Beyond Trafficking and Slavery

Voices from the supply chain: an interview with Cathy Feingold

At this year's International Labour Conference, BTS interviewed US labour leader Cathy Feingold.

Cathy Feingold
25 July 2016

BTS: Cathy, what were workers and workers’ organisations putting on the table during this year’s ILC?

CF: Well, beyond the basics of a supply chain convention, we were looking at migrant workers, homeworkers, and women workers – all of whom are crucial in supply chains. With women workers, our goal has been to make sure that they feature in discussions, because this autumn we’re going to be having an expert level meeting to discuss gender-based violence in the work place, and we think that is a key issue in supply chains. All in all, we think this first ILC conversation is a really important political marker that says, ‘there’s problems in supply chains, the way they’re structured is intentional, it’s not an accident that it has become so hard for workers around the world to have power, and we want to do something about that’.

BTS: You mention intentionality, can you elaborate a little bit more on that for us please?

CF: Sure. The fact is, big companies make decisions about how the market is structured. They design things like our beloved cell phone, but don’t actually make it. The people who make it are halfway round the world, so the top-tier companies have no responsibility for the workers doing the making. It’s a similar issue in the new, digital economy, with new platforms like Uber and Airbnb. It’s production without responsibility. And all round, what we’re struggling for is to change that, to have decent work and not nineteenth-century labour conditions.

BTS: That makes sense. But tell us, did the ILC also include discussion about global minimum wages?

CF: Absolutely! This was brought up in the discussions many times. Minimum living wages are a huge commitment that we have as a labour movement, and of course we face a huge push-back by governments and employers. So it’s been an on-going debate. And I think this is one issue that we are probably going have to have to continue to fight for for some time to come.

BTS: Is a global basic income something you could throw on the agenda as well?

CF: We are trying. And I think that we understand that there are way too many workers around the world who work day-in and day-out but still cannot provide for their families – and that’s a crime.

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