tea garden workers

We, feminist organisations and allies, express opposition and concerns over World Bank’s recent recommendations in the World Development Report 2019, which focuses on increasing flexibilisation of labour and delinking corporate accountability on respecting labour rights. Such recommendations come in the context where the report argues that automation is about to replace workers in large scale, therefore it is necessary for labour regulations to adapt to the changing world of work.

While the report suggests the role of the state to step up in terms of providing more progressive social protection, it proposes that companies should not be the ones burdened by the “rigidities” of labour regulations.The report argues that the emerging “gig economy” such as ride-hailing platforms and e-commerce will create more jobs to the markets, while disputing concerns that this kind of work will lead to a race to the bottom and ignores the breadth of evidence on how it has led to even more precarious work. The report also claims, in contrast to widely available evidences, that global inequality is not worsening but rather becoming better[1] while ignoring the role that the World Bank has had in creating those inequalities.

The report proposes that states should finance inclusive social protections through regressive tax measures such as value-added tax and reducing subsidies, while evidence shows that such measures have gendered impacts[2] and hurt the poor the most. While the report makes the commendable proposal to close down tax havens, the World Bank Group itself is known to have supported companies that use tax havens[3]. The report also proposes that regulations such as minimum wage fixing, and employee retention and dismissal should be done away to allow for “flexicurity” in the labour market.[4]

This is also not the first time the World Bank has advocated for measures to deregulate labour regulations for decent work and wages.[5]

In a world where richest one percent bagged 82 percent of wealth created last year,[6] and where women’s labour are already flexibilised and deregulated to maximise the corporate profits, such recommendations would only worsen the working and living conditions of the workers and increase inequalities.

The majority of working women in the world are often concentrated in precarious, informal, unregulated and low-wage jobs such as domestic work, service sectors and the bottom end of the global value chain.[7] The global economy is currently functioning through women’s underpaid and unpaid work. If corporations are not obliged to provide workers with decent, non-discriminatory and safe working conditions with the excuse of improving their adaptability,[8] it will disproportionately affect women workers and promote a race to the bottom, with women at the bottom.

State human rights obligations include providing living wage, decent work and living conditions as well as to regulate corporations to respect human rights, particularly labour rights.

The Bank argues that increasing regulations would lead to more informalisation of work. It is a myth and states can and must actively introduce and increase access to social protection, living wage and decent working condition according to the international labour standards and end any form of precarious, informal work. Likewise, instead of putting the pressures on the poor to finance public services, the states, as well as international financial institutions, should support the implementation of direct and progressive taxes such as corporate taxes and taxes on capitals as well as strengthening the global tax cooperation through establishment of a Global Tax Body. As immediate measures, we strongly suggest all transnational corporations to start country-by-country public tax reporting to advance tax transparency.

We are deeply concerned about the World Bank’s recommendations encouraging states to contravene their human rights obligations. We reiterate the recommendations of the Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable order addressed to the World Bank and International Monetary Fund that there is no “human rights-free zones” and that the Bank must stop promoting labour market deregulation.[9]

We call on the World Bank to:

  • Refrain from making recommendations which would further undermine rights and protections, and surrender the Bank’s mandate to international human rights standards and norm.
  • Engage in open discussion, inclusive and meaningful participatory process with rights holders, trade unions and diverse groups of civil society
  • Support the implementation of direct and progressive taxes such as corporate taxes and taxes on capitals as well as strengthening the global tax cooperation through establishment of a Global Tax Body.

[1] World Development Report 2019: The Changing Nature of Work, p 131

[2] Barnett, Kathleen/ Grown, Caren: Gender Impacts of Government Revenue Collection: The Case of Taxation, Commonwealth Secretariat, London, 2004.

[3] Oxfam Briefing Note (11 April 2016) “The IFC and tax havens: The need to support more responsible corporate tax behaviour” found that 51 out of the 68 companies in which the Bank’s International Financial Corporation (IFC) had invested in sub-Saharan Africa has used tax havenshttps://www.oxfamsol.be/sites/default/files/documents/bn-ifc-tax-havens-110416-embargo-en.pdf

[4] World Development Report 2019: The Changing Nature of Work, p 105

[5] Earlier edition of the Doing Business Report, the highest-circulation flagship publication of the Bank, it employed indicators such as the ease of dismissing the workers, weak enforcement on minimum wage and unionisation as preferred choice for business to invest in the country.

[6] Oxfam International (22 January 2018) “Richest 1 percent bagged 82 percent of wealth created last year – poorest half of humanity got nothing” https://www.oxfam.org/en/pressroom/pressreleases/2018-01-22/richest-1-percent-bagged-82-percent-wealth-created-last-year

[7] ILO News (2 May 2018) “More than 68 per cent of the employed population in Asia-Pacific are in the informal economy” http://www.ilo.org/asia/media-centre/news/WCMS_627585/lang–en/index.htm

[8] World Development Report 2019: The Changing Nature of Work, p 105

[9] Report of the Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order http://undocs.org/en/A/HRC/36/40

List of Signatories:

  1. Karmojibi Nari,Bangladesh
  2. Nurses Union of Thailand (NUOT), Thailand
  3. Nags Women Union, India
  4. Tenaganita Womens’ Force, Malaysia
  5. We Women Lanka, Sri Lanka
  6. Palangkaraya Ecological And Human Rights Studies (PROGRESS), Indonesia
  7. Feminist League, Kazakhstan
  8. Shobujer Ovijan Foundation-SOF, Bangladesh
  9. Ninu (Women in Action Group), Myanmar
  10. IDEA ( independent Democracy of Informal Economic),Cambodia
  11. OpenSpace, India
  12. RITES Forum, India
  13. Tanggol Bayi, Philippines
  14. Center for Women’s Resources, Philippines
  15. World March of Women,Kenya
  16. Regional Center for International Development Corporation, Uganda
  17. International Women’s Rights Action Watch Asia Pacific (IWRAW AP), International
  18. Women Engage for a Common Future, Netherlands
  19. ActionAid International, Global
  20. NGO Black Sea Women’s Club, Ukraine
  21. National Indigenous Women Forum (NIWF), Nepal
  22. Rural women’s association Alga, Kyrgyzstan
  23. Roots for Equity, Pakistan
  24. Womankind Worldwide, United Kingdom
  26. Beyond Beijing Committee, Nepal
  27. Center for Trade Unions and Human Rights (CTUHR), PHILIPPINES
  28. Barnabas Charity Outreach, Nigeria
  29. Chemical Workers Union Alliance, Thailand
  30. Climate Watch Thailand, Thailand
  31. National Alliance of Women Human Right Defenders, Nepal
  32. Tarangini Foundation, Nepal
  33. WOREC, Nepal
  34. BPO Industry Employees Network (BIEN), Philippines
  35. Focus on the Global South, Thailand
  36. Indonesian Migrants Workers Union (IMWU), Indonesia



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