The work of the Digital Opportunities Task Force (DOT Force)

Global Bridges: Digital Opportunities

1-2 March 2001

Some initial cComments from the International Labour Movement

April 2001

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 DOT Force.

Summary of Proposals

3. We call on the DOT Force, in preparing the draft "Genoa Action Plan" and in its implementation to:

  • 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 developing countries.
  • 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 initiatives.
  • 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.
Priority targets for concerted action

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 and citizens.

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. 157).

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 Labour Organisation.

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 the backlash.

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 workers. (http://www.tuac.org)

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)

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Capturé par MemoWeb à partir de http://www.tuac.org/news/nuniontaskforce.htm  le 25/03/02
Capturé par MemoWeb à partir de http://www.tuac.org/news/nuniontaskforce.htm  le 25/03/02