• Christina J. Colclough

Reminding the G7 - workers' rights are human rights

The Why Not Lab was invited to the G7 Labour dialogues to discuss digitalisation of work and workers with the German Minister of Labour and Social Affairs, Hubertus Heil. See what we discussed here.

The German government holds the Presidency of the G7 this year. In the Labour Dialogues held in Berlin May 12 and 13, union leaders had the opportunity to discuss Climate Change, the new social contract, workers rights post pandemic, supply chains and digitalisation. Hosted by FES and DGB these discussions with ministers were highly valuable. Not only for the G7 unions but also in relation to ensuring that the G7 respects and bridges global divides.


Digitalisation and the need for inclusive governance

Hubertus Heil covered many issues in his opening speech. From Germany's just adopted human rights and due diligence law, to the scheduled law improving workers' data rights to the EU AI Act.

The Why Not Lab's Christina J. Colclough was tasked to comment on the Minister's speech and the German G7 political priorities on digitalisation. Here is what she covered.

  1. Standards and certifications as envisioned in the draft EU AI Act, the policies of GPAI, the OECD and the G7 must be accompanied by mandatory inclusive and periodic governance obligations. This requirement is critically missing in all multilateral political discussions. In workplaces, this co-governance must include workers and their representatives.

  2. Linked to this, and in line with the German government's planned law on workers' data rights, workers must have much stronger collective data rights. This to prevent the commodification of work and workers, and the subsequent narrowing of labour markets. Workers' Rights are Human Rights, and the current manipulation of workers through algorithmic systems must stop. Politicians should stop fetishizing the 'free flow of data' and in line with Shoshana Zuboff work towards banning markets in human futures. We need a de-datafication of labour markets.

  3. Colclough then moved on to highlight the need to ensure that the developers of new digital systems and the companies/workplaces deploying them must have the necessary competencies to govern these technologies from a human rights' perspective. So must we ensure that workers and their unions have the competencies they need to truly engage in this human rights and workers' rights governance.

  4. On one crucial point, Colclough disagreed with the Minister on some of the details in the EU AI Act. She stressed that in it's current form the Act deviates from the GDPR on key areas: namely on the lacking need for transparent impact assessments, the lacking recommendation to consult with workers on workplace systems and the missing rights of authorities to access these assessments. This leads to a self-regulation of even high risk workplace systems, which is simply unacceptable.

  5. She too pinpointed that it is somewhat interesting that the EU AI Act is a risk-based regulation, and again therefore deviates from the rights-based GDPR. The Minister took careful note of all of these points.

E-commerce/Digital Trade

We then discussed digital trade. Colclough expressed that many of the positive policy wishes the Minister was presenting during the meeting are actually in contradiction with the German G7 policy priorities' push for a reform of the WTO to include digital trade. Here she underscored:


  • that the free flow of data does not equal the free and equal access to data. That the governments and the EU Commission keep repeating this demand will only lead to the increased commodification of workers and citizens, and will only benefit the companies who already extract enormous amounts of data.

Colclough mentioned the other demands that are on the table, which would all stifle governments scope to regulate, they will deepen digital divides and disempower citizens and workers. These are:


1. A ban on data location

2. A removal of technology transfer obligations

3. A removal of the obligation to reveal source code

4. A removal of all obligations to have a physical and/or legal presence in the host country.


Colclough concluded that the current e-commerce trade demands must be refuted and blocked.


Read why in the briefing the Why Not Lab has written for the G7 meeting here


Union Brief - G7 Digital Policy Priorities 2022 by Christina Colcough
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