As we prepare to finalise our EU-funded work on promoting human and labour rights through the GSP+ trade scheme, Alice Brenner Mueller examines the project’s results.
From town hall meetings with workers in the Philippines to in-depth research on the rights of children in Paraguay, we want to highlight the positive work our partners have accomplished over the past three and a half years.
To find out what GSP+ is and how our project worked to promote human and labour rights under the scheme, check out this video:
Our work focused on four areas: awareness-raising, capacity-building, convening stakeholders and analysis. Below are some examples of this work.
Spreading the word about GSP+
Our partners and us started our efforts by raising awareness of the GSP+ scheme and its potential for transformative social and economic change. As a result, people now have a better understanding of their human and labour rights and the GSP+ scheme.
Armenia: The Eurasia Partnership Foundation (EPF) promoted regional meetings to get together regional stakeholders, such as local authorities, CSOs and workers. These meetings have been a great opportunity for initiating dialogue and sharing experiences of issues covered in the alternative reports produced under the GSP+ project. Participants learned about their rights through these discussions.
“In general, there are no such discussions held about health issues in our region. However, they are very important and may have a positive impact. Today’s meeting was very important and helpful for all of us to get familiar with these issues,” said the Director of a local medical centre in the Gegharkunik region.
Cabo Verde: After a country-wide campaign for raising awareness of human rights, citizens and community associations held similar events with the information and the training received. These efforts led to increased local knowledge and understanding of human rights.
Sri Lanka: Our country office held a series of GSP+ dialogues, in which participants were made aware of the GSP+ scheme, Sri Lanka’s obligations on human rights compliance under the scheme and the role of civil society in holding government accountable. Civil society, activists and community members discussed potential GSP+ benefits, as well as the role of each stakeholder in pressing the government to comply with human rights obligations.
The Philippines: The Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Activists (PAHRA) organised town-hall meetings across the whole country with the objective of bringing awareness and engaging civil society, unions and workers from different industries in conversations concerning human rights under GSP+ in the Philippines. The participants received information about labour rights and Philippine’s trade activities with the EU, and the presentations were followed by comments and inclusive discussions.
Strengthening civil society
Through extensive training and workshops, our colleagues and partner institutions provided individuals and civil society organisations (CSOs) with relevant skills, such as report writing and field data collection. This led to initiatives devised by the communities themselves to continue their engagement with human rights defence and push for adherence to conventions under the GSP+ scheme.
Armenia: Our partner in Armenia trained representatives of grassroots organisations for writing UN alternative reports. The skills gained during this activity will help these organisations produce their own reports and train other CSOs in the future, strengthening their work on human rights.
Bolivia: The Centro de estudios para el desarrollo laboral y agrario (CEDLA) provided regional workshops for workers in Brazil’s nut and cane sugar extraction and harvesting industries, which are products exported under the GSP+ scheme. These meetings were well received by the participants, who voiced their feelings of vulnerability towards employers and the government. They later formed a group to address their complaints about working conditions in a structured manner.
Cabo Verde: The National Commission for Human Rights and Citizenship (CNDHC) staff received coaching for human rights education, which allowed the team not only to reinforce their knowledge but also to apply new and innovative methods in their daily work, including their national campaign. Our partner institution also trained local CSOs to write their own UN alternative reports, which will enable for improved human rights monitoring in Cabo Verde.
Paraguay: The Centro de Análisis y Difusión de la Economía Paraguaya (CADEP) established dialogues on GSP+ through meetings between CSOs and other actors, such as government authorities and the business community. These meetings considered challenges with Paraguayan trade policy and how to advocate for better agreements. The participant organisations were able to better understand and discuss necessary actions related to human and labour right obligations under the GSP+ scheme.
Sri Lanka: Multiple training efforts and discussions for CSOs helped grassroots activists identify, report and advocate on human rights violations. These activists are now able to engage with the national parliament in future discussions.
Bringing together stakeholders
We also brought together disparate sectors which ordinarily do not engage with each other, particularly the business community and civil society, so that they can recognise their responsibilities under the GSP+ programme, identify mutual opportunities and learn to collaborate.
Mongolia: Our partners in Mongolia worked closely in collaboration with the Mongolian Bar Association and the Media Council of Mongolia, promoting various events on the GSP+ mechanism for citizens around the country. The audience varied from students to business organisations and media outlets, demonstrating a widespread interest to learn more about the programme.
Pakistan: DRI Pakistan supported civil society working groups on engaging with political parties and building cross-party consensus on common human rights commitments, stressing the importance of constructive collaboration between civil society groups and political parties.
Sri Lanka: The training for CSOs conducted by DRI Sri Lanka brought together organisations from the whole country, in order to form a network for writing an alternative report to the EU. This activity paved way for CSOs to meet representatives of the EU and share their grievances. The project also brought together civil society and government representatives to highlight grievances under the GSP+, and to push the state to comply with its human rights obligations.
Understanding through analysis
Lastly, collecting data and producing reports is essential to understanding the human rights situation in any country. Our partners produced important analysis with specific findings, which make it possible to identify where authorities can better safeguard human and labour rights, generate knowledge for new initiatives to fill these gaps and continue work as GSP+ watchdogs.
Armenia: In Armenia, the project focused on delivering training to selected CSOs for producing alternative reports to UN treaty bodies. These reports, which look at different Armenian regions, have raised interest among different stakeholders, including local government. Four alternative reports were produced, which can now be used to assess the country’s human rights situation.
Bolivia: CEDLA produced two evidence-based case-studies about labour and trade standards in Bolivia, creating valuable material for monitoring and evaluating the Bolivian government’s compliance with its GSP+ obligations.
Paraguay: During field research in the rice and sugar production, entrepreneurs and farmers raised important issues and considerations. These were included in the “Book on the EU-Mercosur Agreement: Opportunities and Challenges for Paraguay”. Both government and EU officials expressed their appreciation for this research and requested the production of more similar materials.
While this programme has come to an end, our partners and other civil society groups will be able to continue to promote labour and human rights across these nine countries.
Editor’s note: This article was edited for accuracy on 12 November 2020.