Hillary in plea for workers' rights
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton yesterday urged Southeast Asian nations to promote workers' rights and improve labour conditions as a means of spurring economic growth.
"Standing up for workers' rights and high labour standards is both right and moral, it's also smart and strategic," Clinton told a women's forum in the Cambodian town of Siem Reap.
Respecting workers' rights "leads to positive economic outcomes including higher levels of investment. And bringing women into the economy has ripple effects," she said, adding it boosted equal opportunity and raised taxes for governments.
"Denying workers their universal rights costs societies dearly in lost productivity, innovation, and growth, as well as undermining the rule of law and creating instability", Clinton insisted.
She held up neighbouring Vietnam and Cambodia as examples where agreements with the United States had opened markets and helped spur economic growth.
But Hillary warned the current model under which Southeast Asian nations have grown thanks to "low-cost labour and materials, and by exporting affordable goods to more developed markets" may have reached its limits.
Changes were needed as Asia expands its middle-class and the United States and Europe look to boost their exports to the region, she said.
She also called on multinationals to insist on high labour and ethical standards, saying even though it might require more investment it would pay dividends in Western markets keen for untainted goods.