Labor, Trade, and Populism: How ILO-WTO Collaboration Can Save the Global Economic Order
52 Pages Posted: 9 Apr 2020
Date Written: March 24, 2020
Populists are trying to take down the global economic order and its institutions. While some of those forces are fueled by racism, they are also motivated by legitimate social concerns that include massive plant closings and deindustrialization, inadequate skills programs, and lack of decent jobs. Some of these problems also concern the Global South, as workers there face exploitation, unhealthy working conditions, and other social ills caused by global capitalism. In light of these problems, this article argues that the International Labor Organization (ILO) should design new conventions on lead firm liability and mass layoffs. While other scholars and policymakers have already argued that lead firms should shoulder employer responsibilities of their suppliers, contractors, and franchisees, this is the first law review article that calls for an ILO convention that can diffuse such rules globally.
The article also calls on the World Trade Organization (WTO) to advise the ILO on these labor-protective conventions. The WTO, as an expert trade body, can better ensure stakeholders that these new conventions will comply with international trade law and policy, including with WTO "public morals" exception rules and with rules on technical barriers on trade and tax and subsidies. In doing so, the WTO can guarantee that the new conventions, far from hurting trade, will help to enhance the global trade regime. Moreover, the WTO, through its "peer review" practice, where stakeholders can discuss how to create and implement new labor and trade policies, can help coordinate a much-needed global dialogue for a more inclusive globalization. This is also true of the ILO conventions that we advocate for here.
We conclude by addressing likely arguments against our proposal, including from scholars and policymakers skeptical of the role that international law can have on the current political turmoil. After addressing those objections to our proposal, we maintain that collaboration between the ILO and the WTO, while certainly not the panacea for all the complex and daunting problems of our times, remains critical to restore legitimacy to the global economic order in a post-populist era.
Keywords: International Trade Law, International Labor Organization, World Trade Organization
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