Research Handbooks in International Law series
Edited by Adelle Blackett and Anne Trebilcock
Chapter 19: Can human rights based labour policy improve the labour rights situation in developing countries? A look at Mexico and the countries of Central America
Recent studies on developing countries suggest that globalization may strengthen or weaken labour rights depending on a variety of international, domestic, and regional factors. There has been a convergence of weakened respect for human rights in Mexico and Central America, for example, where exports are heavily oriented toward the United States and international subcontracting has predominated. The various, costly efforts to resist this deterioration all failed. This chapter argues that adopting human-rights-based labour policies can represent an effective means to safeguard human rights in the region, despite limits to the strategy. The strategy centres on identifying and overcoming structural obstacles to the vindication of human rights. The strength of this approach is that it takes into account international human rights law as accepted by the international community, that it contributes to articulating the obligations of the state in relation to those rights, that it includes a coherent system of principles and rules, and above all that it offers a guide to participation by social actors in the process of cooperation and assistance as well as in the evaluation of their results. Mexico and the Central American countries each have similar legal contexts, but, in retrospect, there were important flaws in the design, monitoring, and implementation of the attempted labour protections: the policy was not based on a shared diagnostic analysis, nor did it involve the participation of actors with relatively symmetrical bargaining power. Moreover, labour policies were not articulated with other sectoral policies to promote the creation of quality jobs. Rather, they were subordinated to macroeconomic policy goals and competition strategies that worked to undermine any possibility of giving teeth to workers’ rights.
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