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Labor Leaders Call for Review of Decision to Host 2012 U.N. Climate Talks in Qatar

StoryDecember 06, 2011
Watch iconWatch Full Show

Guests
Sharan Burrow

General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation.

Praful Bidwai

Indian journalist and activist. He is author of the new book Politics of Climate Change and the Global Crisis: Mortgaging Our Future. He is a former senior editor at The Times of India and is a longtime peace activist. He helped found the Movement in India for Nuclear Disarmament.


The International Trade Union Confederation is condemning the decision by the United Nations to hold next year’s climate change conference in Qatar, a Gulf nation known for its restrictive labor laws. Migrant workers comprise 87 percent of Qatar’s workforce — none of them are allowed to form or join labor unions. Democracy Now! spoke yesterday with Sharan Burrow, head of the International Trade Union Confederation. "We’re asking for a review. Clearly, the world should think twice about going to Qatar. It shouldn’t have just been a, you know, process decision," Burrow says. "If there is no review, then we will organize clearly to expose the absolute abuse of human and labor rights by the Qatari authorities." [includes rush transcript]


TRANSCRIPT
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Praful, I wanted to ask you about—well, this conference is a kind of microcosm of what’s going on in the world and the protest movement against it. Some say what we’re seeing inside this convention center of the U.N. Climate Change Conference is the 1 percent affecting the 99 percent. The International Trade Union Confederation is condemning the decision by the United Nations to hold next year’s climate change conference in Qatar, a Gulf nation known for its restrictive labor laws. Eighty-seven percent of the workforce in Qatar are migrant workers. None of them are allowed to form or join labor unions. Democracy Now! spoke on Monday with Sharan Burrow, head of the International Trade Union Confederation.

SHARAN BURROW: ...to say that the decision for the next year’s meeting will be in Qatar. This is a country where it’s a model of 21st century labor enslavement. We have a situation where there are no human or labor rights for migrant workers, 93 percent of the workforce in Qatar. When you’re there, you will not be able to take a worker for a cup of coffee or a meal in a restaurant. You will not be able to have a meal without knowing that that service is provided by workers who earn a pittance in a very, very wealthy country. So, apart from the fact that they’re the biggest emitters on the planet, that they actually block most progress in most of the discussions here, this is not a country which should have the respect in terms of its treatment of people of the international community. So we ask for a review on that question. And can I say to you that we are very supportive of the courage of the young people in New York. The New York Occupy Wall Street movement is actually saying rebuild our economy, rebuild our democracy. And that means sustainability, which means climate action.

MIKE BURKE: And what are you calling for regarding next year’s convention?

SHARAN BURROW: We’re asking for a review. Clearly, the world should think twice about going to Qatar. It shouldn’t have just been a, you know, process decision. If there is no review, then we will organize clearly to expose the absolute abuse of human and labor rights by the Qatari authorities.

AMY GOODMAN: Praful Bidwai, your response to the criticism of the next U.N. Climate Change Conference taking place in Qatar?

PRAFUL BIDWAI: I think the Trade Union Confederation is absolutely correct. I mean, Qatar is known for a very, very repressive set of labor laws. It uses virtually slave labor in terrible conditions.

AMY GOODMAN: Many people from your country.

PRAFUL BIDWAI: Many people from India and from Pakistan, who have absolutely no rights. And their wages, as a proportion of total income, have actually dropped. Qatar is also a huge producer of greenhouse gases, among the highest emissions per capita in the world. So it’s a bad message that I think the UNFCC is sending out by holding the next conference there. It should be in another country.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you very much, Praful Bidwai, for being with us. His new book is called The Politics of Climate Change and the Global Crisis: Mortgaging Our Future, former senior editor at The Times of India, longtime peace activist, helped found the Movement in India for Nuclear Disarmament.

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