
and consensus building, will provide useful guidelines. Canada's culture is
unique and very special in its recognition of constructive criticism as an
important and necessary part of policy formulation.
I hope Canada will use its year in the APEC chair to move forward and to support
the initial steps that have been taken by the Philippines to broaden the range
of voices that are heard by APEC; to support, if you will, the momentum to
integrate UNCED into the Uruguay Round.
Mrs. Betty Plewes, President and CEO, Canadian Council for International
Cooperation: The Canadian Council for International Cooperation is the national
umbrella organization for non-governmental organizations that work in the field
of international development. We have approximately 105 members. Many of our
members have had experience in working with their Asian counterparts, with
women's organizations or peasants' groups or human rights groups over a long
period of time, and it is based on this experience that we bring forward some of
our policy recommendations for our relationships with the region. CCIC is also
a member of the coalition that is planning the People's Summit for Vancouver
APEC is an extremely important mechanism for us because APEC countries account
for half of the world's population and half of the economic production of the
world. It is also important for the long-term relationships we enjoy in the NGO
APEC's goal is to promote sustainable growth, equitable development and national
stability, and there are three areas that I should like to talk about today.
The first is the APEC model, which focuses on government-private sector
relationships and which, in our view, underestimates the importance of civil
society in promoting equity and stability. The second area is sustainable human
development and how sustainable human development could become a framework for
APEC activities. The third area is CCIC member organizations and what they are
doing in these areas.
We think the APEC framework, which focuses on the state-private sector
relationships, has a hole in it, that civil society is in fact the third main
area of this framework which needs to be included in the discussions. The APEC
decision-making process is closed at the formal level to the views and
considerations of the region's citizens. It is a clear example of the prevailing
trend in economic and development strategies to rely almost exclusively on the
private sector to generate development processes to achieve a wide range of
social and developmental goals. We have already heard comments about APEC's
reliance on the private sector as the primary means of achieving its vision.
My point is not that the private sector is unimportant. Obviously, the private
sector has a key role to play. However, while the private sector may be
successful in generating growth, it does not necessarily ensure equitable
distribution of that growth nor does it guarantee respect for human rights.
Canadian NGOs who have worked in the region for many years see firsthand
persistent levels of poverty and of human rights abuses, varied levels of
citizen participation and unsustainable use of resources. At the more macro
level, a 1995 Woodrow Wilson Center study demonstrates that, while Thailand's
per capita income has increased by a multiple of 15 over the last 30 years, the
per capita income of workers has increased by a multiple of three. Workers in
the urban areas are now receiving the equivalent of $1.50 per day and in the
rural areas about 50 cents per day. Citing the fact that the top 20 per cent of
Thailand's population earns nearly 60 per cent of the country's income, the
report stated that the quality of ordinary life has decreased over the past two
decades. That statistic raises concern about the development model that is
being implemented by APEC countries.
The roles of the various states and private sectors as among APEC countries are
diverse, but almost universally civil society is an unsupported and undervalued
partner in these countries and in the APEC process. Organizations of civil
society have much to contribute to solutions and to new approaches to
development dilemmas. Civil society is a critical area where people organize to
participate and debate the sorts of development issues that concern them and
what solutions they want to pursue.
Facilitating increased participation of poor and marginalized groups, such as
peasants, women, informal and formal workers and indigenous people in civil
society, is key to addressing issues of equity and poverty reduction. APEC
leaders need to strike a better balance among the roles of the private sector,
of the state and of civil society. It is important to note that civil society
organizations within Asia have differing views on APEC and its implications for
them. As Maureen mentioned earlier, some support it and some think the whole
model is inappropriate for the region, but there is certainly scepticism that
APEC as a forum holds out much promise for a new approach to development and
trade, one which asserts the primacy of people's well-being and safeguards the
Moving to the second area, we should like to emphasize a shift from a focus on
growth to one on sustainable human development. Sustainable development is an
important part of APEC's current agenda. In an August 1996 report the APEC
Economic Committee defined "sustainable development" as a concept
that approaches the issues of economic growth from a longer-term perspective,
incorporating both environmental preservation and social stability
The sustainable development approach in APEC is inconsistent and, at times,
absent from the APEC agenda. For example, sustainable development and equity
goals are separated from trade and investment liberalization interventions and
are to be addressed only through technical cooperation activities. Although
social cohesion is a goal, the strategies seem to focus on physical
infrastructure and the conditions for creating healthy capital markets rather
than focusing on basic human needs, supporting the empowerment of women,
strengthening the participation in civil society, and supporting regional
linkages among civil society organizations of APEC countries.
What then can Canada do? As chair of APEC in 1997, Canada could show leadership
through consultations with Canadian civil society organizations. For example,
we could encourage Canadian ministers to meet with groups prior to APEC
ministerial meetings on trade, environment and sustainable development. We
could distribute APEC documents on the Internet for public comment. We could
stimulate debate and consultation on Canada's individual action plan for trade
and investment liberalization.
At UN fora Canada has facilitated civil society input by funding consultations,
by inviting direct NGO participation on delegations and working groups, and by
supporting alternative NGO summits. The APEC process could benefit from similar
The Canadian government could research and explain what Canada is doing to
support civil society in the Asia Pacific region. Canada has supported a number
of interesting activities through IDRC, through the Canadian International
Development Agency, and through discussions on many aspects of foreign affairs
programming. Canada can support sustainable human development as the framework
for APEC discussions.
Trade, investment and cooperation activities should be considered from the
perspective of how they may advance the goals of sustainable human development.
In fact, the Philippine government at this year's meetings signalled its
interest in this kind of shift, so Canada would not be alone in that area.
Third, Canadian NGOs are exploring with Asian human rights organizations the
feasibility of researching and publishing profiles of the development and human
rights situations in the 18 APEC economies to provide varying perspectives on
key issues. With other organizations of the British Columbia Council for
International Cooperation we are organizing a forum as part of the People's
Summit in Vancouver next year, which will explore community-based experiences of
trade and investment liberalization using fishing communities in Canada and
Asia as illustrations. This work would draw on the long history of Canadian
NGOs working with Asian organizations on alternative community-based approaches
to resource management.
All of these activities and issues need support and leadership from Canada at
the People's Summit in 1997.
The Chairman: Thank you. We will begin our questioning with Senator Carney.
Senator Carney: I was interested in the fact that, while you raised gender
issues and workers' issues, you omitted references to children's rights. I am
aware that this is a sensitive issue which runs across the exploitation of
children in the labour force, the cultural role that children play and the
economic role that children play in the family unit. Canada has some serious
concerns about children's rights, and I was wondering if you would care to
comment about that.
Ms O'Neil: Obviously children's rights, whether as workers or in terms of a
right to a sustainable livelihood ought to be an important consideration for
APEC when it talks about sustainable development and its impact on people. We
must find ways of using all the multilateral fora to raise human rights issues,
including children's rights. That is really at the heart of all our arguments on
If children's rights have not been defined in the APEC agenda in the past, then
they ought to be in the future under the rubric of the whole human rights
question. If a whole set of issues is defined as not being appropriate to be
discussed in a particular forum, it is difficult to move them onto the agenda.
All our arguments are that APEC's agenda ought to be enlarged and that there is,
within the wording of APEC's own documents, an avenue to do that because the
APEC documents all talk about sustainable development and its impact on people.
Senator Carney: Is there a way to use the NGO conferences which are run
alongside APEC to focus some attention on this issue?
Ms O'Neil: Yes, indeed, it would be possible.
Ms Plewes: We recently appeared before a subcommittee of the House of Commons
Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs which is looking into this whole question
of children's labour rights. Some colleagues from Bangladesh and India asked us
why North Americans and Western Europeans were so concerned about children's
labour rights rather than about children's rights to clean drinking water and
enough food, and women's rights and families' rights. That is why we want to
include children's rights in the sustainable human development framework,
because the approach which will really address children's issues is one of very
We feel that this kind of tripartite approach of government, business and civil
society organizations looking at specific situations within individual
countries is the way to go rather than sanctions and penalties. Sanctions and
penalties simply drive children's labour underground, where it becomes
inaccessible to us through any form of international sanction.
Ms Gibb: I will base my response on my experience with APEC. At a meeting of the
HRD working group in Beijing the Philippines raised the idea of having a
conference of human resource development ministers to discuss employment and
rights issues. Three protests were filed immediately by Singapore, Japan and
one other country whose name I can't remember at the moment, saying that this
was something that the ILO did. Having said that, I think it would be useful to
consider other mechanisms to advance these kinds of issues.
I should like to emphasize how important an opportunity we have now that Canada
is in the chair. The Philippines has really opened the door in many ways, and
it is very important that we follow through this year. We can have rights
organizations as members of our delegations. They may not be able to speak at
the table, but their presence would send a message to everyone else in the room
that Canada believes that this is an important issue. There are all kinds of
hidden barriers to keeping NGOs out of the room, but there are ways of getting
them in and we should use every opportunity we have.
Many Asian governments say that children's labour rights will come when their
economies have reached a certain level of development However, as countries
develop and skill levels and product sophistication move up, they cannot afford
to have cheap child labour, so it is in everybody's benefit to keep the
economic development moving.
There may be other avenues related to APEC which could be used to encourage this
kind of discussion. An academic group called Pacific Economic Cooperation
Conference has been attempting to look at these kinds of issues, and we can
give support to the Canadian component of that group to move a little bit more
aggressively on that area.
Another area is the meetings themselves. While Asian ministers will say they do
not want to talk about this, nevertheless they are beginning to talk about
child rights and they do that because pressure is being exerted. We need to
keep up the pressure. It is important for Canada to recognize that we need
quite a range of strategies and quite a range of activities to keep the momentum
Senator Grafstein: I did not realize until I read your material how intensive
the work at APEC has been. It is remarkable and commendable but -- and this is
not a bad "but" -- it is trying to get hold of issues in a way that
can be helpful. It just ran through my mind that it took many decades in Canada
to deal with the problem of child labour. We were at a higher economic level
than many of these countries, and it took us decades in a democratic system to
evolve proper rights, even pay equity rights.
I just wonder how we can develop a modular approach to progress in the human
rights field as it applies to child labour, as it applies to equity rights, as
it applies to gender rights, and so on. The one which comes closest, as far as
I can recall, is the experience in the United States. There was a tremendous
impulse 20 or 30 years ago in the United States to ensure that the American
government was responsive to human rights. One piece of legislation, in
particular, was passed which mandated the State Department to do an annual
progress report. That progress report was based on a particular model.
I refer to the point that one of you made about Thailand, where there has been
great economic growth over the last 10 years and terrific individual growth. I
think we would all agree that that is a fairly good record but, as it turns
out, rights may have been diminished in that process.
Have you considered concentrating your energies to develop a model, focusing on
APEC as an example, which could be used by the government, to measure progress
from year to year? It strikes me that one of the most positive things we can do
is to establish goals, rather than asking for Utopia tomorrow. It may take
five, ten or fifteen years to achieve those goals, but at least we would have a
benchmark. That benchmark, of course, should be quite different from those of
the other members of APEC. Has there been any thought given to such a model,
using the American model as an example?
I think as well of two private-sector models, one of which is the amnesty model,
which do progress reports from year to year. A third one, I believe, is
Democracy Watch run by a group of people in New York.
Would that be a helpful process and, if so, could the NGOs help in developing
those particular models, keeping in mind the different economic levels and
states of democracy or governance in each of the countries involved?
Ms O'Neil: We have two concerns. One is that APEC itself recognize in a much
more formal way that one cannot simply define off-the-agenda questions that
relate to human rights. The second concern is that the discussions among
non-governmental actors in the region must be heard by those sitting at the
On your point about how we could measure progress in APEC countries, I think it
would be a good idea for the NGO forum around the People's Submit next year to
have as basic background documentation status summaries of the qualities of
democratic human rights, qualities of economic and social progress in different
countries, which could then be reviewed on a regular basis. Those summaries
could be put together from material already available, including the excellent
reports on human rights by the U.S. State Department, the democratic indicators
put out by Freedom House and the UNDP Social Development Report.
The over-arching point is that we do not think APEC leaders should define
off-the-agenda issues that relate to human rights because we see them as
centrally related to their goal of sustainable development.
Ms Plewes: Following the social development summit last year in Copenhagen,
NOVIB, which is an extremely large Dutch NGO, instituted Social Watch to
monitor compliance with the documents that were signed at that meeting in
Copenhagen That organization's first report was published this year. You are
correct that we do have a number of tools at our disposal now, but those always
seems to occur in other fora. What we are trying to encourage is a more
holistic way of looking at trade.
Senator Grafstein: My point is that it is very difficult for the Prime Minister
to give such a presentation in China, for example, when his entire visit lasts
no more than six hours. I am not suggesting that that is right or wrong; I am
just trying to be pragmatic. That is why I say that a benchmark study, with
which everyone agrees, even if it diverges from mainstream thinking, would put
in the hands of everyone, critics and advocates alike, a powerful tool that
people could not criticize. It is difficult to criticize those State Department
reports. Even the American government is not too happy when they are issued on
China just before the president tries to set up an exchange visit with the
It strikes me that such a benchmark study would help simplify the issues in a
way that is transmittable. I am not talking about a 30-second sound bite, but
certainly something that makes it simple as opposed to this mass of
information, all of which is valuable but not very usable. Perhaps we will deal
with that issue in our deliberations.
On my first visit to China, I found terrible conditions in the countryside. When
I returned 10 years later, it was not the same place; I saw brick factories,
brick buildings, and food. There had been an unbelievable transformation in 10
years. Nobody seems to be giving China credit for the remarkable economic
transformation that has taken place in what were its most impoverished rural
There must be a balance here, and I am suggesting that this might be one way of
bringing it forward. There has been remarkable progress within China; we are
not satisfied, but there has been some progress. The question now is: How good
or how bad has it been? I urge the groups who are involved in this to help
bring this together for us so that we can use the material.
Senator Bolduc: Could you give us a brief overview of the degree of democracy
and some other good points about the local governments in Southeast Asia. I
assume that we have been talking up to now about the national governments. What
is the reality at the local level?
Ms Gibb: One of my concerns is that one is always made aware of how relative
ethics and values are. That is why I think it is particularly important to find
a mechanism within organizations like APEC to ground the discussion in what
these same governments have already agreed to in other forums as being core
Democracy is a difficult question to discuss. One might ask: Democracy for what
and for whom? In my view, it is very much a relative issue. Canada also comes
under scrutiny in terms of how well we perform and we must ask whether we
really want to have our systems scrutinized to the extent that the senator is
suggesting. I do not think any other APEC government would.
There are score cards out there. Unfortunately, one of the curious things about
APEC is that those same governments that have such wonderful score cards or
report cards to bring with them seem to send different people to the APEC
meetings, who do not care and never raise the issues. They are there to defend
Microsoft's market access, and that is it.
The issue is whether there is consistency across representation in different
forums. I think we have enough agreements already, and it is a matter of
following through on what is already in place.
Senator Carney: I have a supplementary question about how human rights are
viewed in different countries.
Raymond Chan, who was a human rights activist before he became an MP, Svend
Robinson and I used to "rabble-rouse," as our critics called it, on
issues of human rights in China. We have often discussed the fact that Canada
is one of the few countries where someone like Raymond Chan, who was a human
rights rabble-rouser, can end up as a minister of the Crown. I asked him whether
his view of human rights had changed since he became Secretary of State for
Asian Affairs, and he said that it has. He found that in many cases "human
rights" was just a code word for political action in some of these Asian
countries and that the view of human rights of the people he was dealing with
had nothing to do with what his view had been when he was out demonstrating
against Tiananmen Square. I thought that was a very perceptive comment by
Minister Chan in that he now has to deal with a reality which differs from the
perceptions he formerly held. I think that is really what Senator Bolduc is
trying to get at. There are cultural differences between east and west. Is the
Asian concept of democracy and human rights, which incorporates local culture
and values regarding the rights and responsibilities of citizens, different
from ours? Are we talking about a known component, or do you have a view? Is
the view of human rights among local governments in Asia the same as ours?
Ms O'Neil: There is a real slippery slope to embracing Samuel Huntington's
argument and the Prime Minister of Malaysia's argument on Asia. Positions such
as theirs are always held by government leaders who do not want to have a free
press in their country and who want to be able, with impunity, to lock people
up. I have yet to hear anybody who favours freedom of expression or who does not
endorse impunity in the actions of leaders endorse that kind of argument. It is
important is to recognize that in virtually all APEC member countries there are
people struggling for freedom of the press, struggling for the right to have
opposition parties, struggling against torture. These are not ideas that have
suddenly come from outside; these are fundamental human values which we call
It is also important to look at what these APEC countries all agreed to, even
tacitly, in 1993 at the Vienna World Conference on Human Rights. These
countries all agreed in that forum with the universal declaration of human
rights and that civil, political, social and economic rights made up an
I am sure that Mr. Chan's views changed once he became a minister of the Crown,
but I would be surprised if his views on the importance of basic human rights
have changed. I think that the slippery slope of buying into the notion that
there are values for those who respect basic human rights and values for others
who do not is a very dangerous one. It is not a position that Canada has
supported and, indeed, it is not the position that countries around the world,
at least in the forum of the Vienna Human Rights Conference, support.
Ms Plewes: We have never heard a comment on that from NGOs who are working on
these issues in the very same countries.
Senator Carney: Let me assure you that Minister Chan's views on human rights
have not changed. I was referring to his experience, not his views.
Ms Plewes: People who work in different organizations have different
opportunities. Mr. Chan has an opportunity to raise issues, and he must raise
them in a way that is effective, while some of us are still out on the street
rabble-rousing. Some of us must work in the most diplomatic way possible in
important corridors of power, and others of us are just pounding on the door.
There is not one single approach.
What has been very helpful is the way that the Canadians have brought together
in human rights consultations the various actors so that we can share common
goals and objectives even though we do not all necessarily act in the same way.
Senator Andreychuk: I wish to follow up on Senator Grafstein's point about
benchmarks, et cetera, but from a slightly different point of view. It seems
that we have created, in part, our own human rights problems. By focusing for
decades only on the political and civil covenants and by talking about things
like torture, freedom of the press, and the liberty of the individual, we have
narrowed the definition of human rights.
Is there any effort being made through your organizations or others to broaden
the definition of human rights to include, for instance, fair and equitable
trading practices, which is a human rights issue that clearly falls onto the
plate of the trade negotiators?
Further, perhaps someone can enlighten me as to why we in Canada continue to
feel uncomfortable about the issue of culture and values in Asia when we do not
seem to have the same sensitivity about the cultures and values of countries in
Africa, Eastern Europe or the Middle East. Those two question are not quite
related, but they are two things that trouble me.
Ms O'Neil: The recognition that human rights are made up of social and economic
rights as well as civil and political is certainly something that is clear to
the International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development. In fact,
it is included in its enabling legislation. However, one of the important civil
and political rights is the right to assembly. We know from our own experience
that, when people have the right to get together and to argue for things, they
are more likely to achieve them. Social and economic rights and civil and
political rights are interrelated; each side needs the other.
On the issue of why Canadians seem to worry about Asian values being an
impediment, as opposed to the values in Eastern Europe and Africa, there has
been a sort of intellectual campaign by Asian leaders to say that they are
different from the rest of humanity and that these things do not apply in the
same way to their countries. However, we must remember that the Covenant on
Social and Economic Rights was articulated during the Cold War and was
initiated by the East Bloc. There was never an attempt to say that rights were
not important in Eastern Europe or in Africa. It really has been sort of an
The Chairman: Mention has been made of Samuel Huntington's views on this matter
of ethical diversity. I noticed that, when Ms O'Neil was making her
presentation, she used the expression "civil society" five times and
that Ms Plewes, in her presentation, used the same expression 11 times. That is
a minimum; I am sure I missed some.
I ought to tell you that I know a bit about the history of this term. It came
into currency in the English language in the early eighteenth century. First,
it meant a society, whatever that was, with a government and, when we put that
government on society, we had "civil society." It was used to
distinguish a new model of human organization from Gothic society.
I gather that Huntington is arguing that the western concept of civil society is
not appropriate and does not facilitate an understanding of at least some Asia
Pacific countries. Our model, which, as I said, was developed in the eighteenth
century, was a highly individualistic model. You had individuals who were for
the most part related by economic considerations, very often contractual
obligations, under a rule of law which defined the rules of the game and with
the state making those rules and, perhaps more important, enforcing them.
You have used the term "civil society." I think you are using it in a
different way and I want to know what you mean.
Ms O'Neil: It is ironic that I am speaking to it because I find it a very loose
designation. In any case, the term "civil society" is often used and
there is a little halo around the words. The term as it is used now was
popularized by Havel in the recent Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia rather
than by the English eighteenth century experience. It basically means that
which is not government. We use it in that way.
It is a very loose term because "civil society" does not necessarily
mean "good," but it does mean something outside government.
The Chairman: Historically, it meant non-ecclesiastical or secular.
Ms O'Neil: That is right, but in our day and age it appears to mean that which
is not government.
The Chairman: I understand your point now. Going back to the model which I think
is basic to much of western economics, the model of individuals who for the
most part are related as individuals with rights competing in an economy for
jobs and so on, but under a rule of law with the government making those laws
and enforcing them, how apt is that model for the understanding what is going on
in Thailand or in Indonesia or indeed in China? Are we misleading ourselves?
Are we going in with glasses which really prevent us from seeing the realities?
Ms Plewes: We define "civil society" as that space which exists
between the household and the institutions of the state. It is the space in
which citizens organize to defend and promote their own rights, and the
citizens come together in a wide variety of ways to do that.
Traditionally, the state has had an important role in promoting development, but
we now seem to have switched to relying on the private sector. What we are
saying is that government, the private sector and the voluntary sector are all
seen as parts of the civil society, but not coterminous with civil society. We
are saying that all these sectors have particular roles to play in a development
strategy and that there are different models of civil society and different
relationships as between states and private sectors. They are not separate.
In fact, what is important is the way the sectors overlap. For example a person
is a citizen in his or her community, may work as a civil servant in
government, and run a small business on the side. That is one way of
conceptualizing the dynamics of society. There is a great deal of debate among
NGOs in other countries as to how useful this concept is and whether it applies
to their own societies,. but I think it does represent the sphere where
citizens act and can call to account both their own governments and the
excesses of the private sector.
Senator Bolduc: As the chairman said, you seem to take for granted that our
system is the right system. Surely there are other perceptions of society in
Ms Plewes: I am not saying that the way in which we have structured the
relationship as between the state, the private sector and civil society is the
only way they can be structured. What I am saying is that seeing these three
spheres of activity and the nature of their roles is a useful way to begin a
discussion about citizens' rights.
Senator Stollery: This is a tremendously complicated subject because of the vast
region that we are dealing with. When I was in my early twenties, we did not
talk about the Tiananmen massacre; we discussed what happened at the Amritsar
massacre, which was an infamous event in the history of India and was much of
the impetus for the congress.
When we start talking about the various aspects of human rights in all kinds of
different societies, what people fear most is the appeal to ethnic tensions. In
some instances, ethnic tensions make it very dangerous to use our Canadian
standards. We do not have ethnic tensions in this country to the extent that
some other countries do. For example, the appeal to ethnic tensions in
Yugoslavia some five years ago destroyed the country and caused the deaths of
thousands of people.
We have all these various forms of human rights, but it seems to me that the
right that we should be concentrating on is an independent judiciary, the rule
of law. I go back to the Amritsar massacre. There was a rule of law there, and
the perpetrators were charged and convicted.
I do not think there is an independent judiciary in many of the APEC countries
we are discussing today. Certainly there is none in China or in Indonesia.
Instead of taking on the world, would we not be better to address ourselves to
something that is understandable and practical, an important building block for
a modern society, which is an independent judiciary? What are your views on
Ms Gibb: One of the interesting aspects of APEC, if one wanted to look at it
that way, is what happens when governments are required to be more transparent
with things such as tariffs and non-tariff barriers. What it really comes down
to is corruption. For example, if the Philippines reduced its tariffs to zero,
where would they get the money to support their government and their
infrastructure? You must then tax, which raises some interesting questions,
such as why the taxation system is not equitable to begin with. Most
organizations, corporations and the big families in the Philippines have been
able to sidestep that very well, usually through less than above-board measures.
Perhaps insistence on a rules-based mechanism in APEC would be one way to
I know Canada, through its aid program, has been trying hard to chip away at
this question of an independent judiciary in China, but it is very much a
chipping-away process of simply training and winning people over. It is an
extremely complex issue. It might be simpler to convince people to agree on
some very basic rules, as is being done now with multilateral trade
Senator Stollery: Clearly, with the withdrawal of the British from Hong Kong,
the great fear is that there will be no independent judiciary. That is really
the issue. They will lose their rights, guaranteed by a judge.
Senator De Bané: If each of you had to choose one recommendation, what
would you choose as the most important recommendation for this committee to put
Ms O'Neil: One recommendation would be that APEC find the appropriate mechanism
for formally recognizing the views of non-government organizations on issues
that are on the APEC agenda, that there be a way of formalizing APEC's
relationship with non-governmental fora. Just as they listen to ABAC, the
business forum, they also should listen to a forum that is focusing on the
sustainable development aspects of their mandate, not just the narrower trade
and investment part of their mandate.
Ms Plewes: I agree with what Maureen has suggested, and I would add that Canada
should put that into practice in consultations with Canadian civil society
organizations and during the summit process.
Ms Gibb: I agree with both Maureen and Betty. Canada should build on steps that
have already been taken to open the door in a formal way to a wider range of
voices in, thereby setting a precedent which can be continued by future
governments. My second would be that our political leaders maintain the
visibility and support for the broader agenda that APEC has set out for itself.
Too often the media and some of the stronger members insist that APEC's only
agenda is trade liberalization but, as I have tried to point out, the agenda is
broader than that, and our political leadership should not be intimidated in
supporting the broader mandate.
The Chairman: Senator De Bané, you have asked the appropriate question to
conclude our discussion.