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NPA urges foreign investors to protect workers' rights
CubaNews / September 2002

By Larry Luxner

The National Policy Association, a nonprofit, nonpartisan forum funded in part by the U.S. government, has concluded a three-year effort “to promote human rights and democracy in Cuba through the adoption of best business practices.”

Kaylin Bailey, international program associate at the NPA, said that since October 1999, her organization’s Cuba project has received two grants totaling $424,000 from the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Funding for the program runs out Aug. 31, though the NPA hopes to get additional money to continue its work.

In a recent interview, Bailey said her organization was created in 1934 “to bring together business and labor to provide a forum for dialogue, so the issues that caused the Great Depression wouldn’t happen again.”

“While the overall purpose has stayed the same, the issues have changed,” Bailey told CubaNews. “We’ve looked at everything over the years from bilateral foreign policy to minimum-wage issues to pension reform.”

With passage of the 1996 Helms-Burton Act, the NPA decided it was time to turn its attention to Cuba.

In June 1997, the organization’s North American Committee — a group of 110 business, labor and academic leaders from the United States, Canada and Mexico — issued its “Principles for Private-Sector Involvement in Cuba." These are based on the Arcos Principles as well as the Sullivan, McBride and other socially responsible principles that Bailey says “have served as a catalyst for progress in non-democratic societies.”

Two years later, NPA began its Best Busi-ness Practices in Cuba project and formed a working group of 15 private-sector organizations throughout North America and Europe.

In June 2000, the group chose Mexico City for its first International Conference on Best Business Practices in Cuba. A second conference was held in Montreal in June 2001, and a third in Washington last November. The Madrid roundtable took place in May 2002. Besides hosting seminars, the NPA sends small delegations to the headquarters of sel-ected European, Canadian and Mexican firms to discuss adoption of business principles.

It also translates key documents into Spa-nish for dissemination in Cuba through various channels, and publishes a quarterly news-letter, Cuba Today, to publicize its activities.

Does the NPA have an official position on the U.S. trade embargo? Bailey says no.

“Any position that we take on U.S. policy to-ward Cuba is almost irrelevant, because we’re looking at foreign investors who are already in Cuba. They have the factories, they’re running the hotels, and they’re the ones we’re aiming this program at.”

According to NPA estimates, some 151,000 Cubans — over 3% of the total labor force — work in joint ventures and foreign business operations. This number includes 81,000 workers in tourism, 45,000 in nickel and related activities, and 25,000 other sectors.

“Most foreign investors in Cuba recognize what the situation is, and they create internal policies to alleviate the poverty,” said Bailey.

Even so, Miami-based exile groups, led by the Cuban American National Foundation, accuse those companies of exploiting workers by not paying them directly, by not permitting unions and by letting the government award the best-paying jobs to loyal Communists —while rejecting anyone who may have participated in anti-government activities.

“That becomes the basis for political discri-mination, one of the major issues in the tourist industry,” said Bailey. “Cubans have to go through a strict screening process in order to be considered for the hospitality schools, which teach them how to be Cuban servants.”

She adds: “The difference between us and the CANF is that while we may not be able to control the morality of these companies, we can make positive changes and ask these companies to be part of them.”

Yet the program doesn’t get much publicity.

“We get a very positive reception when we talk with companies about our principles, but it becomes difficult when you ask a company to sign its name for an official endorsement, because Cuba is such a political issue that these companies think no step at all is better than taking a step forwards or backwards.”

A case in point: NPA recently got five members of AmCham Cuba to endorse the principles. However, those five companies asked not to be identified.

Bailey said the NPA now seeks another $300,000 in grants to continue its work.

“We have not addressed the issue of expropriated property at all,” she said. “If and when the transition in Cuba takes place, that’s fine, but there’s no definitive plan of action. For instance, how in the world would Cuba offer financial compensation with its economy the way it is now? And is it even important at this point for corporations to be compensated?”

For the NPA, the most sensitive issue is the fact that its Cuba programs are completely dependent on U.S. government funding.

Asked if that taints the program’s reputation in any way, Bailey deferred to her boss, agency director Anthony Quainton, who issued the following statement for CubaNews:

“While the Cuban government has not been receptive to our initiative because of our funding, USAID has not exercised any direct influence on our program or publications. They have not asked us to take a position on U.S. policy toward Cuba. Fortunately, we have been allowed to remain focused on our objective — to promote worker rights in Cuba —which is certainly in everyone’s interests.”

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