Human Rights, Labor Rights, and International Trade

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

Chapter 8
From Intention to Action An ILO-GATT/WTO Enforcement Regime for International Labor Rights

Daniel S. Ehrenberg

Lawmaking or prescription within the area of international human rights has proliferated rapidly since World War II, but the problem of applying or enforcing human rights norms has remained a major difficulty. Most scholars concern themselves with the rules and not with the actual process under which international rules, including human rights rules, operate.1

A number of human rights standards are also viewed as international labor rights standards. They include freedom of association, the right to organize and bargain collectively, abolition of forced or compulsory labor, establishment of a minimum age for child labor, non- discrimination in employment, and minimum acceptable conditions of work regarding wages, hours of work, and workplace health and safety.2 Because labor is an input in the production process of goods that enter the international trading system, various scholars,3 unions,4 and national governments 5 have argued that violations of international labor standards should be enforced through trade sanctions. Unfortunately, most of these proposals are extremely vague and ill defined.

This chapter proposes the establishment of an enforcement system jointly administered by the International Labor Organization (ILO) and the World Trade Organization (WTO), the successor organization to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), which enforces GATT rules and standards. This joint enforcement system would rely upon the expertise and cooperation of both organizations to prevent violations of international labor rights.

The ILO has emerged as the principal 164 international body with exper

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