Adhering to Human Rights Standards Will Not Cripple Developing Countries
It's amazing how much disinformation James Sheehan of the Competitive Enterprise Institute packs into one paragraph of his Dec. 9 Commentary column, "Trade talk strategies ... with green blockades?" As the only intergovernmental organization in which private-sector management and worker organizations have equal voice and vote with governments, the International Labor Organization (ILO) is hardly "socialist." Furthermore, the labor rights debate in the ILO and other international organizations in relation to free trade has been about the promotion of basic human rights in the workplace, not harmonization of wage rates or imposition of "U.S.-style living standards."
The 1995 U.N. Social Summit reaffirmed the duty of all member countries - whether developed or developing - to observe the ILO's core human rights conventions on the prohibition of forced and child labor, freedom of association, the right to organize and bargain collectively and the principle of nondiscriminating employment. The issue is whether countries that systematically violate these basic human rights to gain an artificial trade advantage, or for whatever motive, should be entitled to duty-free access to developed-country markets under trade-liberalization regimes.
Adherence to these basic human rights standards will not harm the natural comparative advantage of developing countries in international trade. In fact, a recent study of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) concludes that implementing these standards could "support economic development" and actually improve economic efficiency without hurting the trade competitiveness of developing countries. …