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Human rights sacrificed for Thai Free Trade deal

22 March, 2004

Human rights sacrificed for Thai Free Trade deal

The Green Party has urged the government to call off free trade negotiations with Thailand until the Thai government ratifies core international labour and human rights conventions.

New Zealand negotiators are in Thailand this week to pursue a so-called closer economic partnership, despite concerns raised about the deal by the Green Party, CTU, Forest and Bird and other organisations in submissions to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs this month.

"It's unconscionable that the Labour government would open up New Zealand's borders to a country that doesn't respect basic human rights and working conditions," said Green Co-leader Rod Donald.

"As a matter of principle New Zealand should not enter into trade agreements with countries that have not ratified nor enforce core international labour conventions.

"Not only does Thailand refuse to protect children from exploitation but they fail to ensure that there is no forced labour despite having ratified this convention," said Mr Donald.

Thailand's shameful labour record includes the non-ratification of four of the eight core International Labour Organisation labour conventions.

Thailand is not bound to allow for the right to organise and conduct collective bargaining, rights which New Zealand allows for;

Thailand has not ratified the Convention on Discrimination, meaning that Thai women workers can be and are less well-paid and less protected than Thai men;

Children are denied the protection of the Convention on Minimum Wage;

Thailand does little to enforce the Conventions on forced labour, despite ratifying them, so de facto forced labour remains widespread - particularly among those fleeing political oppression and human rights abuses in Burma.

"More than 500,000 13-14 year-olds are known to be working while an additional 1,500,000 children aged six-to-14 are not registered in schools - many of which will probably be working illegally," said Mr Donald. "Child exploitation is coupled with an obscene minimum adult wage of only $6.20 a day, or $31 a week.

"It is grossly unfair for Kiwi businesses and their staff to be forced to compete with Thai exporters who exploit their workers and it is vital that remaining tariffs are kept in place to protect vulnerable jobs and labour-intensive industries such as textile, clothing and footwear.

"New Zealand has no business negotiating a free trade deal with a country that does not meet even basic standards of justice and sustainability with regard to labour conditions, pay rates, human rights and environmental protection."

ENDS

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