The Making of International Trade Policy

The Making of International Trade Policy

NGOs, Agenda-Setting and the WTO

Hannah Murphy

This book investigates the contributions of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) to policymaking at the WTO, challenging the idea that NGOs can be narrowly understood as potential ‘democratic antidotes’ to the imperfections of Inter-Governmental Organizations (IGOs).

Chapter 4: The Campaign for International Core Labour Standards at the WTO

Hannah Murphy

Subjects: economics and finance, international economics, political economy, politics and public policy, political economy, public policy


INTRODUCTION The long-running campaign to incorporate internationally recognized core labour standards, also known as a ‘social clause’, into WTO trade rules has given rise to entrenched divisions among developed and developing member states, NGOs and scholars. The ICFTU, through its campaign on labour standards and trade, has been a major non-governmental advocate for WTO labour rules. In its campaign push, the ICFTU was strongly supported by sympathetic, influential states (including the US, Norway and France), which used their influence to have the issue of labour standards discussed by members at the WTO’s 1996, 1998 and 1999 ministerial conferences. Although the issue of core labour standards was repeatedly debated at the WTO, a number of factors contributed to the failure of NGOs and prolabour member states – and conversely the success of the opposing developing countries – to enact a WTO social clause. These factors were the complex regulatory ‘Baptist and bootlegger’ nature of different coalitions involving moral values and economic interests with vastly different payoffs for different states (see Yandle 1983), as well as the WTO’s decisionmaking process based on obtaining consensus among member states. Domestic politics in the US also played its part, since the 1999 Seattle conference was held in the lead-up to the 2000 presidential elections. While the bid to develop a WTO social clause was ultimately unsuccessful, it did contribute to progressive developments on labour standards at the ILO. These included the 1998 Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work and its follow-up, and the inclusion of...

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