United Nations Conference on Trade and Development

At the first WTO ministerial meeting in 1996 it was decided that whether WTO should renew its promise to observance of internationally recognised core labour standards or not. The ILO  was the competent body to set and maintain these standards. The question arises that whether WTO should keep its neutrality in labour standards or not. An option  is to give the power to WTO to enforce international human rights via mandatory implication of trade measures against state that violate such rules.

A weaker idea of this option is to empower WTO to enforce certain specified categories of human rights by introducing mandatory trade sanctions. More so, it may further create difficulties for the WTO in enforcing the already much violated international trade agreements. Adding more factors for adjudication and agreement might further complicate the dynamics of the organization, especially an issue as complex and controversial as labour.

Actually, these standards have even been violated by member countries already, to the detriment of workers around the world. But the solution to this can never be the encroachment by the WTO of these standards as the WTO does not exist primarily to regulate labour standards and rights, but to regulate international trade and all the industries under its ambit – an interest diametrically opposed to the idea of labour as a fundamental right, and the protection of labour as a primary obligation of states.

An independent international organization that fully recognizes labour as such must still stand guard in its defence, rather than an international organization that simply treats labour as a matter of transactional costs in trade. Conclusion: While the World Trade Organization has been primarily effective in helping member states facilitate their trade relations and equalizing international trade to permit developing countries to compete with developed ones, encroaching upon the ambit of international labour standards might not be the wises thing to do at present.

The WTO has, as of late, been having much trouble enforcing much of its trade agreements already, with the perennial breakdown of talks in different WTO rounds such as in Seattle and Cancun, and including labour standards in its ambit would definitely erode further its capacity to assert its legitimacy and authority to member states, especially when labour standards, over and above agriculture and intellectual property, are deeply controversial matters in all states.


1. Bhaumik T. K. , The WTO: a discordant orchestra 2. Brenner, R. 1998, The Economic of Global Turbulence, A Special Report on the World Economy, 1950-98, New Left Review, London 3. Bullard N. 1998, Taming the Tigers: The IMF and the Asian Crisis, Tigers in Trouble, edited by Jomo K. S. , Hong Kong University Press 4. Cheng E. et al, WTO: Globalisation at Gunpoint 5. Clough, S 1968, European Economic History, The Economies of Western Civilization, McGraw Hill