A critical assessment: Can Export Processing Zones be transformed into catalytic enclaves for Women’s Economic Empowerment?

In 2011, the International Finance Corporation (IFC) partnered with the World Bank Gender Action Plan and the Government of Canada to publish a study positing the rather novel idea that Special Economic Zones (SEZs – more commonly known as Export Processing Zones or EPZs) might serve as a vehicle for women’s economic empowerment.

The study, entitled Fostering Women’s Economic Empowerment Through Special Economic Zones, provides a comparative analysis of SEZs in eight countries (Bangladesh, China, Costa Rica, Egypt, El Salvador, Jordan, Kenya and the Philippines) and discusses different SEZ initiatives (as well as opportunities and obstacles) that have been developed to contribute to the economic empowerment of women.  The IFC argues that SEZs can contribute to women’s economic empowerment through three dimensions:  (1) fair employment and working conditions; (2) equal access to opportunities for professional investment; and (3) extension of investment opportunities for women.

My recent working paper, A critical assessment:  Can Export Processing Zones be transformed into catalytic enclaves for Women’s Economic Empowerment, considers this novel idea from an international employment and women’s rights perspective.

The idea that EPZs might be utilized as instruments to improve working women’s lives is counter-intuitive.   EPZs have a reputation for sub-standard working conditions and exploitation because they are frequently exempted from local labor laws and other workplace protections.  They are also considered to be a sub-optimal economic development mechanism by the OECD and others.  On the other hand, the IFC’s study points to a number of examples of innovative programs that can be adopted by EPZ administrators – and contains enough frank analysis of obstacles to using EPZ governance structures to empower women – to make its recommendations worth considering.

After assessing the IFC’s idea in light of recent literature discussing the challenges facing workers in EPZs, I come to a somewhat guardedly optimistic conclusion that SEZs and EPZs might serve as a vehicle for policies and programs designed to empower women – but only if EPZ administrators and policy makers change attitudes about independent trade unions and work in partnership with workers, representative trade unions and women’s rights organizations.

Technology for Accountability Lab MOOC


The Program on Liberation Technology (LibTech) at Stanford’s Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law together with the National Democratic Institute (NDI) are proud to launch a free massive open online course dubbed Technology for Accountability Lab.”

The course is geared for global democracy activists, software developers and other stakeholders to conceptualize, plan and implement technological tools and advocacy strategies to improve transparency by opening political and governmental processes.

This 10-week course – which starts on August 9, 2016 – will feature video lectures by Stanford professors Terry Winograd and Larry Diamond, as well as lecturers from NDI, Transparency International, Sunlight Foundation, Creative Commons, ProPublica, and other experts.

To to learn more about the course and register, visit the course link. Please share this announcement widely with interested participants and professional networks (#TFALAB).

Beyond Survival: Livelihood Strategies for Refugees in the Middle East

What can be done static1.squarespace.comto improve the lives of Syrian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey?  A terrific interdisciplinary conference I attended last November at Cornell Law School, entitled Beyond Survival: Livelihood Strategies for Refugees in the Middle East, engaged with that question from a variety of perspectives, focusing on the pressing issues of employment and education.  Jointly organized by the Prof. Chantal Thomas of the Clarke Initiative for Law and Development in the Middle East and North Africa, Dean Eduardo Penalver and Associate Dean Laura Spitz of Cornell University Law School, Dr. Josyann Abisaab and Dr. Satchit Balsari of Weill Cornell Global Emergency Medicine Division, and Prof. Mostafa Minawi of the Ottoman and Turkish Studies Initiative, this was the first extended academic conference at a U.S. university to focus on the situation of Syrian refugees.  The conference brought together anthropologists, demographers, doctors, economists, education experts, historians, legal academics, public health experts, technologists, and UN headquarters and field staff from the region to discuss the current situation on the ground and potential strategies for improving access to jobs and schools.  Several speakers, including the UNHCR Representative in Jordan, had recently worked in and/or conducted research in refugee camps in Jordan and Lebanon, and were able to provide timely, detailed, and comprehensive information about the numerous challenges facing the refugee populations in those countries.  A report summarizing the conference proceedings, including this information and expert analysis from a variety of fields, has just been made available here.  The goal of the report is to set research priorities for academics and research institutions “seeking innovative, evidence-based solutions” and to encourage dialogue and engagement among students and faculty at university campuses to meet the urgent needs of Syrian refugees, and to think more broadly about “our obligations to people beyond our borders.”

Go On! International Law Weekend 2014: Call for Panel Proposals

In anticipation of International Law Weekend 2014 – the premier international law event of the fall season, to be held on October 23-25, 2014, in New York City – the sponsors would like to invite proposals for panels, roundtables, and lectures by March 21. The overall theme of ILW 2014 is International Law in a Time of Chaos.

About ILW

ILW is sponsored and organized by the American Branch of the International Law Association (ABILA) and the International Law Students Association (ILSA). This annual conference attracts an audience of more than 1,000 practitioners, academics, diplomats, members of the governmental and nongovernmental sectors, and most importantly, foreign policy and law students who are learning about the range of practice and career opportunities.

Call for Proposals

The theme — hopefully not too disheartening — is “International Law in a Time of Chaos.” The role of international law in conflict mitigation is  a focus  – whether by building commercial links between states, fighting corruption, improving democratic governance, providing methods for resolving international and ethnic disputes, or regulating the use of force.  International Law Weekend 2014 will seek to address the role of public and private international lawyers in each of these tasks.

Panel proposals may also concern any other aspect of international law, including trade, investment, arbitration, intellectual property, combating corruption, labor standards in the global supply chain, and human rights, as well as issues of international organizations and international security.   We are also interested in panel proposals that are of particular interest to practitioners.  Alongside a broad array of public international law topics, we will have dedicated tracks of private international law topics in each program slot.

The ILW Program Committee invites proposals to be submitted online by Friday, March 21, 2014.

Please provide a title, brief description of the topic, and the names, titles, and affiliations of the chair and likely speakers – but also describe what you think would be the most engaging and exciting format, including ways to enhance participation by the audience.  Varied formats, such as debates, roundtables, lectures, and break-out groups are encouraged, as well as the more familiar genus of of panel presentations.

One of the objectives of ILW 2014 is to promote conversations among scholars and practicing lawyers; so formats should include presenters with diverse experiences and perspectives.

ILW 2014 will open with a Great Hall program  at the Association of the Bar of the City of New York at 42 West 44th Street on Thursday evening, October 23, and continue at the Fordham Law School at Lincoln Center on October 24-25, 2014.  We expect an audience that will include practitioners, professors, UN diplomats, business leaders, federal and state government officials, NGO leaders, writers, journalists, and interested citizens.

Questions regarding ILW 2014 can be directed to conferences@ilsa.org.

ILW 2014 Program Committee

Tamara Cummings-John, Legal Officer, United Nations Office of Legal Affairs; Davis Robinson, Former Legal Adviser, U.S. Department of State; Stephen Shapiro, Managing Partner, BSR Investments; Vivian Shen, Programs Director, International Law Students Association; David Stewart, President-Elect, American Branch of the International Law Association; and Ruth Wedgwood, President, American Branch of the International Law Association.

The Celebritization of Human Trafficking

After working in human trafficking for more than fifteen years, I noticed a trend.  I would show up to speak at an event or a panel, or to train US government and law enforcement and I there I would find:  celebrity actors, celebrity journalists, celebrity humanitarians and the like.   Initially, I was as chuffed as the next person to rub elbows with the rich and famous.  But when after one  particular panel, a certain celebrity suggested to me that I should work on my “elevator pitch,” I began wondering what the pros and cons were to celebrity endorsers working in a field that I cared so much about.

In the article I have written, available in a draft form here, and soon to be published in the Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences, I demonstrate how  celebrities now regularly engage with human trafficking policy and practice.  In asking why this is, I articulate how human trafficking is considered a “sexy” topic, not only susceptible to alluring, fetishistic and voyeuristic narratives, but also one that plays into the celebrity-as-rescuer-of-the-victim ideal that receives excessive attention from media, policymakers and the public.  In articulating how the UN, legislators, the public, the press, financially interested NGO’s and celebrities themselves buy into this arrangement, I ascribe blame equally between parties interested in promoting their policy (and financial agendas), those who see hobnobbing with celebrities as a perk of their work, and those who view human rights activism as a convenient medium to further their own celebrity.  I conclude by finding that while some celebrities may become knowledgeable enough to give responsible advice to law and policy makers, others engaging in anti-trafficking activism are neither knowledgeable enough nor using good judgment when interacting with those who make the laws and create anti-trafficking programs.  Although we all share the blame, as celebrities have gained “in group” status in many of our lives, the responsibility must lie primarily with law and policy makers who are so slavishly devoted to using celebrity witnesses in order to satisfy their own desire to interact with celebrities that they abdicate their duties to constituents and donors by allowing celebrity activists to provide them with legal and policy advice.  The willingness of legislators to ask celebrities “what would you do if you were a legislator,”  is emblematic of the larger and more general problems with funding, narratives and the shallow level of discourse in current anti-trafficking initiatives.