Compacts, Conventions and Codes: Initiatives for Higher International Labor Standards

Posted: 14 Apr 2002

See all articles by Kaushik Basu

Kaushik Basu

Cornell University - Department of Economics; IZA Institute of Labor Economics; Brookings Institution


The International Labor Standards (ILS) movement, meant to be an initiative to promote better working conditions in the Third World, has been widely opposed by Third World governments and workers. This opinion from the South, however, gets little representation in international forums. Is the dissent from the South based on a misperception of the South of its own interests or is it founded on a realistic perception of global politics? The essay argues that it is the latter. The contemporary world has seen a bewildering number of initiatives or suggestions for ILS, to be coordinated through the offices of the UN, ILO and WTO. This paper argues that, while global opinion has become more sophisticated in recent years, the existing initiatives are ill-conceived and are likely to have undesirable fall-outs. At this time, when the institutions of global democracy are ill-developed, ILS is best left to individual nations and only a minimal global coordination. There should also be extra effort to give voice to opinion from developing countries in whose ostensible interest these standards are being developed. Further, this global coordination is best done through the ILO and the UN. The WTO, the way it currently functions, is not the appropriate body for enforcing labor standards. In the long run, there must be an effort to democratize global organizations, and only when that is done can global organizations be seriously entrusted with the task of promoting higher labor standards.

Suggested Citation

Basu, Kaushik, Compacts, Conventions and Codes: Initiatives for Higher International Labor Standards. Cornell International Law Journal, Vol. 34, No. 3, Pp. 487-500. Available at SSRN:

Kaushik Basu (Contact Author)

Cornell University - Department of Economics ( email )

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IZA Institute of Labor Economics

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Brookings Institution ( email )

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