A Pragmatic Approach to International Trade-Human Rights Linkages
United Nations - Human Rights Centre
November 18, 2009
WTO AND CHALLENGES TO HUMAN SECURITY, UNU Press, 2011
Ever since the inception of the WTO, the linkages between international trade and human rights have been a subject of increasing scrutiny. All members of the WTO are also members of the UN. While States operate at the UN, they are bound by the human rights treaties. Unfortunately, the same members, developed and developing States alike, while operating at the WTO, tend to treat human rights obligations as extraneous to the WTO processes. As a result, some trade agreements and policies at the WTO have raised serious human rights concerns amongst activists. At the heart of activism by human rights organizations is an argument that human rights are hierarchically superior to trade laws and, therefore, the latter must be superseded by the former in case of a conflict. This paper highlights the fallacy of this argument, while at the same time espousing a more pragmatic approach towards reconciling these apparently conflicting normative values. In the process, the paper demonstrates that the WTO Agreement itself, through the institutional objective of Sustainable Development, imposes a human rights obligation upon States. Moreover, the paper argues that it is not the WTO provisions per se that breach human rights, but it is the inadequacies in these provisions that result in undermining human rights. Looked at it this way, the pragmatic approach theory espouses a balanced approach, relying on the institutional obligation of the WTO as enshrined in its Preamble, to impose a human rights obligation upon States. The paper also explains why the Dispute Settlement Mechanism of the WTO is not the appropriate forum for raising human rights issues and suggests alternative pragmatic means to do so.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 40
Keywords: Trade, Human Rights, Sustainable Development, Right to Development, Pragmatic Approach, WTO, UN, linkages
JEL Classification: F1, F2, F3Accepted Paper Series
Date posted: October 18, 2010
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