Edited by Jan Peil and Irene van Staveren
Chapter 41: Labour Standards
Günseli Berik Background ‘Labour standards’ refer to rules, norms, rights, processes and outcomes associated with working conditions. The conventions of the International Labour Office (ILO), 188 of them as of early 2008, come closest to representing benchmarks of strong labour standards towards which countries could strive (ILO 2007a). However, ILO conventions and its non-binding recommendations also cover a range of issues that go beyond worker protections, rights and administrative capacity regarding work and employment, to include social security, social policy and related human rights (ILO  2007). Concern about poor labour standards of trading partners and interest in linking trade policy with labour standards have a long history (Heintz 2003; Burda 2007; Berg and Kucera 2008). Nonetheless, poor labour standards in developing countries have received increasing attention since the early 1980s, when global commodity and capital flows began a robust expansion. During this period the ascendancy of arguments on the benefits of free trade and markets led to a weakening of national regulatory systems, and international treaties and institutions were established to safeguard unfettered trade relations. These developments have made it difficult to address weak labour standards in developing countries and to defend labour standards in industrialized countries. As a result, since the early 1990s – the period leading up to and following the establishment of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the ratification of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and other regional free trade agreements – these concerns have led to calls for stronger enforcement of labour standards...
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