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The WTO and Labor Rights: Strategies of Linkage

Chantal Thomas

Cornell Law School

September 25, 2009

Cornell Legal Studies Research Paper No. 09-020

This chapter considers the judicial and legislative responses to ‘the linkage question’ within the WTO. First, the chapter recounts why the question has arisen in the first place: The relative weakness of enforcement mechanisms within international labour law. Second, the chapter reviews the range of WTO judicial responses to unilateral linkage efforts by member states, considered under existing ‘negative’ provisions of WTO law - a law of exceptions that allows but does not mandate linkage. Third, the chapter considers the obstacles confronting the legislative response of defining the relationship between trade and labour policies through multilateral negotiations to create ‘positive’ labour obligations within the WTO. The chapter concludes by pointing to the history of “legislative” action on labor rights in the WTO as a history of shifting strategies of linkage: From “transplant” to “osmosis.” Additional study of “cultures of governance” would enhance understanding of the international debate on integrating trade and labor, which must determine not only the appropriate substance and form of the rules, but also the appropriate decision-making institutions and processes.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 29

Keywords: wto, enforcement, labor, international trade, international labor, GATT, labor rights

JEL Classification: F02, K31, F42, K33

Accepted Paper Series

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Date posted: September 26, 2009  

Suggested Citation

Thomas, Chantal, The WTO and Labor Rights: Strategies of Linkage (September 25, 2009). HUMAN RIGHTS AND THE WORLD TRADE ORGANIZATION, Edward Elgar, Forthcoming; Cornell Legal Studies Research Paper No. 09-020. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1473764

Contact Information

Chantal Thomas (Contact Author)
Cornell Law School ( email )
524 College Ave
Myron Taylor Hall
Ithaca, NY 14853
United States
HOME PAGE: http://www.lawschool.cornell.edu/faculty/bio.cfm?id=230
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