The computer-generated sign at the door of a meeting room in the Asian Development Bank [ADB] headquarters near Manila announces: "worker rights. Brown Bag: 12:15 p.m."
Inside, more than two dozen ADB staff members, none with a brown bag but some with sandwiches, are assembled during lunch time. They are listening to and talking with five Filipino guests: three union leaders and two representatives of nongovernmental organizations. It is the first-ever dialogue between bank staffers and people representing working men and women from the country in which the ADB has its headquarters.
In a half-hour slide presentation, Isidro Antonio Asper, vice president of the Philippine Federation of Free Workers, focuses on how ADB policies affect ordinary people and why the bank must become more responsive to their needs. Instead of imposing loan conditions restricting increases in the legal minimum wage, for example, the ADB "should help our government understand that workers need a living wage," so that (among other reasons) child labor can be eliminated. Asper’s point is later amplified by his four colleagues, all members of the Philippine branch of a new network of trade unions, nongovernmental organizations, and academics in Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Thailand.
A bank staff member challenges Asper’s assertion that the ADB imposes labor restrictions on some loans. But a senior bank official,...