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Labor Standards and the World Trade Organization

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  • Robert M. Stern

    (University of Michigan)

  • Katherine Terrell

    (University of Michigan)

Abstract

This policy brief takes the position that international labor standards should not be incorporated into the WTO and other trade agreements as we argue that this will not achieve either of the two professed goals: a) improving the wages and working conditions of workers in poor countries and b) keeping more jobs in the industrialized countries. In fact, empirical evidence shows that such mandates can reduce the number of workers with better working conditions and increase the number in poorer conditions, hence creating further inequality. The literature also shows that low labor standards do not provide developing countries with an unfair advantage in their export trade nor do they drive FDI. We recommend alternative policies be deployed through existing institutions. For the poor countries, sustainable improvement of the wages and working conditions of workers can only be achieved through solid economic and social development policies, deployed with the assistance of international organizations (regional banks, NGOs, etc). For the industrialized countries, we recommend that more effort be focused on preparing workers to be able to adapt to the evolving global economy. The process of economic change is complex and cannot be managed by mandates. The alternative policies we propose will be far more effective in making workers and the economies better off.

Suggested Citation

  • Robert M. Stern & Katherine Terrell, 2003. "Labor Standards and the World Trade Organization," Working Papers 499, Research Seminar in International Economics, University of Michigan.
  • Handle: RePEc:mie:wpaper:499
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    File URL: http://fordschool.umich.edu/rsie/workingpapers/Papers476-500/r499.pdf
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    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. Drusilla K. Brown & Alan V. Deardorff & Robert M. Stern, 2009. "The Effects of Multinational Production on Wages and Working Conditions in Developing Countries," World Scientific Book Chapters,in: Globalization And International Trade Policies, chapter 17, pages 623-687 World Scientific Publishing Co. Pte. Ltd..
    2. Drusilla K. Brown, 2000. "International Trade and Core Labour Standards: A Survey of the Recent Literature," OECD Labour Market and Social Policy Occasional Papers 43, OECD Publishing.
    3. Gindling, T.H. & Terrell, Katherine, 2005. "The effect of minimum wages on actual wages in formal and informal sectors in Costa Rica," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 33(11), pages 1905-1921, November.
    4. Carmen Pagés-Serra & James J. Heckman, 2000. "The Cost of Job Security Regulation: Evidence from Latin American Labor Markets," Research Department Publications 4227, Inter-American Development Bank, Research Department.
    5. Martín Rama, 2001. "The Consequences of Doubling the Minimum Wage: The Case of Indonesia," ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 54(4), pages 864-881, July.
    6. Brown, Charles, 1999. "Minimum wages, employment, and the distribution of income," Handbook of Labor Economics,in: O. Ashenfelter & D. Card (ed.), Handbook of Labor Economics, edition 1, volume 3, chapter 32, pages 2101-2163 Elsevier.
    7. Drusilla K. Brown, 2000. "International Trade and Core Labour Standards: A Survey of the Recent Literature," OECD Labour Market and Social Policy Occasional Papers 43, OECD Publishing.
    8. Carmen Pagés-Serra & James J. Heckman, 2000. "The Cost of Job Security Regulation: Evidence from Latin American Labor Markets," Research Department Publications 4227, Inter-American Development Bank, Research Department.
    9. Carmen Pagés-Serra, 2000. "The Cost of Job Security Regulation: Evidence from Latin American Labor Markets," ECONOMIA JOURNAL OF THE LATIN AMERICAN AND CARIBBEAN ECONOMIC ASSOCIATION, ECONOMIA JOURNAL OF THE LATIN AMERICAN AND CARIBBEAN ECONOMIC ASSOCIATION, vol. 0(Fall 2000), pages 109-154, August.
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    Cited by:

    1. Gary Clyde Hufbauer & Yee Wong, 2004. "China Bashing 2004," Policy Briefs PB04-05, Peterson Institute for International Economics.
    2. Joshua Hall & Peter Leeson, 2007. "Good for the Goose, Bad for the Gander: International Labor Standards and Comparative Development," Journal of Labor Research, Springer, vol. 28(4), pages 658-676, September.
    3. Hurtado Inmaculada & Argerey Patricia, 2008. "Social Dumping: The Debate on a Multilateral Social Clause," Global Economy Journal, De Gruyter, vol. 8(1), pages 1-17, February.

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