Research Handbook on Global Justice and International Economic Law

Research Handbook on Global Justice and International Economic Law

Research Handbooks on Globalisation and the Law series

Edited by John Linarelli

The fairness of institutions of global economic governance ranks among the most pressing issues of our time. Most approaches to understanding the complex structure of treaties and intergovernmental organizations such as the WTO tend to uncritically accept an economic focus, highlighting gains from trade and the merits of progressive trade and investment liberalization. While the economic arguments are compelling, other ways of thinking about the roles of these institutions have received less attention. The Research Handbook fills this gap by offering a substantial interdisciplinary examination of the normative and policy underpinnings of the international economic order.

Chapter 8: Global social justice at the WTO? The role of NGOs in constructing global social contracts

Baogang He and Hannah Murphy

Subjects: law - academic, human rights, international economic law, trade law, public international law, politics and public policy, human rights


A peculiar phenomenon afflicts global governance: while individuals make countless personal contracts with others and even with their states, a global level set of contracts between citizens and international organizations for the significant amount of international policy-making that impacts citizens on a daily basis does not exist. For example, inter- national organizations have developed policies to address a wide range of global issues such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), terrorism, nuclear proliferation and trade liberalization, but ordinary citizens are largely excluded from participating in the global governance of these issues. There is effectively no global level social contract involving international agencies, nation-states, and citizens. This deficiency contributes to legitimacy problems in global level policy-making that decrease the effectiveness of both policy processes and outcomes. It highlights the international political context in which non-governmental organizations (NGOs) conduct protests against the economic policies of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and advocate a global social contract, or more precisely, a series of global social contracts involving civil society, governments and business actors. A number of scholars have conceptualized the notion of a global social contract as a consent-based agreement to regulate corporate practice, a global redistribution scheme, or a contract to establish an equilibrium between the rights of capital and the social rights of workers. However, critics remain pessimistic about the emergence of global social contracts between civil society, international institutions and business actors.

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