IDS working papers;250

The case for international labour standards : a “Northern” perspective

Published on 1 January 2005

The last few decades have seen heated debates over the issue of international labour standards. As
governments sign up to international trade agreements, some of their constituencies call for the inclusion
of labour agreements that would oblige them to abide by certain standards protecting workers’ rights.
Some oppose this demand on the grounds that it would interfere with free trade; others object because
they feel labour standards may be applied unfairly, in ways that would harm the workers they are intended
to help. This paper reviews the economic and political arguments for international labour standards,
particularly those found in the global North. It concludes that while there are many reasons why workers
in the global South may be suspicious of initiatives coming from the North, there are strong reasons to
support the demand for international labour standards as a means for workers to organise and an
opportunity to build cross-border solidarity. In the end, it is not so much the standards themselves, but
the way in which the fight for the standards happens and the way in which they are used that matters
most. The struggle for labour standards should be seen as a tool to aid workers to organise, rather than as
a solution to poor working conditions.

Publication details

published by
Luce, Stephanie


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