Human Rights, Labor Rights, and International Trade

By Lance A. Compa; Stephen F. Diamond | Go to book overview

Chapter 5
In from the Margins Morality, Economics, and > Stephen Herzenberg

My introduction to the contemporary international labor standards debate consisted of hearing a talk in 1987 by the Carter administration Secretary of Labor, the current president of the International Labor Rights Fund, Ray Marshall. While he acknowledged that many details would need to be addressed, Marshall maintained that international labor standards would not be difficult to implement. The International Labor Office (ILO) had published conventions defining a wide range of labor standards, including such core rights as the freedom to organize and bargain collectively. In non-labor areas such as protection of intellectual property rights, Marshall added, the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs (GATT) was willing to grapple with the complexities raised by variations in institutions, legal traditions, and history.

Despite my sympathy for adopting international labor standards, I had trouble accepting the view that international labor standards would be easy to implement. Upon reflection, I decided that Marshall's expression of this view stemmed in part from his role as their promoter. He projected confidence to instill confidence. Beyond this, however, there appeared to be two elements to Marshall's confidence.

First, Marshall understood international standards to play an economic as well as a normative role -- to be a prerequisite for renewed national and global prosperity rather than, as many economists claim, a drag on development. Second, Marshall had lived through the post- World War II "Golden Age," when minimum labor standards, industrial unions, and industry-wide collective bargaining had helped sustain U.S. aggregate demand and the productivity growth that resulted from the

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