What Are the Issues in Using Trade Agreements for Improving International Labor Standards?
This paper addresses the issues of whether the linking of core labor standards with multilateral or bilateral trade agreements is an effective way of promoting the improvement of labor standards. We review the determinants of core labor standards over time and conclude that efforts to improve these standards have to be tailored to the economic and social circumstances prevailing in a country at a specific time. Legalistic means to prod governments into revising their domestic laws or enforcing them will therefore be unsuccessful unless economic incentives can be changed to erode prevailing social norms and ease the way for the acceptance of new norms that will meet with public approval and be consonant with the distribution of political power. Moral suasion from both domestic and external sources may work more slowly than more legalistic means but is preferred because it contributes to altering the social norms that underlie and will reinforce the acceptance and effectiveness of labor standards.
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