"A Perspective on Trade and Labor Rights"

Michigan Law Authors
Publish Date
Journal of International Economic Law
Publication Type
Journal Article

Recent debates about the role of the International Labor Organization and the World Trade Organization are considered in the context of an examination of the appropriate relationship between international trade law and labor rights. After a brief history of the issue, consideration is given to how far there is a conflict between trade liberalization and labor rights, identifying different ways in which tensions may arise. Currently, four ways of dealing with these tensions exist in an uneasy relationship with each other: a unilateral model, an NGO model, a regional model, and a multilateral model (concentrating on the ILO). If dissatisfaction with these current models grows, two alternatives are identified (rather speculatively) as possible. In one, involuntary multilateralism, the WTO adjudicatory institutions are called on to determine whether actions are in compliance with existing trade disciplines. In a second alternative, voluntary multilaterlism, states agree to give the WTO a more clearly articulated role in addressing labor issues. The debate on such issues should involve all the existing international institutional actors, including the WTO. Finally, in this context, the issue of who else should participate in this debate is identified.

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