The Deputy Secretary General of the Botswana Federation of Public Sector Unions, Ketlhalefile Motshegwa, says that the Federation is in the throes of formulating a strategy to fight capital (businesses) with workers’ own capital. Private sector workers will also benefit from this campaign.
Next month, the Federation’s leadership will meet to finalise a strategy paper on how it can use the buying power of its members (as that of the general public) to punish businesses that trample on workers’ rights through a consumer boycott campaign.
“The strategy entails giving a blue print to all industries as to how they should conduct themselves on workers’ issues. The strategy also involves naming and shaming businesses or entities that violate and undermine workers rights in an effort to urge workers and the public that, on the basis of the violation of worker rights, such entities do not deserve income from workers or the public. We are saying so because workers and trade unions have the capacity and capability to influence the conduct of business entities and ensure that entities that violate workers’ rights don’t survive as they are dangerous to humanity,” Motshegwa says.
While the strategy is still being developed, some aspects of it appear to have been finalised. Initially, there will be a media campaign through newspapers, radio, pamphlets and BOFEPUSU’s own website to sensitise workers about their rights. Businesses will also be put on notice about this campaign ÔÇô in Motshegwa’s more robust language, the Federation “will soon issue an ultimatum to all employers that we have unleashed a campaign of protection of workers’ rights for compliance with labour laws and policies.” The Federation will also encourage workers to report violations of the Employment Act to its office which, in turn, will compile a list of offenders.
“Such kind of businesses will be entered on the list of those to be shamed for violation of workers’ rights and welfare,” says Motshegwa, adding that the offenders will also be reported to the Department of Labour and Social Protection and that the Federation will issue weekly updates through the media. “Some of the matters will be taken to court accordingly. Above all, they will be entered in the weekly name-and-shame updates for violation of workers’ rights.”
However, there is a sticking point. Viewed against the truism expressed by Joan Robinson, a British economist, that “the misery of being exploited by capitalists is nothing compared to the misery of not being exploited at all,” BOFEPUSU’s plan is problematic. There is every likelihood that businesses that the Federation target and workers would suffer the greater misery of not being exploited at all. Motshegwa counters this argument by pointing out that their main objective is to ensure that Batswana have decent jobs that guarantee dignity and security.
“The campaign is meant to ensure that not only is there employment creation, but that these are the kind of jobs where workers’ rights are respected and protected. Some of the businesses that violate workers’ rights make large amounts of profits which go into the bank accounts of shareholders while workers’ rights and welfare are neglected to enable profit maximisation. We want to fight and end this exploitation and indeed we are taking war to such kind of employers. It is war that we shall win for the greatest prosperity and protection of workers in this country,” Motshegwa says.
Ethical consumerism, as this kind of boycott is called, is about buying products and services that are made and distributed under ethical conditions. By making ethically informed consumption choices, consumers contribute to improving the lives and well-being of the vulnerable and weak. This strategy is being successfully used by the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) Movement, which advocates applying economic and political pressure on Israel to achieve equal rights for Palestinians in Israel and an end to the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories. Just last week, Veolia, a French infrastructure corporation, sold off its final investment in Israel as a result of the BDS boycott campaign.