The ILO's Shift to Promotional Principles and the 'Privatization' of Labour Rights: An Analysis of Labour Standards, Voluntary Self-Regulation and Social Clauses
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KeywordsILOLabour rightsLabour standardsMultinational corporationsWTO
The paper examines the existing quasi-legal means by which international labour standards may be protected. The paper considers the nature of the challenge that global capital creates for labour, the development of the ILO’s labour standards and the consequences of its shift towards promotional principles, the growth of corporate voluntary initiatives by multinational corporations and finally the associated debates around the inclusion of social clauses in trade agreements. The analysis suggests that the ILO’s shift to ‘promotional principles’ and the formal acceptance of voluntary self-regulation from the late-1990s has not significantly improved the situation for workers, but was a pragmatic response driven in part by US policy and the increasing marginalization of the ILO within the global system of economic governance. It is argued that even if the many political obstacles could be overcome, the result of including social clauses in WTO trade agreements may not be straightforward. In conclusion it is argued that in some respects the existing system has ‘privatised’ labour rights.