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U.S. Department of State

Great Seal Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright
Meeting with Women Non-Governmental Organization Leaders, U.S. Embassy, Manila
Manila, Philippines, July 28, 1998
As released by the Office of the Spokesman
U.S. Department of State

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AMBASSADOR HUBBARD: Let me just welcome you all here and apologize for being late. The agenda in this meeting went on a little bit longer than we had hoped it would, so the meeting will have to be a little shorter than we had hoped. I am very pleased to introduce to you the Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright. Madam Secretary, I am very pleased to introduce to you some of the most active and most influential women in the economic life of the Philippines.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Thank you very much, Mr. Ambassador. Thank you all for coming over, and I apologize for being late. I think the scheduling of meetings of ministers is practically impossible, especially if they are all men. (Laughter.)

I am very, very glad to have a chance to hear your views. I know from having heard from the Ambassador all the various things that you are involved in, I wanted to leave time, particularly, just to hear what you are doing.

Let me just say that whenever I travel, either alone or when the First Lady and I travel together, we have made a point of meeting with womenís groups in order to understand better in each of the countries where we are, how women are building in terms of getting the change that is necessary in the countries as they move through democratic evolution, as well as problems that have now come up as a result of economic crises, financial crises as they exist. We all know that women really do most of the work, although they certainly donít get most of the pay, and that the role of women in developing as well as in developed societies is absolutely crucial to its functioning.

I would like to basically get involved in a discussion with all of you, but I just want you to know how much I admire what you are doing and how I feel whenever I attend groups such as this, the sisterhood is very powerful and that our problems, though specifically may be different, I think in many general ways we all face the same thing and I think sharing experiences is what is so important. So with that let me turn it over. Do you wish to begin, perhaps?

QUESTION: Okay, maybe Iíll begin by giving a little background on how the Filipino woman compares to maybe the rest of the Asian countries. There is a perception that Filipinas are, maybe, less -- weíre better off than the other Asian countries by way of empowerment, although we know we have a long way to go, and because of traditions and culture we believe within our given spirit, we believe we still need a lot more in terms of empowerment. Considering the financial crisis today, I think the ones who suffer most would be women in the work force, and so that is what our concern is now and how we can handle and cope with that. So basically thatís what I believe.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I would be particularly interested to know how the financial crisis has affected you. I gathered that, well I know that this is true in other places, that unemployment usually affects women first, and is that true here? How, generally, are you dealing with the financial crisis?

QUESTION: If I may, if this would be indicative, I have a few statistics or percentages of, say, last yearís unemployment rate was 10% roughly. And this year itís 13%. Now men and women: for men it was 9.3% and for women, that was last year, was 12%. And then for this year for men, 12%, for women 15%. Thatís more or less what seems to be happening.

AMBASSADOR HUBBARD: Ms. Mercado, did you have any comment on this stuff? How you are coping with the crisis?

QUESTION: In the economic zone, the problem you see is the violation of the code of conduct, like the employment conditions. Take an example like age: age is really hired employees 23 years old and above, and sex discrimination. And the second is the low salary, because many companies in the economic zone are not implementing the minimum wage. For five years in service, the salary is 170 pesos per day. You know that maíam, five years in service but the salary is P170 per day. So itís very low, low salary. Discrimination in wage and benefits, we have so many discriminations like benefits. If you receive these benefits you cannot because itís not allowed because the company is so very low. Employment and promotion like the TIZA employment condition and working condition is -- ventilation. Ventilation: if the facility is very hot, why you can not work very strong there.

Then occupation safety and health: all Filipino workers must know how to use safety and health because we did not know. All workers have not implemented occupational safety and health; but the inspection by guards makes women suffer indignities. So, previous preference for women who manage the human resources development program. Sexual harassment also. Sexual harassment or harassment. One time I talked about one person so I canít -- Iím nervous. Harassment, like if you are from an organization like a union, the management destroys the organization and then you are laid off. You are forced to get out of this company because this is not allowed in the organization. And sexual harassment like supervisor, if you are a supervisor and Iím a worker, so.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: No, thatís fine I understand. Yeah.

QUESTION: I have to say that our laws are complete. I mean we have a lot of good laws, but there seems to be a problem in terms of implementation, monitoring and all that. So I guess there are cases like this that happen in companies or organizations where it does happen, and many times, like sexual harassment, does not get reported because the woman is afraid to report it, and there is no monitoring system, so I think thatís A prevalent concern.

QUESTION: Like in an economic condition this worker is receiving less than the minimum wage. Tenured employment, womenís worker apprentice is long, despite long years of service; and labor-only contracting. Very implemented in all companies in the economic zone. Labor-only in the contracting. If you are six months, but the labor code -- it is a violation of the labor code.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Tell me about the labor code. How does it work and do you mean it exists but clearly there are violations of it? What are the remedies for dealing with that?

QUESTION: Well, there are many strategies, like from the Employers Confederation of the Philippines. The most we can do is to encourage companies and remind them we have their code of conduct and or policy statements, you know, in reference to labor code, and we hold regular sessions to remind companies to try to adhere, to practice what the labor code states.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Youíll be interested to know this year -- usually in spring -- we give a lot of commencement speeches, and this year I focused a great deal on the importance of trade and the fairness of it, and an applause line or line that got the most applause, was the fact that Americans, most ordinary Americans do not want to buy products that are made by people who are underpaid or who are in conditions that are unacceptable. I was very interested that this was something that got such wide spread applause, and I would be very interested to know, as I look at textile workers, garment business especially, I think, in terms of how you feel that your conditions are now, and can I go back and say that they are fair or how do you view the conditions?

QUESTION: Madam Secretary, we have been meeting with the American Chamber of Commerce lately because, primarily, the American buyers have requested for a code of conduct which I think, as Iíve told them, should not really be really necessary. We should be responsible, the owners of the factory. I think most of the factories owned by the women is cleaner. (Laughter) Iíll be biased on that. But anyway, we will have a code of conduct. We will have meetings with them and to show what has happened in Saipan -- I think you must be aware. It was televised. And we donít want that to happen here. And in as much as our market, America is our biggest market, so to keep that and to make it bigger, we will do it and it must be done.

Even Marks and Spencers from England has a heavier code of conduct for everything thatís in the factory. In Saipan they did; they followed the code of conduct, but when it came to the cleanliness in their dormitories and the canteens, they were quite appalled by what they saw. And so we will use that video, and for the unions who are here, the surroundings must improved because Iím going to ask government to make one of the criteria for an exporter to be an exporter, is also -- all of these should be attached to it. Itís just we want quality exporters. We donít want many and to give a bad light to other companies.

And what you just said in the zone, you know you have people there in charge from government. Every zone has management from government. You have the customs; you have the labor and you have the complete, itís a small place. Those things should not happen. So try to go there and tell them whatís happening in the surrounding. I think that would help. And just now tell them: American buyers will only give the orders to a company because the consumer is asking for it. Itís not the buyer.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Thatís absolutely correct.

QUESTION: It is the consumer who is now looking at child labor, and quite actively, Mrs. Saldariaga, and I told them in plant we donít have child labor. Weíll check on the subcontractors. Thank you very much.

QUESTION: Good afternoon. Iím working with the International Textile Garment and Leather Workers Federation. My job concerns implementation of workers education program in our sector of industry. So if we are talking about the effect of the financial crisis among our workers, among our members especially, is that our members nowadays are plagued with problems, like they are now just working, many of them, are just working three days a week, and some of them have to accept some proposals from the management for wage cutting. And, of course, the extremes wherein our members have lost their jobs.

Some of our members, three years ago, usually have -- they own sewing machine inside their home, and usually accept some -- we call it "sidelines"-- wherein some of our members accept some sewing jobs for them to buy some new clothes, some lipstick and some other things. But now these, we call it "sideline", is now the main source of income of our workers. Now, in our sector of industry also, there is now an increasing rate of child labor, wherein because our displaced workers are now working in informal sectors, they are now forced to ask the help of their children to come up with a higher productivity which means higher income for them for food and for the education of their children.

And what is also happening in the garment sector in the Philippines is that in the factory, as our colleagues here from the employers group, you will never see child labor at all, but then because these factories are engaged in the sub-contracting industry, then it is where we do not have control over the use of child labor. It is the situation wherein one factory who subcontracts the job, then this subcontractor will subcontract it to another one until there is some sort of multi-level sub-contracting. So it is where we find child labor in the Philippines, in the garment industry. So it is true as our colleagues here from the employers group said that there is no child labor in the factory. Thatís true. But it is where the subcontractors where you can find child labor. And I just want you to imagine how these children are compensated.

One mother who accepts sewing jobs making dresses for dolls: so these children are the ones doing the ribbons for these dresses because the adult people cannot do it because itís very small. And they are being paid 10 centavos for one ribbon. And that is really nothing, but because they are helping the mothers, then they have to do it so that they can have food on their table.

So what weíre doing nowadays is for us to enlighten our workers, the womensí concern on the effect of child labor in the social development of their children. But what is happening is that the priority of the mothers, the priority of the women, is for them to have some food. The second priority, maybe, is because they want their children to go to school. And maybe the third and the fourth is the health and safety conditions. And it is very serious because if you look at the children in the shoe industry, you can find out that these children are exposed to hazardous chemicals and the children do not know about this. So this is the situation in the garment, shoe and leather sectors wherein we are working.

I know we donít have much time and I hope that, and I notice also that there is no government representative at this table; and we could have a tripartite (laughter) idea on what is the situation in the garment sector. Thank you.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I think the ideal -- you mentioned the tripartite -- I think in all countries, even in our highly industrialized country, we feel that it is a good idea when there are these tripartite discussions because I think itís the only way to resolve some of these issues. I would be very interested in knowing, in terms of -- one of the things the First Lady has been working so much that Iíve been trying to support also is the whole issue of the micro-enterprise and the extent to which there is money available for women to start businesses and how that works and perhaps you could --

QUESTION: I am from TSPI, a micro-finance institution, and the financial crisis has affected us badly because it has choked the flow of capital to the micro entrepreneurs. Actually, they were talking about child, well, abuse of child labor, and all that, and in micro-finance we see an alternative to women. So instead of women seeking employment under difficult circumstances, we provide access to capital where they can start small projects in the home, take care of their children, and send their children to school and provide additional facilities for the home.

And TSPI has been a partner of USAID for some time, and AID has provided loan capital to TSPI. And we have had moderate success. We have now about 10,000 clients and we have near perfect payment rate, which just shows that women in the Philippines can be a potent force, especially now when a lot of the men who are traditionally the primary breadwinner in the family, we find that women are becoming the major breadwinners of the family. We have here an example; we have Mrs. Morallos who is one of the clients of TSPI, who supports a family of six and her husband, who is currently unemployed out of a loan from a micro finance institution.. So, while we do have a lot of problems with women, we have also a lot of success stories about women coming out victorious and triumphant despite financial crisis in the Philippines.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Can you actually show that women repay their loans on a regular basis?

QUESTION: Oh, yes.

QUESTION: I am working with the Notre Dame Foundation, and weíre based in Mindanao. And Iím listening in to the women talking about employed women. You can just imagine the deprivation of a woman, a Muslim woman, who is illiterate, who will never have a chance to land a job. So the Foundation has gone from; the project has been doing literacy for enterprise development. We start with working with illiterate women, teaching them eventually skills, livelihood and then giving them finance. In our case, weíre serving women.

In one locality, we have one hundred percent repayment from the Moslem women because again we were discussing this before you came in, Secretary, and we said it is not so much how much money is given to the women, but giving them enough for them to start working, start doing their own businesses and then eventually lift them up to second level or third level financing. Itís not advisable to give so much big loans to these women because you will just plainly overwhelm them, and in the end point they will not be able to pay. But if you are with them -- meaning to say you give them a small loan -- and you, at the same time, provide business advice, support, until they are sustained. I am happy to say that some of our Moslem borrowers now are now borrowing from rural banks. Because our purpose, okay, we start you, in a small business and we hope that you make good, and eventually some banking institutions -- we donít go to the commercial banks -- but we work it out with the rural banks of our communities. And I must say, of course, we also have successes, just like the TSPI, but we also have failures. Thank you.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: There was a very interesting article that I was quite proud of that appeared in one of our biggest newspapers, USA Today, a couple of weeks ago, which showed -- they described it as a strategic partnership between the First Lady and me in terms of having brought womenís issues into the center of our foreign policy. The reason that we have both done it and we cooperate on this is that it is our belief that if women are empowered, both in terms of political and economic abilities, that it is a great help for the evolution of democracy and civil society, that also it is more likely that disease is controlled and that children are educated. And, so, we have worked very hard on this. I think in listening to you it is evident that this works, although it clearly is not without problems.

And I just wonder if there are ways that you can think that we -- AID you have been saying is helpful and Iím very proud of what it does. I think, generally, we need to make clearer how we work together on this, and that the empowerment of women in one place actually helps the overall empowerment. We also have worked very hard to deal with problems such as war crimes where we have dealt with issues in Rwanda and Bosnia, to make sure that rape cannot be excused and that is a weapon of war that needs to be punished. So I think there are any number of ways that we can all cooperate and work together. I think the question is how we can be more helpful in terms of making sure that the codes of labor are in fact enforced. I can see the problem that if you own a factory and in the factory there is nothing going on and then there are these various levels, that it is very hard to enforce, and especially when people are hungry, and if you have a child that is capable of tying little bows, and youíre hungry, then it becomes a very serious problem.

Are we out of time?

I thank you very much. I apologize for being so late. But I think I have gotten a small picture of what you all are doing. I do think it is important to have dialogue between the owners and the workers, management and workers, because unless youíre there doing the work, I think it is hard always to know what is going on.

Thank you very much.

[End of Document]

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