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Address by Kailash Satyarthi on the Day of the Unions Expo 2000, Hannover

"Globalisation" is the most used phrase today. But what does it really mean? For over a billion people who can not earn even one dollar a day. For those who have had no chance to touch books and pencils. And for those who are the victims of various contemporary forms of slavery, away from the reach of human rights, dignity or even an identity. Children, quite ironically, are the worst effected. Even in today’s modern market economy they are preferred as they are the cheapest, highly exploitable and the most vulnerable lot.

Only last Friday, 14 year old Babloo could meet his mother after almost five years when I conducted a secret raid and freed him and eight other children enslaved in the carpet industry back in my home country, India.

It was a heart-rending scene. The first question the mother asked seeing her son was, ‘All these years I have been crying for you my son. Why did you not run away and return to me?" Babloo could only reply in tears, indicating to both his ankles that had been constantly hit by the master so that these children could not escape from bondage. For years, Babloo and others were kept half fed so that the pain and hunger would keep them awake and working for 16 to 18 hours every day. Those carpets were being made for export. Germany could be one of the destinations and the users could be one of you.

Tell me my sisters and brothers, unless you feel regretful about it being responsive consumers, how could we pressurise the industry, which behaves like ‘mafias’ and are hand in gloves with the authorities and politicians.

Thanks to the western consumers particularly the Germans who have wholeheartedly responded to the carpet campaign which I and my colleagues initiated from this soil, in late eighties. The first social labelling on any child labour free product, Rugmark, is a concrete example of solidarity between the people of production and consumer countries. Now Rugmark is successfully functioning in India, Nepal and Pakistan as well as in Germany, USA, Canada, Britain, Netherlands and Belgium. But there are numerous goods, including large quantity of carpets, still produced in developing countries and consumed over here.

In an unprecedented move, the workers’ movement and the civil society organisations across the world joined hands with children and successfully organised the Global March Against Child Labour in 1998. This historic 80,000 kilometre surface march has resulted in the unanimous adoption of the ILO Convention 182 on Worst Forms of Child Labour. This is becoming the fastest ratified Convention as 35 countries have already ratified in its first year. But the local laws, national constitutions and international conventions are only weapons and need committed souls and strong hands.

If the Convention is honestly implemented, I have no doubt whatsoever that we can wipe out the scourge of child slavery from the face of human kind. It requires a serious political will and social concern, both nationally as well as globally.

I also wish to focus your attention on yet another important process -- the worlds’ commitment to Education for All by the year 2015. Elimination of child labour and basic education are two sides of the same coin. Quite unfortunately, over 850 million adults and 125 million children worldwide are illiterate today. The world governments under the auspices of United Nations had in 1990 made a commitment to impart ‘Education for All’ by year 2000. This has only proven to be a hollow slogan.

Most of the developing countries do not spend even one percent of their GNP on children’s education. Many Northern governments were not prepared to spend even two percent of their total overseas aid for this cause. Dozens of poor states are forced to spend four to five times their education budgets on foreign debt services. There are a number of examples, particularly in the Sub-Saharan Africa where the education spending is cut down by 50 percent due to the structural adjustment programmes.

Friends, education is not only the key to development or represent an information and knowledge based economy. It is also a fundamental human right. The world governments, which met again in Dakar, Senegal, in April this year, have reaffirmed their commitment to Education for All by year 2015. The set targets to meet this basic right to education have been postponed time and again over the last ten years. For me, it is the cruellest joke on millions of voiceless children.

But there is a ray of hope. Civil society organisations across the globe are joining hands in support of education under the umbrella of Global Campaign for Education. I am fortunate to be one of the initiators of this worldwide movement and I am quite optimistic that the fast growing people’s pressure will make governments and the UN agencies to go for concrete actions than merely coining hollow slogans.

Finally, friends, I wish to say that these two major international processes the ILO Convention and the Education for All by year 2015, need to be strengthened with widest and deepest possible solidarity.

Solidarity among NGOs and Trade Unions is the key. Global March has proved it. It has seen an unparalleled working together relationship in dozens of countries, including Germany. Therefore, I call upon you all to maximize and deepen this solidarity.

Another point that I wish to stress here is that poverty is no excuse for slavery and illiteracy. In reality child labour and illiteracy are the causes of adult unemployment and poverty and not the other way.

We need only $8 billion to make the whole world literate and that equals four days of military expenses worldwide. Putting it simply, just the one-fifth of what Europeans spend on ice-cream or one-fourth of what Americans spend on tobacco or even one-fifth of what Europeans spend on cosmetics are enough to solve the problem of child labour and illiteracy, both.

Friends, we all can see the silver lining of emergence of people’s initiatives, civil society collaborations and the new culture of partnerships, despite the overwhelming influence of global commerce and digits -- what we call ‘dot com’ today. We should remember that human compassion, brotherhood and instinctive solidarity are divine, immortal and supreme and I am sure they will determine the future of the world, and not the dot com.

Kailash Satyarthi... the seeker of truth
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