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The Honorable Alexis M. Herman

“INVESTING IN HUMAN RESOURCES DEVELOPMENT”
U.S.-Africa Economic Ministerial


March 17, 1999

Thank you Mac DeShazer for your introduction and your work helping to lead the Labor Department’s international efforts, particularly with respect to the continent of Africa. Let me also thank Secretary Albright, Senior Director Gayle Smith and Assistant Secretary Susan Rice for the opportunity to address this distinguished audience.

And, of course, I want to welcome all of you. It is truly an honor to be a part of this conference and to join you in sharing ideas and strategies to improve the lives of the people of Africa and the people of the United States.

On my way here this afternoon, I couldn’t help but recall the journey I took almost exactly a year ago when I had the honor of accompanying President Clinton on his historic mission to Africa. There are so many memories of that trip that will always stay with me–the people our delegation met, the places we saw, the experiences we shared.

It all began in Ghana. And I certainly never will forget President Rawlings saying to us there that the United States used to look at Africa through a keyhole. But now, he said, as a result of the visit of the President of the United States, the doors have been opened wide.

And that really is the spirit and the purpose of this conference. To open doors. Open opportunities. And strengthen partnerships.

That also was the life’s mission of my friend--our friend–the late Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown who cared so deeply about the future of Africa, who believed so passionately in its potential, and who wanted so much to deepen our relations with Africa.

So I must say that as Secretary of Labor, I am tremendously proud of the partnership that my Department is developing in Africa--and the experiences and knowledge that we are gaining from that work together.

Whether it’s by promoting occupational safety and health, particularly in mines....expanding opportunities, especially for young people...or strengthening institutional capacities and effectiveness in the labor market...we are partnering with Africa in an entirely new way. It’s good to be here to build on our relationship and our record.

We do so at what is both a time of great possibility–and a time of great challenge. Around the world, we are witnessing revolutionary changes in the way we produce goods and do business. We are seeing the spread of globalization. The explosion of technology. The mobility of capital. Above all, that has placed a premium on human resources and the skills of workers.

With this new reality comes a recognition that labor issues are no longer an adjunct to other matters in trade or finance. Indeed, in this new economy, labor issues are a central pillar--they are an integral part of the global economic agenda–and a significant part of the agenda for this conference.

Because whether our discussions focus on trade flows, capital formation or investment potential, the bottom line is the same. The bottom line is people.

President Clinton has often talked about the importance of putting a face on the global economy. Our work together is about putting that face into focus. How do we improve the lives of workers? How do we build a better future for children? How do we realize the promise of Africa?

After all, we know Africa is blessed with an abundance of natural resources. But we also know that Africa is blessed with a resource even better than that–its people.

So in seeking to build the economy of Africa, we must build the skills of the workers of Africa. Above all, we must recognize that economic development and skills development really are two sides of the same coin.

I want to focus today on three key elements of what I call a “Skills Development Strategy”--three key ways that we at the Labor Department are teaming up with you to improve the lives of the people of Africa--three ways that our partnership and your leadership are blazing a trail to the 21st century.

First, through education and better opportunities for young people. Second, by strengthening institutional capacities. And third, by working together globally to honor the rights of workers and the dignity of work. Let me take each element in turn.

It starts with our children–investing in their future by investing in universal, basic education. The United States is committed to partnering with you in that effort.

You and I also understand that whether it’s in the United States, Africa, Asia, or anywhere else, no child can learn in a classroom if they are being exploited in a work room. So we are also partnering with you to fight abusive child labor.

I want to be clear. We’re not talking about work that contributes to a young person’s development and growth–we’re not talking about the kind of work that instils discipline and values in a young person--we’re talking about the most abusive forms of child labor.

President Clinton has made elimination of these forms of child labor a top priority both here in this country and around the world–and we are working hand in hand with you to meet the challenge.

Since 1995, we have contributed funds to support activities of the ILO’s International Program on the Elimination of Child Labor--or IPEC--in Africa. In 1996, the Labor Department funded the first ever African regional workshop on child labor in commercial agriculture. And last year, the Labor Department provided grant assistance to South Africa for the country’s first national child labor survey.

Last year, I also met in Uganda with President Museveni and other officials, and helped open the first ever child labor bureau in Uganda.

Today, I am proud to make an historic new announcement that expands our partnership in this area. This afternoon, I am announcing that the United States will commit $7.5 million to strengthen our mutual efforts in the battle against abusive child labor.

Let me put this in perspective. This is the largest investment ever made by the United States to fight abusive child labor in Africa.

Specifically, these funds will be used in several different ways. A portion will be devoted to support the participation of five African countries in the IPEC program--Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa, Uganda, Zambia.

We also will invest in data collection because you told us you want to better understand the nature of abusive child labor within your borders. And we will build upon the work of our 1996 African regional workshop by focusing on the elimination of abusive child labor in hazardous, dangerous, unhealthy working conditions such as those found in commercial agriculture.

So in addition to the nations I mentioned, the investment we announce today will allow us to partner with a variety of other African countries, including: Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Gabon, the Ivory Coast, Kenya, Mali, Tanzania, Togo, and Zimbabwe.

And as we build on our joint efforts, I would just repeat this is not about imposing any country’s values on another. It’s about working together to promote our shared values. It’s about giving the children of Africa a better life--which will guarantee the people of Africa a brighter future.

The second element of our strategy is understanding that if we want to develop the skills of our workers, we need to develop the institutional infrastructure and capacities to more effectively meet labor market demands.

We are working and learning from South Africa, in particular, in this area as we share ideas about building a statistical infrastructure similar to what we have in the United States with the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Now, I admit this is not the stuff that may inspire a great deal of excitement--or headline grabbing news. But the kind of data that can be generated through a solid statistical infrastructure is indispensable.

After all, it is difficult to shape policy or target meaningful strategies if one doesn’t have the information from which to build. Where are the jobs? What are the skills needs? And are we linking skills training with available work?

These are fundamental questions as we seek to open markets, increase investment, and expand trade. Workers need to be prepared for the economic development opportunities we seek.

So we want to expand our commitment in this area–and also build institutional capacity in other areas such as occupational safety and health, anti-discrimination efforts, employment training for young people, and mine safety and health. We understand that developing this institutional infrastructure is critical to developing workers’ skills which, in turn is essential to developing a nation’s economy.

The third and final element of the Skills Development Strategy is a recognition that as we seek to strengthen the capacities of institutions, we also must seek to strengthen the capacity of the International Labor Organization. Honoring the rights of workers is vital to skills development and economic development.

After all, trade, investment and development are not ends in themselves--the objective is to lift up the human condition around the world. That means recognizing that economic development and worker rights are not mutually exclusive goals, they are mutually reinforcing.

As you know, last year, the ILO approved an historic declaration on core labor standards. Freedom of association. The right to collective bargaining. Non-discrimination. The abolition of forced labor–and abusive child labor. These are all critical rights and whenever and wherever they are not respected -- the credibility and authority of the global economic system is undermined.

I was there in Geneva last year. And I would like to express my deep appreciation for the leadership role that the nations of Africa played in supporting both the ILO Declaration and the follow-up mechanism to help ensure compliance.

As we look to the challenge ahead, President Clinton has called for the creation of a new arm within the ILO to create programs that will improve the lives of real people by assuring the implementation of these basic rights and putting in place the necessary social safety nets. We are also exploring ways to step up our own abilities to work on a bilateral basis with countries on labor issues. And in that regard, President Clinton has called on the Congress to provide funds to strengthen the ability of the Department of Labor to work internationally on these matters.

Yesterday, I testified before the House Appropriations Committee and discussed these initiatives in detail. Today, I am proud to report that we received bipartisan support for the President’s agenda in this regard. We’re moving ahead.

As the record shows, in each area of our Skills Development Strategy, the nations of Africa are helping to lead the way.

In education and fighting abusive child labor. In strengthening institutional capacities. And in working through the ILO and other international bodies to honor and respect the basic rights of workers.

Let me thank you again for that work. Thank you for lifting up lives. Opening doors. Broadening understanding.

We face many challenges. But regardless of their size or scope, I know if we confront them together, we will overcome them together. There is an African proverb that springs to mind: When spider webs unite, they can tie up a lion.

I don’t see any lions today, but as I look around this room, I do see leadership. I see commitment. I see dedication. And I know the ties we weave here will be the ties that bind our nations, our regions, and our people even closer together. They will be the ties that build a better future for the people of Africa and the people of the United States. They will be the ties that lead to a new century, a new economy, and a new and stronger partnership for us all.

Thank you and God bless you.

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