ContactPartner Area

CNV Internationaal comments on Minister for Foreign Trade and Development policy

“Focus more on human rights, freedom for unions, and social dialogue.”

“The focus of Minister Kaag’s note should be on human rights, freedom for unions, and social dialogue. Now there is too much focus on economics, how to strengthen and improve the entrepreneurial climate. And that isn’t possible without a stable society that makes space for unions. This is a worldwide issue,” says Arend van Wijngaarden, Vice-President of CNV Internationaal.

On Thursday 28 June, the Dutch Lower House of Parliament (Permanent Committee for the Minister of Foreign Trade and Development) will discuss Minister Kaag’s note ‘Invest in Perspective: Good for the World, Good for the Netherlands.’

Although the Vice-President of CNV Intenationaal can see some positive points in the note, such as increasing efforts towards ending child labour, improving the living wage within supply chains, and creating more education and work opportunities for youth, he feels the overall content is too focused on economic diplomacy. “That just isn’t enough for a note that is supposed to address both issues of foreign trade and the development of more cooperative efforts,” says van Wijngaarden in his letter to the Committee. (link)

Van Wijngaarden continues, “Investing in the private sector is of no use if human rights are being violated and there is no opportunity for social dialogue in a country. Therefore, we need to start at the beginning. I would like the Minister of Foreign Trade and Development to focus first on supporting human rights, guaranteeing freedom for trade unions on a global level, and establishing stronger social dialogue before we start investing in the private sector.”

The Vice-President refers to a recent ITUC report which shows that unions are currently being de-activated worldwide. It is becoming increasingly difficult for unions to become registered and workers hesitate to join because they fear they will lose their jobs. Union leaders are threatened and even murdered.

Van Wijngaarden, “The threats are sometimes so great that we sometimes have to consider taking drastic measures. For example, we are thinking about getting the board of our partner union in Cambodia out of the country temporarily, to ensure their safety during the upcoming elections in July. This is serious, and that’s why we’ve called on the members of the United Nations to respect fundamental human rights, including the right to join a union, even if the unions conventions haven’t (yet) been legislated.”


The same arguments also apply to the increasing unemployment among young adults and youth in developing countries. Fundamental socio-economic change for this group won’t be achieved by simply creating projects and jobs with charitable contributions. We need to establish a tri-party construction (employers, workers, and government) of social dialogue that will really lead to a more stable society with balanced work relationships and decent jobs.


For CNV Internationaal, economic diplomacy is inextricably connected to human rights diplomacy. Minister Kaag’s note speaks of the excellent service our embassies give to small and medium sized enterprises and start-up companies. “I wonder how the minister is going to ensure that human rights remain on the embassies’ agendas,” van Wijngaarden asks.


“Trade agreements should also contain sanctions for cases where companies violate human rights. Free trade mustn’t lead to the deterioration of of workers’ rights. International trade agreements need to address workers’ rights just as much they address the needs of investors,” states van Wijngaarden. Current trade agreements are implementing ‘sustainability chapters,’ which ensure workers’ rights.

However, according to van Wijngaarden, the agreements aren’t firm enough. While no sanctions have been established to protect workers if their rights are violated, investors can take countries to court if a government makes a decision that might affect their company’s profits. Van Wijngaarden, “Let the ILO play a prominent role here. The minister can stand firm in this area.”


CNV Internationaal’s final comments are directed towards gender related problems. These are strongly addressed in Minister Kaag’s note. “But it’s rather strange that other ministers don’t focus nearly as much on this topic. There seems to be little unity among the various policy makers. So I want to argue for an integrated agenda among all Dutch policy makers when it comes to this issue of gender.”

Letter to Minister KaagGlobal Rights Index - investigating the position of workers worldwide

Publication date 26 06 2018