The role of technology in human rights promotion

Community News & Features May 25, 2018 at 4:06 pm

Daisy-AragoInterview with Daisy Arago:

By Ysh Cabana

The Philippine Reporter

“What is the role of technology in human rights promotion?” Daisy Arago posed the question as she joined RighsCon Toronto 2018, May 16 to 18 at Exhibition Place, Toronto.

Arago is the executive director of Center for Trade Union and Human Rights (CTUHR), a leading labour rights organization in the Philippines. She is one of the panelists in a session entitled: Innovation in the Frontline, how grassroot activists are utilizing technology.

Following is an edited and abridged interview with The Philippine Reporter. Arago shares her insights on the global summit that brings together business leaders, policy makers, general counsels, government representatives, technologists, and human rights defenders to tackle pressing issues at the intersection of human rights and digital technology.

The Philippine Reporter: Can you tell us briefly what is CTUHR?

Daisy Arago: Actually, our center is 34 years old. It was established during the Martial Law as a response to the grave repression of workers. Basically our work is [comprised of] documentation, monitoring, investigation of trade union rights violations. In short, human rights in the labor sector. We also do public advocacy, of course, capacity building of workers, and awareness raising especially with women. Last but not the least, we also campaign to eliminate the worse forms of child labour.

TPR: How are you related to Kilusang Mayo Uno (May 1st Movement) and other labor groups? How different is CTUHR?

DA: We are in the line of non-governmental organizations. Apart from groups that are completely institutions, we are unique in the sense that we are also an NGO but at the same time we are engaged in direct organizing where human rights committees and women’s organization are formed. Since we are a rights-oriented organization, we often relate with KMU. Why? First, we work where the victims are based. It just so happened that KMU caters to more human rights victims in the case of trade union repression. Secondly, we also believe in trade unionism. Our role is to promote genuine trade unionism in the Philippines.

TPR: What was the purpose of your visit to Canada?

DA: CTUHR was invited to RightsCon 2018 or the Global Summit on Human Rights in the Digital Age. It has more than 2,000 participants from over a hundred countries, several governments, corporations and civil society organizations. For our part, CTUHR developed a system called “Workers Shout!,” an SMS-based helpline. We do talk about technology. We innovate. We believe that access to technology is a fundamental right. It should be promoted according to the needs of the people. The measure of how effective technology is, is in how it levels off inequality, how it cuts poverty globally and at the bottomline, how technology positively impacts the lives of the people, especially the marginalized sector. Workers often get scared, not on ‘innovation’ per se, because for them technology, for example robotics is a real threat that displaces labor and increases unemployment. Thus, I see the conference should have included the voices of the basic sectors because we cannot immediately reverse reality. How do we maximize opportunities that technology may offer in enhancing our work including labor rights? What are the social costs of innovation? Economic costs? It’s a matter of balancing these things.

TPR: How about political rights given the context in the Philippines where contractualization, also known colloquially as ‘endo’?

DA: Before I answer that, maybe it’s better to give emphasis that human rights is holistic. Economic rights, social and cultural rights, and political rights are indivisible. You know, we cannot really split one. It has to be taken in its totality. We talked about economic rights being threatened by technology. Where threat becomes larger when we see how artificial intelligence, algorithm, even surveillance are being used to restrict and repress individuals or communities asserting their legitimate rights. These are not utilized for positive development. For example, against those fighting back against land grabbing, in trade union organizing, the powers that be easily identify key persons, even the thoughts may be or presumed actions so one’s right to resist is being curtailed. If one would look at the power imbalance, the entities that have this capacity are the corporations and the state vis-a-vis the movement. The only way to level this off is for people to consolidate and to continue to organize.

TPR: There are reports that Rodrigo Duterte won the Philippine presidency through the help of social media, particularly Facebook data harvesting. How do social movements respond to this mode of the regime described as ‘fascistic’ or tyrannical? How is social media being used to the advantage of organizing a resistance movement?

DA: It’s an open secret that Duterte won through his ‘army of trolls.’ Elections were conducted in year 2016 but the so-called ‘army’ has been employed three or four years back. They are acknowledged by the administration but they are not labelled as ‘trolls’. Rather, they are called ‘social media promoters’ or ‘influencers’ or ‘supporters’ that are actually credited for his electoral victory. Until now, the Philippine progressive movement does not believe in Duterte’s popularity as real. Him being fascist and tyrannical is primarily performed through social media. Within the movement, at its different layers, from the local to the national level, we also see the potential of this media as a means of communication. For example, we can quickly call for mobilizations, you don’t really have to travel physically. It is also applied in campaigns and advocacies. There are also areas that are heavily militarized that may not be as easy to reach out to. Residents may have access to smartphones then video footage or reports may easily be transmitted that decades ago may have been difficult to relay. So response may be more timely now than before. In organizing, it may be fast-paced, but not as consolidated. One really has to do her basic tasks.

TPR: Face-to-face interaction?

DA: That form of organizing and raising awareness has no replacement. Social media may be convenient yet when it comes to commitment, especially nowadays, there is no substitute to personal communications.

TPR: Can you tell us about the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ and how it was discussed in the conference?

DA: Honestly, it has gained much attention of Filipino workers besides students with whom we are invited to conduct general orientation. Mixed feelings. One thing is you want to be realistic, and you don’t want to discourage students after so much time they spend to graduate that they have less opportunities moving forward. “There’s no employment waiting for you.” It’s quite disheartening especially for parents who even become buried in debts just to let their child go to school. Fourth Industrial revolution is happening when technology becomes the decisive force. Machines replace people. That when it comes to human resources, the human component is gradually removed. This whole process will create poverty because of displacement. That is the kind of world of work we face. We have to be vigilant. And this is the biggest challenge especially to the youth. For workers, the fear is greater. Now, there is a World Bank report released in March that states minimum wage must be ditched, and real workers would compete with robotics. People are being conditioned that machines will stand in for work. Inequality and poverty will definitely increase. Hopefully, this will cause higher awareness and create new forms of resistance.

TPR: Speaking of optimism, how do you see technology is applied in relation to the peace talks between the Government of the Philippines and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines? How is innovation used to advance national industrialization and genuine agrarian reform?

DA: In the Philippines, when we say access to science and technology it is clearly viewed that it should be people-centred, not for the profit of corporations. When it comes to agriculture, it should not be business-driven plantations. How would we develop indigenous forms of farming? How would we liberate peasants and farmworkers from hard labor? Science and technology is a basic right. It should lighten and better the condition of everyone, chiefly of marginalized sectors. If we have a progressive agriculture, it would also advance other industries, not technology-driven that displaces people.

TPR: Message to overseas Filipinos?

With the upsurge of out-migration, it is simply a sign of a failure of domestic economy. As people are forced to leave the country, we cannot speak of any development. GDP figures may equate to 100% but it means nothing. We cannot really consume GDP or GNP. For migrants, it is important to root back the struggles back to one’s homeland. Whatever issues migrants may face here, it is still valuable to learn of the people’s movement in the country. Participate, to the most of your capacity, in the struggle for justice, struggle for peace. Tuloy lang ang laban! This is also a tribute to Crispin ‘Ka Bel’ Beltran, late leader of progressive workers and people’s movement.