BTS: Solomon, you represent Africa on the drafting committee at the International Labour Conference. What does that involve?
SK: It is very technical work. We try to build consensus between the three parties represented at the ILO – government, workers, and employers – over the core text that the conference will adopt. This year we have been discussing supply chains and trying to open the way towards a convention. There is a great deal of negotiating to be done, and we need to ensure that while we’re compromising we do not compromise our core interests.
BTS: Many people argue that there’s a difference in the core interests of workers and employers. Is that true also at the ILO?
SK: Yes. And it is particularly pronounced this year. The employers, the capitalists – their key goal is to make money and profit. But we know workers need protecting. And we are trying to make them see it.
BTS: In your view, is there an absence of core worker protection in supply chains?
SK: Obviously, all over the world, and it’s a major concern. This is why we need the ILO and we need a convention.
BTS: What should the convention’s key features include?
SK: All the core labour standards – the right to join a union, the right to have collective bargaining, the right to have information to negotiate, etc. Indecent jobs are those when you work without social security, medical care, time off, or regular working hours. A convention needs to challenge that.
BTS: Presumably you also want to see accountability for labour conditions on the part of the lead firms who structure the supply chain?
SK: Indeed. The three tripartite parties – workers, government, and the employers – are supposed to be watchdogs for each other. Right now there is no real oversight of employers, and we need that, to hold them accountable.
BTS: Taking the example of Ghana, can you explain to us what would change if there were a convention?
SK: If the convention comes, we will have solutions to many of our problems. For example, we have many mining companies springing up in Ghana, including large international ones. But because we do not have these conventions, we find them ill-treating workers and seriously exploiting communities. What they earn in comparison to indigenous groups is ridiculous – and they often devastate land and water bodies. These are issues that we could change and fight with a convention.
The problem of course is ratification. The ILO is not like the WTO – it doesn’t have the teeth of sanctions. So members avoid ratifying or implementing. What I want to see is an ILO with teeth, with sanctions that could force member compliance.