This chapter examines the different facets of the IMF’s approach to labour law, which influences countries well beyond the ‘conditionality’ of the IMF’s financial assistance. It highlights the ambiguous nature of the IMF’s discourse on labour law according to which no contradiction exists between the IMF’s policy prescriptions and workers’ interests. The chapter illustrates that even though the IMF has occasionally supported minor improvements of labour standards, the dominant thrust of the IMF’s engagement with labour law has been on – often sweeping – deregulation. Furthermore, a number of inconsistencies between the IMF’s discourse and the related practice are discussed. Both the IMF’s approach in general and the said inconsistencies may, in part, be explained by the ideological bias of IMF staff towards deregulation, but also by other factors. The latter include internal IMF politics as well as external pressures, such as those exerted by social movements, which has sometimes led the IMF to depart from its standard policy prescriptions. It is precisely the IMF’s vulnerability to such external pressure that opens avenues for advocating for alternatives to the current IMF approach to labour law.
Franz Christian Ebert
The question of how to make trade agreements conducive to sustainable development has gained attention among academics, policy makers and civil society actors in recent years. These agreements have been subject to heightened scrutiny by the public as concerns spread that trade negotiators unduly prioritize economic gains for certain groups at the expense of other societal objectives. The need to rethink the design of trade agreements in terms of both environmental and social sustainability is exacerbated by the fact that such agreements increasingly go beyond trade in goods and services and reach into a vast number of economic governance issues. This concern has gained further prominence in the face of increased political opposition to so-called ‘mega-regional trade agreements’. A key challenge in terms of rendering trade agreements more socially sustainable lies in ensuring that they safeguard rather than hamper decent employment conditions. This chapter takes stock of the sustainable development discourse and elaborates on the issue of trade and labour standards. It then turns to the legal arrangements under the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and analyses them against the backdrop of earlier trade agreements. The argument is put forward that while the TPP contains several innovative elements in comparison to earlier trade agreements, the approach to labour standards protection is overall fragmentary and remains embryonic on several fronts. In this light, the chapter outlines components for a more comprehensive approach to labour standards protection with regard to trade agreements.