Thursday, September 29, 2011

Working For Workers' Rights

Child labor and sweatshops still exist. In 2006, it was reported that Ipod factory workers in China worked 15 hour days and slept in dormintories where visitors were not permitted, all to obtain $50 per month. These stories are all too common, but they don't have to be.

Through the clothes we purchase, and the choices we make as consumers and suppliers, we can live in a world where sweatshops cease to exist. Organizations such as Green America provide programs, suggestions and new ideas that allow our voices to be heard, encouraging companies worldwide to come on-board in the fight for fair labor rights.

Kumarian Press' recent release, Advocacy Across Borders focuses on this cause and the role of globally Northern-based NGOs in transnational advocacy networks who aim to provide fair working conditions for everyone. The book includes case studies of four NGOs and highlights their link with the anti-sweatshop network.

Learning about fair trade will educate us and others to do the right thing for labor workers worldwide.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Cambodian NGOs Raise Doubt

Cambodia-based NGOs are under the gun "as the government gears up to pass controversial legislation regulating the country's estimated 2,000 civil society groups" (Asia Times Online) who are part of a foreign donor-funded railway renovation project, costing approximately $141 million that will affect more than 4000 poor families living near the tracks.

On August 4, 2011, the Cambodian Ministry of Interior suspended Sahmakum Teang Tnaut (STT), one of several involved with monitoring the resettlement of residents displaced by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and AusAID-funded rail project. At first, talks of suspension were due to inconsistencies in the group's paperwork, but later we found out the truth.

"STT operated and incited people to oppose national development by the government in order to make the development partners suspend or stop the project," the ministry said in an August 14 statement.

Since the suspension of STT, the government has warned NGOs about making "false" claims, such as the death of two children last year.

These NGOs have received criticism that marks them as using a project that will only benefit their career by exploiting others. They stay firm though stating that they are not opposed to national development.

But, since the United Nations "mission of the early 1990s seeded Cambodia with a vibrant civil society sector, NGOs here have had an ambivalent relationship with the government." (Asia Times Online) This, until recently, made Cambodia a safe and welcoming place to hold an NGO.

Some NGOs in Cambodia, such as VBNK- an NGO founded by Kumarian Press author Jenny Pearson - hold no responsibility in this debate, but still have to worry about more government interference. Like many NGOs, they choose to do business in a truthful way that will positively affect those in the country.

However, with the new regulation on the horizon, this may change things for NGOs, favoring more government involvement. If NGOs were honest, and handle their business practices with integrity, there, most likely, would be less government interaction. (Read Chris Corbett's new read to see how to create an honest nonprofit organization.)

These projects must be sustainable and help the people of Cambodia and if the government must intervene in order for this successful transition, then so be it.

Read more about this issue now.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Ten Years After

I was in Canada attending the CIVICUS World Assembly ( during the tenth anniversary of 9/11. The assembly, a gathering of NGOs, civil society activists and youth from all over the world, stood in silent prayer and reflection as a mark of respect for those who died on that horrendous day as well as those who have died since as a consequence of the “war on terror.”

A common question during those sad and confusing days following the events of September 11th was “Why do they hate us?” They, being for the most part, a homogenous and poorly conceived Islam with its faceless (especially women “hiding” behind the veil or chador) Muslim adherents. A facile and misleading answer to this question was, “They hate us for our values and our freedoms.”

The dead should be honored and the perpetrators of this crime against humanity need to be brought to justice. I am being deliberately ambiguous here because without doubt those who funded and organized the crime and those who commandeered the planes that day were criminals, but to my mind, so too are the members of the US government who sanctioned and supported a response that has resulted in two wars, countless thousands of deaths and maiming, not to mention the considerable damage to the US as an upholder of democratic and respectful human rights values.

It is easier to rely on technological, military and economic might and reality TV visions of warfare and “shock and awe” than to tackle the complex factors that contributed to 9/11. It is also easier to mask rank opportunism—control of vital oil resources, for example—behind the rhetoric of patriotism and freedom.

Many commentators, Juan Cole ( and George Packer among them (, have noted what has been lost since 9/11. As editor for Kumarian Press, I have been fortunate to work with two authors who have also looked sensitively at a society which in many respects seems to have lost its moral compass (and I am not talking about those in the Middle East many of which have shown, through the “Arab Spring” a much firmer grasp of concepts such as democracy, freedom of expression and social change than we in the US have at the moment). Robert Ivie’s brilliant book Dissent from War ( addresses how words themselves are weapons of war and offers suggestions for transforming words from swords into ploughshares. Lyn Boyd Judson encourages us to never lose sight of the humanity of our enemies in her passionate examination of the ambiguities of diplomacy and morality in her book Strategic Moral Diplomacy (

Both of these authors hope that their books will help readers of any ideological stripe or religious faith to think about not only who and what they are, but more importantly, who and what they can become, help us to loosen the shackle of despair, fear and hatred and open ourselves to the truly infinite possibilities for good that we intrinsically possess.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Exposing NGOs Through Education

Today, the American Graduate School in Paris, a nonprofit organization of higher education, is starting a Graduate Certificate Program in NGO Management. The classes will be taught entirely in English, and will be co-taught by UNESCO senior program specialist Clinton Robinson and Human Rights Watch France director Jean-Marie Fardeau.

The objective of this two semester-long program is for students and professionals alike to gain a better understanding of NGO management by exploring common principles and practices used by today's leading NGOS.

NGOs, such as VBNK, have made a name for themselves -by building from the ground up with integrity, courage and committment. VBNK, for example, is a well-known, Cambodia-based NGO started by Kumarian Press' Jenny Pearson, author of the new NGO management book Creative Capacity Development. In Creative Capacity Development, Pearson outlines how she started VBNK, and what priniciples she used to build-up her name, now recognized by many in the business.

But, why is it important in today's world to know about NGO Management?

Fardeau says: "NGOs have become key players on the international scene. Growing out of an understanding of democratic action that is rooted in citizens' concerns, they aim to express the values, ideas and commitments of civil society."

To learn more about the Program, read on.