Bringing Workers’ Rights Back In? Propositions Towards a Labour–Trade Linkage for the Global South

TitleBringing Workers’ Rights Back In? Propositions Towards a Labour–Trade Linkage for the Global South
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2015
AuthorsPahle, Simon
JournalDevelopment and Change
Volume46
Issue1
Pagination121 - 147
Date Published2015///
KeywordsBrazil, global political economy, global trade, globalization, international labor standards, South Africa, workers’ rights
Abstract

The idea of forging a linkage between global trade and labour standards has a long history and has been the subject of fierce debate. In a global political economy that incites ‘competition for jobs’, the idea cannot escape controversy. Crucially, it has failed to win significant support from trade unionists in the global South. Drawing on viewpoints voiced by workers’ rights activists in South Africa and Brazil, this article presents four propositions on the features and functions that a labour–trade linkage would have to possess if it is to serve workers’ interests, and explores whether and how these may be accommodated by the ILO and WTO regimes. It is argued that a linkage requiring a new single WTO undertaking is out of the question; a linkage would only make sense if it superimposes ILO rule onto the WTO, not the opposite; a linkage should be premised on positive trade measures; and, finally, it should serve the interests of presently unprotected and unorganized workers. Overall, the main challenge of such a linkage would be to achieve the necessary reform within the ILO.