Labor Rights in the Generalized System of Preferences: A 20-Year Review
Posted: 16 Jan 2003
Promoted by a coalition of trade unions and allied human rights groups and adopted by Congress in 1984, the labor rights clause of the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) was the first significant linking of workers' rights and trade under U.S. law. This article reviews twenty years' experience with the GSP labor rights clause. It recounts the legislative process resulting in passage of the GSP labor rights clause and examines briefly other labor rights clauses in U.S. trade laws inspired by the GSP clause, as well as workers' rights dimensions in bilateral, regional, and multilateral trade arrangements, and in corporate codes of conduct.
After presenting summary information about GSP labor cases since the passage of the workers' rights clause, the authors present case studies of six countries: Chile, Guatemala, Malaysia, Indonesia, Pakistan and Belarus. These cases demonstrate the crosscutting human rights, diplomatic, and economic policy complexities in applying the GSP labor rights clause. The authors acknowledge salient criticisms of the GSP labor rights regime and agree that the law and its application have been flawed. But the willingness of the United States to act unilaterally, most pointedly in the GSP context, has driven a process of bilateral, regional and multilateral action to promote workers' rights in trade that goes far beyond the GSP program. The authors conclude that, on balance, the GSP workers' rights clause has been an important instrument in international labor affairs that has yielded concrete, positive results for workers in many instances.
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