Human Rights, Labor Rights, and International Trade

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

Introduction

Lance A. Compa and Stephen F. Diamond

Worker rights in the global economy arise at the intersections of trade law, human rights law, labor law, and related public policy concerns. The Orville H. Schell Center for International Human Rights at Yale Law School sponsored a symposium in March 1992 titled "Human Rights and Labor Rights: A New Look at Workers in the Global Economy" to illuminate these intersections and chart paths for further inquiry. This volume is based on papers presented at the symposium, supplemented by new materials to account for developments since then.

Linking international commerce to human rights and labor rights concerns has become a critical issue in trade bargaining and trade policy debates. Bringing the Uruguay Round of negotiations for a new General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) to a close in 1994, ministers of the 123 GATT member countries approved a declaration that worker rights must be on the agenda of the new World Trade Organization (WTO) set up to enforce GATT rules.

Leaders of several developing countries have criticized a worker rights-trade linkage as a protectionist ploy to close markets to their exports. They also charged advocates of a trade-linked "social clause" with a form of "cultural imperialism" seeking to impose "Western" notions of human rights and labor rights, and Western models of labormanagement relations, on non-Western societies, governments, and enterprises.

The Clinton administration was torn for months by a policy struggle over China's most-favored-nation (MFN) trade status after the President demanded human rights and labor rights reforms as a condition for maintaining MFN. Pressed by U.S. multinational companies seeking billions of dollars in Chinese business, the President dropped his demands in May 1994 despite Chinese government intransigence on

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