Final Congress Statement on International Labour Standards and Trade Workers' Rights in the World Trading System, 17GA/8.11, 5 April 2000.


1. The globalisation of the world economy through increased trade and foreign investment by multinational companies (MNCs) has been accompanied by mounting concern in both developing and industrialised countries over its social impact. There is an in-creasing belief that trade liberalisation is exacerbating income ine-quality and undermining democratic decision-making by national governments. These concerns dismissed as of little account by too many governments -contributed to the collapse of talks at the 3 rd Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in Seattle in 1999, as did the absence of democracy and transparency in the Seattle process.

2. Discrimination and gross exploitation at the workplace in violation of fundamental workers' rights have increasingly become part of global commerce. Developing countries trying to respect these rights and improve working and living conditions are the most vulnerable to being undercut in world markets by countries seeking comparative advantage though suppression of workers' rights. Often the victims are young and unorganised female work-ers in export processing zones which advertise the absence of trade union rights to attract investment.

3. Trade and investment continue to hold the potential for contributing to higher growth, employment and living standards and fighting world poverty. However, the WTO must incorporate far-reaching improvements in its mechanisms so that trade and in-vestment can serve social development and help lead to the im-provement, not the denial, of working peoples' fundamental human rights. International economic relations and trade rules need to be democratised by taking developmental, social and environmental perspectives fully into account.

4. All WTO members made a commitment at the first WTO Ministerial Conference (Singapore, December 1996) to respect the internationally recognised core labour standards of the ILO. The challenge before the international trading community is to devise procedures to ensure that the minority of countries which violate core labour standards live up to that commitment. The ILO re-mains the sole body qualified to draw up and interpret those stan-dards. But what is urgently needed is a series of practical steps to incorporate enforceable core labour standards into concrete actions by the WTO to reinforce rather than undermine universal ILO standards. 1 5. The 17th World Congress of the ICFTU reaffirms the goal of incorporating a workers' rights clause in the agreements and procedures of the WTO. The ILO Declaration of Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work and its Follow-up, the United Nations Copenhagen Social Summit and the UN Beijing 4 th World Women' s Conference have all agreed on the importance of respect for core labour standards. These conventions are:

No. 87 (1948), Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise; No. 98 (1949), Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining; No. 100 (1951), Equal Remuneration; No. 111 (1958), Discrimination (Employment and Occupation); No. 138 (1973), Minimum Age; No. 182 (1999), Worst Forms of Child Labour; No. 29 (1930), Forced Labour; and No. 105 (1957), Abolition of Forced Labour.

 

6. International economic relations and world trade should be fair, equitable and transparent. The ICFTU rejects the use of any workers' rights provisions for protectionist purposes. It is important that it is understood that the systematic violation of fundamental workers' rights for the purpose of providing a competi-tive advantage over other countries which respect those rights is a particularly cruel and unfair form of trade practice. It is important to underline that a far-reaching solution to the debt burden and the introduction of economic and tech-nological partnership programmes with the full participation of all appropriate UN institutions would assist balanced global and economic development and therefore promote the development of open, fair, equitable and transparent trade.

 

7. Congress calls on the ILO and the international financial institutions to assist governments to take the necessary steps to implement basic labour stan-dards. Trade incentives should be used to the fullest possible extent to contribute to this effort. The issue of trade disciplines would arise only if a government had demonstrably and persistently failed to accept and address the findings of the ILO and should be implemented on the basis of a progressive escalation of meas-ures over time if a government continues to fail to meet its obligations.

 

8. As a first step, the WTO should set up a formal, permanent working group or similar body with the following terms of reference:

it would be part of the WTO's follow-up to the Singapore Declaration commitment on labour standards and would therefore report back to the WTO General Council with proposed recommendations concerning WTO procedures, mechanisms and regulations;

it should be a standing or permanent body working on an ongoing ba-sis; it should provide for the participation of the ILO, which must be given formal consultative status at the WTO; it must have a defined work programme including, inter alia:

 

a) a mandate to undertake analysis and to propose procedures and in-struments for the treatment of core labour standards in the interna-tional trading system; 2 b) the examination of how to associate trade with respect for core labour standards, including positive incentives and assistance; c) the consideration of measures to be taken where trade liberalisation was associated with violations of core labour standards; d) review of the mechanisms of the WTO (trade policy reviews, disputes settlement etc.) in order to promote openness and transparency and en-sure consistency of trade negotiations and agreements with respect for core labour standards within the work of the WTO.

 

Building Support for Workers' Rights, Development and the Environ-ment

9. Congress emphasises that a workers' rights clause would be especially beneficial for developing countries which are genuinely trying to improve basic working and living conditions and which suffer most from an unrestrained proc-ess of trade and investment liberalisation. A world-wide commitment to core la-bour standards would help to spread more fairly the benefits of trade within and between countries by preventing the worst forms of exploitation and enabling trade unions to bargain for decent and appropriate levels of wages, benefits and working conditions. It would encourage a more sustainable process of foreign in-vestment by TNCs and bring increased benefits to host countries. It would en-courage a more even growth of world trade through a gradual rise in the pur-chasing power of wages as productivity and trade performance improves.

 

10. The WTO must address the concern that the present model of trade liber-alisation is exacerbating developmental inequalities, environmental degradation, workers' exploitation and gender imbalances. These realities must be priority is-sues. Increased technical and financial assistance and debt relief must be part of a co-ordinated strategy to achieve balanced economic and social development for developing countries, particularly the least developed, with the full participation of all relevant UN agencies including the ILO, UNCTAD and UNEP as well as the social partners.

 

11. The WTO must agree upon a range of measures to tackle the priority con-cerns of developing countries including improved market access and positive in-centives for all developing countries (especially the least developed) which re-spect core labour standards. Environmental concerns need to be incorporated ef-fectively into every aspect of WTO work, through strong mechanisms to monitor the impact of the WTO on environmental protection accompanied by negotiations to ensure the adequacy of environmental rules in the WTO, and backed up by new international funds to improve environmental protection in developing coun-tries.

 

12. To be credible, the WTO must establish full transparency and openness towards other relevant UN agencies, in particular the ILO. It should create con-sultative structures for trade unions and business. It should also ensure that there are opportunities for proper consultation and dialogue with parliaments, non-governmental organisations and other elements of civil society. This must apply to all committees and mechanisms of the WTO including its dispute set-tlement procedures and the Trade Policy Review Mechanism (TPRM). The WTO, in conjunction with the ILO, should undertake an ongoing assessment of the im-pact of trade policy on women workers.

 

13. Any negotiations in the services sector must provide for countries to re-tain the right to declare sectors as being non-tradable public services. They 3 should not be subject to pressure for liberalisation in these sectors. The prerequi-site for any international negotiations on investment must be strong workers' rights and environmental clauses to ensure that incentives for MNC investment do not include violation of core labour standards or lax environmental protection. Any such negotiations should create a strong framework to control the abuse of power by multinational companies and to maximise the positive impact of in-creased international trade and investment. . The ILO Tripartite Declaration of Principles on Multinational Companies and Social Policy and the OECD Guide-lines on Multinational Companies should be included in the basis of any interna-tional agreement on investment. Furthermore, any such agreement should in-clude a development clause allowing developing and transition countries to cre-ate time and space for national companies to develop before being fully exposed to the force of global competition from large and well-established multinational companies.

 

Stepping up the ICFTU Campaign 14. The outcome at Seattle showed that the WTO must heed world-wide popular concern about the impact of trade on labour, development, environment, social and gender issues. These concerns will not go away. They are growing, and they must be addressed. That must be done sooner rather than later -be-cause in addressing these challenges the WTO could begin to achieve the goals in the WTO statutes of increasing living standards, raising employment and achieving sustainable growth. The WTO must therefore make a decisive move towards shaping the process of globalisation to take development goals and social and environmental issues fully into account. Foremost among its actions must be agreement to establish a formal WTO entity to discuss the question of trade and core labour standards.

 

15. Congress instructs the ICFTU and its regional organisations to continue to publicise, explain and win support for linking workers' rights to the WTO, in-cluding the preparation of media and educational material on the workers' rights clause for use by affiliates and ITS. It is important that this campaign designs materials for, and seeks to engage union members around the world. In its inter-nal debates, the ICFTU will also continue to pay special attention to the issues of the workers' rights clause, violations of workers' basic rights for trade purposes and its opposition to protectionism.

 

16. So far, the ICFTU campaign has concentrated on a workers' rights clause in the WTO. In addition to this it will, in close co-operation with its regional or-ganisations, the ITS, TUAC and the ETUC, assess the impact of the liberalisa-tion of trade and investment in the various sectors and subjects covered by the WTO on the rights, the interests and welfare of workers with a view to develop-ing trade union positions vis--vis those of governments and groups of govern-ments in the WTO negotiations

 

17. The ICFTU, working together with affiliates and regional organisations, ITS, TUAC and the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) in the ICFTU Trade, Investment and Labour Standards (TILS) Task Force, will continue its campaign, including active participation in the trade and labour standards dis-cussions at the OECD, and make full use of the special clauses in the generalised systems of preferences (GSPs) operated by various industrialised countries, in-cluding through further use of the GSP provisions of the European Union. The ICFTU will further promote core labour standards through its work at the ILO, World Bank, IMF, UN, with employer organisations, farmers' organisations, supportive NGOs, the women' s movement and elsewhere.

 

18. Regional trade organisations should integrate respect for trade union rights in their rules and practices. The ICFTU will co-operate with the appropriate trade union organisations to exert pressure on these organisations in this di-rection.

 

19. The ICFTU's campaign for the inclusion of international labour standards in new rules for the global market has won widespread support for action to en-sure that basic human rights at the workplace are universally observed. Con-gress resolves to continue the campaign until fundamental workers' rights are respected everywhere.

_____________ 5 April 2000 5


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