The work of the Digital Opportunities Task Force (DOT
Global Bridges: Digital Opportunities
1-2 March 2001
Some initial cComments from the International Labour Movement
With regard to the current work
of the DOT Force and the related debate on bridging the digital divide,
the Trade Union Advisory Committee to the OECD (TUAC), the International
Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU), Union Network International
(UNI) and Public Services International (PSI) are making the following
proposals to the DOT force to be considered ahead of its 23-24 April meeting
in Sienna, Italy .Italy. These will be posted on our respective web-sites
and are also designed to develop a debate in the International Labour Movement.
1. We are confident that the members of the DOT Force will agree with
us that as the pace of the digital revolution has accelerated, the "digital
divide" within and between countries has widened, negatively impacting
on the development process. We are also sure that they will join us in
stressing that in order to bridge the Digital Divide, fresh thinking and
attitudes will be required from all sides. Governments will have to enhance
their ability to co-operate with all components of society, which must
include business, trade unions, other non-profit organisations, and local
communities. The private sector will also have to accept a broader share
of moral and social responsibilities in its efforts to build a seamless
global business environment.
2. We are concerned that the DOT Force up till now has not met the challenge
set in the Okinawa charter with regard to the integration of all major
stakeholders in the process. The DOT Force has not achieved a balance between
business and other stakeholders. This applies in particular to the representation
of trade unions in the initiative, as well as to representatives of other
civil society groups. This will lay the DOT Force report and action plan
open to criticism when it is published and runs the risk of alienating
stakeholders from precisely those constituencies whose participation will
eventually be needed to help build the success of the activities of the
Summary of Proposals
3. We call on the DOT Force, in preparing the draft "Genoa Action Plan"
and in its implementation to:
Priority targets for concerted action
Ensure that efforts to bridge the Digital Divide are an integrated part
of wider strategies for sustainable development, that ensure environmental
sustainability, that reduce poverty and that respect of basic rights and
encourage good governance. Such a strategic approach requires that G8 governments
take the lead in bringing their official ODA funding up to agreed UN levels.
Address the "gender digital divide" which is now appearing by ensuring
active women’s engagement in all initiatives.
Promote the value of partnership with representatives of the trade union
movement at all levels (international, regional, national, local, and enterprise
level) in working to bridge the digital divide. Trade unions are both an
important sector of civil society, and a core element of global industry.
Labour, together with civil society, business and governments have to create
a common movement to overcome the social and the digital divide.
Make a clear statement that trade unions should be included as partner
organisations in the development and implementation of national ICT Councils
(see attached outline of trade union project) and international action
plans, the next DOT Force meeting and any follow-up activities, including
those beyond the Genoa Summit.
Integrate the workplace dimension of the digital divide by taking on board
the recommendations of the International Labour Office’s 2001 World Employment
Report, and invite the ILO to the next meeting of the DOT Force. A key
component of the ILO report, and also for the DOT Force covers the need
for lifelong learning from initial education to continuing vocational education
for working people, with and in this instance a focus on overcoming the
digital divide. The World Bank also in its Global Economic Prospects (2000)
expressed concern that the Internet and ICT could increase inequality,
and leave behind the poorest.
Ensure that the Skills shortage in a number of Industrialised countries
and the related risk of a brain drain does not undermine efforts to bridge
the digital divide.
Agree on the need for effective national and international regulatory frameworks
to govern ICT markets. Evidence shows that de-regulation and liberalisation
accompanied by light regulation have widened the digital divide.
Promote policies to ensure the responsible re-investment of domestic telecommunications
profits to benefit developing countries, whether that re-investment comes
from the public or the private sector. The insistence by the IFI’s and
some governments that government-owned telecom companies be privatised
as a matter of ideology denies the role that can be played by a responsible
publicly owned telecommunications infrastructure.
Promote solid antitrust/competition policies aimed at preventing monopoly
control of the broadband network. Initial and ongoing access costs to ICT
infrastructure must be cheap affordable so as to encourage use by all in
Not allow activities carried out by business stakeholders to be merely
a pretext for the multinationals represented directly or indirectly on
the DOT Force to force access to ICT markets in developing countries. There
is a risk if, ICT companies provide computers, Internet access and educational
programmes without proper consultation with affected groups, among which
those groups representing workers are of vital importance. The various
union-sponsored low-cost PC-buying programmes (accompanied by IT-training)
do involve local consultation and have been quite successful. Hewlett Packard
was the partner of the Swedish unions in their landmark programme.
Encourage efforts to narrow the digital divide that encourage local community
content, connect schools and communities to the Internet through neighbourhood
Internet learning centres.
Recognise that there are new actors in developing countries who are already
doing a good and innovative job. An important example is for the UNECA-sponsored
African Information Society Initiative. Although the DOT Force should not
hinder itself with excessive co-ordination mechanisms, it should avoid
undermining or reproducing important work carried out by other important
Make a major commitment to expanding vocational training and life-long
learning. There has to be an expansion of access to good quality basic
education and access exposure to the Internet should be made a part of
every child’s education.
Recommend to all stakeholders and participants in the process that they
co-ordinate their work fully with other relevant initiatives.
4. The messages sent by the DOT Force must be consistent with the needs
of developing countries. ICT policies must be integrated as part of a range
of holistic policies on development assistance, including increased ODA,
and debt-write off, and not the other way around. They should be grounded
in reality, not techno-optimism. Developing country engagement will only
come when the partners in developing countries (governments, labour, business
and other civil society groups) feel that they own the project, and have
control over its destiny. That requires effective regulatory frameworks,
with adequately resourced training for policymakers, regulators, legislators
and other decision-makers. Intellectual property regimes must not discriminate
in favour of Western enterprises at the expense of indigenous enterprises.
Connectivity and access must be cheap and affordable over the long-term.
The provision of ICT technologies and training support must reflect the
self-defined needs of local communities, and be of sufficient quantity
and quality to be sustainable over the long-term. A few computers as pilot
projects to enable a photo opportunity for Western politicians or business
people will merely entrench cynicism and alienation.
5. Non-governmental stakeholders need support too, with transparent
and equal access to decision-makers, as opposed to those having the greatest
financial resources gaining the greatest access. Human capital development
must become a priority for the DOT Force, including basic education and
continuing vocational training to ensure continual skills upgrading. That
has to be in the context of a broader set of active labour market policies,
tilted to formal sector job creation, and to address emerging problems
around the "brain drain". The implementation and enforcement of democratic
trade union rights is a pre-requisite for this. As regards content and
wealth creation, including e-commerce and e-government, the presumption
should be of developing countries having enhanced access to developed country
markets. Moreover, wealth creation should be a means to reduce income and
other inequalities, and be accompanied by greater worker empowerment and
equity through investing in people, both in the public and private sectors.
The DOT Force will also need to address the "gender divide", which the
"digital divide" is entrenching in many countries. One area of concern
is the possible misuse of home working and tele working by the private
and public sectors. The potential benefits to employees and employers will
only be realised if there is negotiation of agreements over the terms and
conditions for these employees. Gender On "privacy" matters there is also
a need to protect the information collected on employees – not just users
Trade unions are appropriate partners
6. Many initiatives in recent years aimed at promoting information and
communication technologies (ICT) in developing countries have proved unsustainable.
This phenomenon can be attributed in part to the lack of institutional
"staying power", and partly to a lack of representativity the part of the
organisations chosen as partners in such projects. With no membership,
and with no income besides that provided by donor organisations, and usually
without any support from the private sector, such projects have often unsurprisingly
turned out to be "lame ducks".
In contrast, it should be noted that trade unions are independent mass
membership organisations, with a strong interest in human rights and social
and economic development. They enjoy an institutional longevity without
a dependence on external financial support.
7. We are confident that the DOT Force will share the commitment of
the international trade union movement and its national member organisations
to the empowerment and self-improvement of working people in developing
countries (in particular young workers and women workers). However, in
practice ICT rather than empowering and liberating working people has often
been used to the opposite effect. The Dot Force should join with us in
recommending the introduction of a policy framework that promotes genuine
workplace empowerment through the provision of transparency, information
provision and consultation for employees and their trade unions over the
introduction and extension of ICT.
8. If the DOT Force is to take a systemic and credible approach, partnerships
will be required with stakeholders with global coverage, from the community
to the international level. This requires that trade unions be encouraged
to become partners in National ICT Councils or other relevant bodies. The
international trade union movement is also an appropriate partner at regional
and international levels.
Workers and education
9. Education, and in particular, vocational training, has been identified
as one of the most important tools in bridging the digital divide. Vocational
training initiatives, in order to be effective, require input from representatives
of the workforce. Trade union organisations have long been committed and
have proven to be successful in supporting and promoting vocational training
as well as the acquisition of new skills by the workforce. This was confirmed
in an OECD study in 1999 which linked unionisation to better results in
vocational training programmes (OECD Employment Outlook, Paris, 1999, p.
10. Trade unions support public as well as employer-supported training,
and often unions run their own training courses to improve the skills base
of their members. Many examples of trade union-sponsored IT training schemes
exist around the world, from the range of programmes the ICFTU is running
to promote Internet use among its affiliates, through to basic IT skills
training initiatives undertaken locally by trade unions across the globe.
These initiatives are complemented by the international residential information
technology and distance education training programmes run by the Programme
for Workers' Activities in the Turin training centre of the International
Workers and access to ICT
11. Practical lessons can also be learned from the range of experiences
of trade unions on computer-purchasing schemes. In Sweden, Australia, Singapore
and United States, partnerships have been set up between national trade
union centres and the private sector (primarily internet service providers
and vendors of computer equipment) and in some cases governments (where
tax incentives have been negotiated in relation to the purchase of computer
equipment for union members). In many instances trade unions have been
forerunners of the DOT Force. Inter-union development programmes, often
with government support, have provided computers, other ICT technologies,
along with much needed training for unions in developing and transition
countries. Although it is clear that many circumstances differ between
developing countries and industrialised countries (in particular purchasing
power), we believe that there are many elements of this targeted approach
to spreading use of ICT which are relevant, and which could be reproduced
through a co-ordinated approach by donors and National ICT Councils, working
together to bridge the digital divide.
Workers are major stakeholders
12. We are concerned that, if the DOT Force fails to include stakeholders
representative of global civil society, its action plan will lack a realistic
vision of how to bridge the digital divide between rich and poor countries.
We are concerned that the lack of inclusion may lead to a lack of sustainability.
In addition, we are concerned that DOT Force members may fail to take into
account several years of experience of pilot projects and efforts of trade
unions and other key civil society actors to introduce effective use of
ICTs around the world. If such an omission is made, there is a strong chance
that mistakes of the past will be needlessly revisited. It should be noted
that trade unions can play a special role as stakeholders, because they
are part of both global civil society, and of global industry.
13. It is important that the DOT Force argues against any undue fascination
with new technologies and new economy business models. We would advise
against a "more of the same" approach which will eventually mainly focus
on network readiness, connectivity, and imaginative, well-hyped, but ultimately
unsustainable pilot projects.
14. Representatives of the DOT Force have stated that its work will
be "demand-driven", in order to identify priority targets for concerted
action. It is important that the DOT Force not fail in identifying correctly
the societal stakeholders and partners so vital to the eventual success
of the DOT Force initiatives. We are concerned that demand may come mainly
from ICT manufacturers and vendors, and, as a result, may be less related
to the urgent needs of the poor. Deregulated and liberalised markets for
telecommunication services, continuing price-decreases of IT-devices and
private sector initiatives alone are not a panacea for narrowing the divide.
An added danger of a laissez-faire approach to e-commerce in particular
lies in its threat to the regulation of tax and financial systems, a point
picked up by the World Bank in its Global Economic Prospects report of
2000. A comprehensive and effective approach is therefore needed, including
a broad set of policies and actions embedded in an overall framework of
promoting sustainable development.
Globalisation, the digital revolution and workers
15. The chances of a backlash against globalisation, targeting the digital
revolution, are likely to grow, if workers in developed and developing
countries cannot experience any positive impact on standards of living
and quality of life. Moreover, workers in developing countries (particularly
in Africa) are marginalised from the increasingly intensive informational
collaboration between workers at the international level. Thus the digital
revolution, if allowed to continue unchecked, will contribute to reduced
information flow between poorer and richer countries, and will intensify
16. We propose that trade unions be more closely associated with regional
information society initiatives, such as the African Information Society
Initiative, as well as in global initiatives, such as the DOT Force and
the UN's ICT Task Force.
17. We welcome the G8's initiative to mobilise international attention
around the challenge of bridging the digital divide. The international
trade union movement is not only interested in the success of this initiative,
but also convinced that its participation as a core stakeholder will contribute
significantly towards its success.
TUAC's affiliates consist of 55 national trade union centres in the
30 OECD industrialised countries, which together represent some 70 million
The International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) was
set up in 1949 and has 221 affiliated organisations in 148 countries and
territories on all five continents, with a membership of 155 million. (http://www.icftu.org)