Just Trade: A New Covenant Linking Trade and Human Rights

Just Trade: A New Covenant Linking Trade and Human Rights

Just Trade: A New Covenant Linking Trade and Human Rights

Just Trade: A New Covenant Linking Trade and Human Rights


While modern trade law and human rights law constitute two of the most active spheres in international law, follow similar intellectual trajectories, and often feature the same key actors and arenas, neither field has actively engaged with the other. They co-exist in relative isolation at best, peppered by occasional hostile debates. It has come to be a given that pro-trade laws are not good for human rights, and legislation that protects human rights hampers vibrant international trade.

In a bold departure from this canon, Just Trade makes a case for reaching a middle-ground between these two fields, acknowledging their co-existence and the significant points at which they overlap. Using examples from many of the 35 nations of the Western Hemisphere, Berta Esperanza Hern ndez-Truyol and Stephen J. Powell combine their expertise to examine human rights policies involving conscripted child labor, sustainable development, promotion of health, equality of women, human trafficking, indigenous peoples, poverty, citizenship, and economic sanctions, never overlooking the very real human rights problems that arise from international trade. However, instead of viewing the two kinds of law as polar and sometimes hostile opposites, the authors make powerful suggestions for how these intersections may be navigated to promote an international marketplace that embraces both liberal trade and liberal protection of human rights.


For the Cyclops have no ships
with crimson prows,
No shipwrights there to build them
good trim craft
that could sail them out to foreign
ports of call
as most men risk the seas to trade
with other men.
Such artisans would have made
this island too a decent place to live in.

—Homer, The Odyssey

Just as Homer identified trade with the very concept of civilization, we seek by our analysis to identify just trade: specific paths that governments must follow to use trade's enormous power for the advancement of human rights. The realities and the consequences of leaving undisturbed the profound disconnect between human rights law and international trade law are heartbreaking. For example, India's historic opening to freer international trade in the 1980s brought huge gains to a middle class that in essence did not exist in the 1960s and now numbers more than three hundred million newly prosperous Indians. Against this inarguably positive economic growth must be seen the indifference of trade rules to one of a dozen foreseeable costs of India's realization of Ricardo's conception of comparative advantage—thousands of young Indian girls and boys chained to textile looms day and night to meet world demand for inexpensive apparel.

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