Keywords : Declarations

The U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit in Washington
this week gave the world a chance to focus on Africa.
That is how it should be. Africans, today, stand at
a crossroad between opportunity and exclusion.
Over the past half-century African nations have
struggled against colonialism and repression. While
decolonization was a palpable achievement, Africa
and its peoples continue to face domestic challenges
and forms of neo-colonialism that perpetuate the
exploitation of Africa. The last decade has also seen
major achievements across Africa. More and more
African countries are being governed democratically.
Ten of the 20 fastest-growing economies in the world
today are in Africa. The world is increasingly optimistic
about Africa’s future and now acknowledges the
power and potential of Africa to change the global
landscape. Workers and unions are at the forefront of
that change and are fighting to ensure that working
people share in a new age of prosperity in Africa.

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Throughout the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, numerous
representatives highlighted an “Africa Rising” narrative,
focusing mainly on increasing GDP numbers and
growing consumer markets. While economic growth
is laudable, the narrative does not address the role
of unions and workers in pressing for economic
and political justice, and it completely ignores the
growing inequality and the ongoing deficit of decent
work opportunities for African workers. Workers and
unions are concerned that this new focus on Africa
will not bring new dialogue about inclusive economic
development, but a return to structural adjustment
programs of previous decades, privatization of public
services and increasing labor market flexibilization. The
labor movement in many countries—which is often the
largest force in civil society—has been weakened by
these neo-liberal policies, while restricted collective
bargaining has led to much of the unequal growth we
are seeing today.

In Nigeria, between 1986 and 2010, there has
been a 75% increase in the concentration of
income, and in Ghana a 50% increase over an
18-year period. South Africa has one of the
highest inequalities in the world and continues
to grow.
Source: Africa Rising? Inequalities and the essential role
of fair taxation, Christian Aid, p. 6, February 2014

Income and wealth inequalities must be addressed
throughout Africa. One of every two Africans continues
to live in extreme poverty, subsisting on less than
US$1.25 a day. In oil-rich countries like Angola and
Equatorial Guinea, 67% of Angolans live on less than
$2 a day and more than 60% of Equatorial Guineans
live in poverty—in a country of less than 800,000
inhabitants that earns more than US$8 billion annually
from oil export. Youth unemployment in Nigeria, one of
Africa’s fastest-growing economies, is more than 54%.1
In Ghana, despite impressive economic growth that
enabled the country to decrease aggregate poverty by
half ahead of the post-2015 Millennium Development
Goal deadline, nearly half of food crop farmers are still
classified as poor.

In Africa, increasing inequality is being reinforced by
unequal access to education and health, water and
sanitation. The disease burden on the continent is
still high and rising. Age-old tropical diseases such as
malaria continue to wreck the lives of many Africans.
The HIV/AIDS pandemic continues to devastate
African communities, cutting short productive lives
and orphaning children. Now, the continent is battling
with Ebola, a fearsome, deadly disease with a mortality
rate of up to 90%. Ebola is spreading through some
countries in West Africa.

One paradox of African economic growth is that
it has been accompanied by an erosion of formal
employment and the growth of the informal economy.
Despite increased economic growth, a majority of
African workers continues to eke out a living in the
sprawling informal economy or in precarious work
situations. According to the ILO, nearly eight out of
every 10 African workers are employed in “vulnerable
employment.”2 Workers in the informal economy or in
precarious employment, despite working long hours,
often earn notoriously low incomes and have no access
to social protection such as unemployment insurance,
pensions or health care.

Given the growth of precarious work, these workers
have been identified collectively as the “precariat”—the
millions of Africans living and working dangerously
in unregulated industries near or below the poverty
line, with few social protections and little access to
education, training or financial resources. Migrant
workers and women make up much of the precariat.
The growth of precarious employment has reduced
standards through the labor market and also
negatively impacted Africans in formal employment,
escalating inequality and manifesting in low pay,
unhealthy working environments, and the growth of
part-time, contracted, outsourced and temporary low wage

Despite the euphoric embrace of democratic
governance in the 1990s, national institutions remain
weak, the rule of law is on retreat, and impunity for
human and labor rights abuses abounds. Confidence
in governments and other state institutions is at an alltime
low. The abuse of state power and resources is
fueling inequalities and weakening the bonds of trust
and solidarity that have held African societies together
for millennia. Governments must be democratic,
accountable and transparent so that they can respond
to the needs of workers and their families.

For most countries on the continent, democracy has
been equated to holding quadrennial elections. In
between elections, state power and resources continue
to be usurped for the benefits of the few in power,
leading to a breakdown of the social contract. Some
of the African Heads of State that are deemed to be
governing democratically are engaged in corruption
and human and worker rights violations. Building the
capacity of civil society organizations like trade unions
that serve as a strong counterforce to the autocratic
tendencies of leaders and rising economic inequality is
an important step toward a broader policy to promote
democracy and improved governance.

Additionally, contributing to this breakdown in
democracy, economic growth in Africa has been
driven almost exclusively by the extraction of natural
resources. The extractive industry generates billions
of dollars for Africa, but in many cases it also leads to
increased corruption and environmental degradation.
Many of the revenues earned from natural resource
extraction remain untaxed and are sent offshore,
depriving governments of much-needed resources.
Illicit financial flows through harmful tax policies such
as tax havens, mispricing and failure to report royalties
rob countries of vast resources that could be invested
in development priorities. Such corruption depletes
resources and often supports conflicts in the region.

Against giant multinationals, the capacity of states
to regulate and negotiate is weak. Natural resource
concessions and payment agreements are increasingly
lopsided, reflecting the interests of foreign investors.
The weak capacity of states also means that the little
tax revenue that comes into national coffers is diverted
to benefit a small percentage of the population.
Workers welcome trade and investment, but for it to
succeed in areas like the extractive industry, it must
be part of an inclusive and rights-based development

During this week’s summit, workers and their unions
from Africa and the United States held a parallel
gathering in Washington to address the challenges
facing workers and to insert a worker perspective
into the policy debates. Together, we took stock of
our achievements, developed a shared analysis of the
ongoing challenges, and solidified plans to join forces
in a call for a new economic paradigm for workers in
the United States and throughout Africa. As workers,
we recognize the successes that have been achieved in
the course of the last half-century. We also emphasize
the potential that exists on both sides of the Atlantic
to overcome the challenges facing workers and to
enable the United States and Africa to make lasting
contributions to shared prosperity and peace.

Our shared vision for a new economic model focuses
on inclusive growth, characterized by workers
participating in and benefiting from economic growth
and job creation. Macro-level economic growth is
necessary, but alone is insufficient for addressing
the challenges that confront workers everywhere.
Economic growth needs to be assisted by other
policies and programs that take care of the needs of
all workers and their families. Strong social protections
must be an integral part of economic growth and job

Below, we elaborate on our specific priorities.

Decent Work Core to Inclusive Economic

“One of our most serious economic problems
in Zambia is that relatively few of our citizens
work in the formal economy. We have about
500,000 workers in the formal economy, but
almost 4 million in the informal economy. We
also have to develop more jobs processing the
minerals we mine. We have only a small industry
to produce copper wire; most of our copper is
exported in an unprocessed form.”
—Zambian worker

Inclusive economic development is not possible
without decent work at its foundation. In addition to
decent work, human rights, participatory democracy,
gender equality, social protection and social inclusion,
both intergenerational and environmental, and shared
prosperity are also foundational. Our vision integrates
the economic, social, environmental and political
dimensions of life in the United States and in Africa
and is a call for rising expectations on both sides of
the Atlantic. Labor unions in our countries demand
more of our leaders in government and in the business

Our starting point is decent work, which means the
creation of jobs that produce sustainable livelihoods,
respect worker rights, provide social protections and
feature social dialogue. It is clear that decent work has
yet to become a central part of the Africa Rising story,
but it can and should be. Africa’s growing economies
are not producing enough decent employment, an
enduring legacy of structural adjustments and all
successor policies. Decent employment stands in
contrast to the rising precarious work noted above.
Countries cannot sustainably eliminate poverty and
all forms of human suffering when workers are mired
in jobs that do not sustain communities and their
economies are mired in a jobless growth process.

Decent work in Africa will not be attainable without a
fundamental shift in the dominant economic paradigm.
The current investment and trade priorities in Africa
have focused almost exclusively on the natural
resource sector, which is largely intensive in the use
of capital, while the manufacturing sector has all but
collapsed on the continent. Privatization and unbridled
and premature liberalization have destroyed major
sources of formal employment. Fiscal austerity has
disenabled states from investing in the institutions
that are necessary for formal job creation and building
infrastructure. Liberalization of external payment
regimes in the context of weak institutions have led to
a situation where capital leaves Africa much more than
it enters Africa.

Worker Rights

“The government will put things in writing, on
the radio and on television, but the employers
still don’t comply. The employers don’t care.
They feel that their workplace is their property
and the government can’t tell them what to
do on their property.”
—South African worker

Fundamental to decent work is the respect for and
implementation of worker rights as enshrined in the
ILO core labor standards. Worker rights, especially
the right to freedom of association and to bargain
collectively, are important to addressing inequality.
Worker rights are also a foundational component of
trade and investment policies that seek to promote
inclusive economic growth and development. Effective
social dialogue plays a critical role in advancing decent
work opportunities for workers because it promotes
better wages, working conditions and good governance.
These core standards are based upon the internationally
accepted norms and beliefs that peace and security
are based upon social justice, including humane work
conditions, social protections and worker rights.

Social Protection Systems

The ILO estimates that “only about 10 per cent of the
economically active population (in sub-Saharan Africa)
is covered by statutory social security schemes.”3
Given the high levels of informal and precarious
employment, unemployment and inequality in Africa,
the development of strong social protection programs
must be a major consideration of the trade and
development discussion. Social protection programs
assure an adequate income to those outside the labor
market, families with children and the elderly as well as
other vulnerable groups.

Investing in Young Workers

Investing in the future of Africa should begin with
investment in today’s generation of young people.
According to the UN’s African Economic Outlook
report, Africa has the youngest population in the
world. This population can be a source of growth and
development or a source of instability. The UN also
estimates that young workers currently account for
60% of the unemployed in Africa. Many young people
enter the labor market too early in their lives, missing
important education and skill-building opportunities.
This trend must be reversed by, first, investing in the
education of the new cohort of young people joining
the labor market, and, second, giving those already
in the labor market second chance opportunities
through apprenticeship programs. Governments
should integrate social partners into the design and
implementation of these programs.

Achieving Gender Equality in the World
of Work

“International support has been critical in
stressing the importance of gender equality
and in supplying funds for work on gender
equality. Equally important, if not more so, has
been the role of women workers themselves
in pressing for change….”

—African Unions and Africa’s Future:

Strategic Choices in a Changing World

African women face huge and deeply entrenched
inequality in the world of work, to the detriment of
the entire continent. This inequality persists even
in the face of gains in other relevant areas, such as
women’s health and education attainment. On virtually
every global measure, women are more economically
excluded than men.4 In terms of finding work, young
women are at a disadvantage in Africa’s labor markets.
For example, in a subset of countries composed of
Benin, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Tanzania, Togo,
Uganda and Zambia, the unemployment rate of young
women exceeds that of young men in all the countries
but Benin. The average female youth unemployment
rate is 25.3%, compared with the male rate of 20.2%.5
This gap is even higher in North Africa, where the
2012 unemployment rate for young men was 18.3%,
compared with 37% for young women.

Emerging research is beginning to uncover what
labor unions have always known to be true—
people’s ability to advocate for their own, as well as
collective, social, political and economic rights and
interests, is a fundamental positive force for equality.
For women workers, since the 1970s, unions have
become a primary global vehicle for advancing
gender equality.7 With more than 70 million women
in unions today, unions have expanded their women’s
rights and gender equality agendas in the workplace
and society, and broadened their scope to support
informal economy workers—the majority of whom
are women—in a number of ways. Unions are on the
front lines in the fights to roll back the abuses of neoliberal
economic policies that so disadvantage women,
and to install pro-worker and pro-poor micro- and
macroeconomic policies. Gender-inclusive labor unions
and other labor rights organizations in Africa are,
therefore, central to local, national and global efforts to
achieve gender-inclusive and rights-based growth.

Pro-Employment Trade, Investment and

For Africa to fully benefit from trade and investment,
employment-centered growth strategies are required.
Economic policies must be calibrated in a way that
uses labor in a dignified manner that recognizes
the dignity and primary role of work in the growthgenerating
process. This would mean, among other
things, encouraging job growth through domestic
processing of raw materials before export, affording
Africans the use of tools that helped other countries
to build competitive manufacturing at home and
strengthening state capacity to uphold labor rights
while supporting entrepreneurship.

Trade and investment strategies should promote
industrialization and structural transformation of
African economies in ways that advance decent work
with fundamental workers’ rights, social protection
floors and gender equality for all workers, including
women and migrants. Subregional economic
integration should also be encouraged to develop
economies of scale and facilitate distribution
throughout the region. Only through full employment
and decent work can Africa reduce poverty and

Improving AGOA

The African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA),
enacted in 2000 to “promote stable and sustainable
economic growth and development in sub-Saharan
Africa” is the cornerstone of U.S. trade policy to
Africa. In the 15 years that it has been in effect, it
has failed to meet its overall objectives. AGOA has
increased exports to the United States, but cannot be
tied to significant job growth. While AGOA is said to
have created anywhere from 300,000 to 1.3 million
jobs in sub-Saharan Africa, directly and indirectly,
these numbers are far below original expectations.
As important, job growth has not necessarily meant
an increase in decent work. Before reauthorization,
an assessment of AGOA’s impact on workers in key
industries is needed.

As the United States works to update and reauthorize
its cornerstone trade policy with Africa, there are
several ways to improve and update the act:

• Update eligibility criteria to clearly specify core
labor standards, particularly freedom of association
and the anti-discrimination conventions;

• Improve certification and reauthorization to build
in greater dialogue with countries and to target
specific sectors with loss of benefits as opposed to
the drastic measure of removing benefits from all
export sectors in a country;

• Enhance eligibility oversight with complaint
mechanisms that allow workers to raise red flags
about worker rights abuses;

• Expand capacity building and technical assistance
to expand access to education and training for
workers and to help unions play a stronger role in
workplace democracy and rights monitoring; and

• Enhance the stability of trade preferences that
are granted by AGOA by authorizing the law for a
minimum period of five years to promote long-term
job creation and retention.


We are pleased that in the end, the White House and
African leaders developed a civil society track in which
some of the peoples’ concerns could be aired, including
critical issues of concern like decent work and inclusive
development. Any discussion about democracy in the
United States or in Africa is incomplete without full
participation of organized labor. Labor movements are
major forces for democracy. Unions helped overcome
political apartheid in South Africa and, in the United
States, helped build the American middle class—but
these gains are at risk as rising inequality and declining
labor standards produce less stable, fulfilling jobs in all
our countries.

As the U.S. and African leaders leave the summit and
pledge new commitments to sustainable development
and economic growth, leaders on both sides of
the Atlantic should ask themselves: How will these
policies create jobs, promote decent work, enhance
social protection, protect public health, raise wages,
improve living standards, ensure good environmental
stewardship and enshrine sustainable, inclusive growth?
As the leaders of our governments end their summit,
we pledge as labor movements in Africa and in the
United States to:

1. Stand together to hold our leaders accountable
to their commitments to an inclusive economic
agenda that creates decent work and that
addresses inequality and the need of workers and
their families;

2. Continue to contribute to the creation of new trade
and investment models that invest in workers’
capacity, infrastructure and services, and which
respect labor rights and reinforce labor standards;

3. Advocate for government support on goal #8 of
the post-2015 development agenda to include
effective targets for full employment and decent

4. Mobilize workers to demand transparency and
accountability in governance;

5. Promote the need for social dialogue between
unions, governments and the private sector in
economic policy making and implementation;

6. Work together across continents to help forge a
vision of shared prosperity where all those who
work share in the wealth we create, where our
rights are honored in the places where we work,
and where our nations and our world prosper
because we prosper together;

7. Support progressive taxation systems and a
financial transaction tax to rebalance economies
and make resources available for investment in
inclusive, participatory development;

8. Hold corporations accountable for human and
worker rights and advocate for government to
implement national action plans on business and
human rights;

9. Support the ongoing struggle to build a just
world, through continued defense of freedom
of association, including the right to strike and
collective bargaining for all workers; campaigns
and organizational support for labor rights
defenders; advocacy for decent work; and

10. Work to build partnerships and networks with
our allies in civil society to protect human rights,
fight discrimination at work, defend the rights of
all workers, and demand gender equality in the
workplace and in society.

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