Trade Union Summit: 10 years of ASEM - time to deliver!

Brussels, 08/09/2006

Said John Monks, General Secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC): “The Asia Europe Meetings process is now 10 years old, so it's a good moment to take stock and look to the future. At the ETUC, we have pressed for trade union involvement in this framework of relationships between Asia and Europe. The ETUC supports the EU in its efforts to promote sustainable economic and social development through ASEM.”

Although these dialogues have covered a wide range of issues, including economic, political and cultural topics, trade unions argue that ASEM has not succeeded in addressing the main concerns of the peoples of both regions. The main reason for this deficiency has been the overwhelming attention devoted to investment and trade issues. ASEM has been unable to deliver on any promises concerning social coherence, decent work, good governance or respect for human rights. John Monks declared: “We need to go further. In particular, we need a dialogue mechanism to deal with the social consequences of globalisation that fully integrates trade unions in ASEM processes”.

Although unions welcome this recent ASEM initiative, they remain critical of a top-down approach that has failed to recognise the value of civil society's contribution to the process. Whereas the Asia Europe Business Forum was launched as one of the first initiatives at the 1st ASEM Summit held in Bangkok in 1996, up to now ASEM leaders still refuse to grant unions a similar consultative status. The ASEM structure itself needs to be modified if the process is to make a difference for people in the countries concerned.

Another point on the trade unions' agenda concerns the challenges posed by the repression of workers' rights in certain ASEM member states.

With the presence of trade unionists from Burma (Myanmar) in the meeting, the Trade Union Summit will be calling on ASEM leaders to build all possible political and economic pressure to force the government of Burma to respect fundamental human rights including freedom of association and the elimination of forced labour.

- John Monks ETUC General Secretary speech