Trade Law, Labor and Global Inequality

20 Pages Posted: 10 Nov 2005

See all articles by David M. Trubek

David M. Trubek

University of Wisconsin Law School

Lance Compa

Cornell University - School of Industrial and Labor Relations

Date Written: November 2005


Globalization is transforming the conditions of labor around the world. These changes are facilitated by developments in trade law and the larger trade and investment regime of which it is a part. While trade law has done a great deal to foster economic integration and increase cross-border flows of goods and services, workers in many countries and in many industries have suffered job losses, declining wages, and abusive conditions that can be attributed at least in part to trade pressures.

This essay looks at how globalization affects labor and what is being done to offset the negative effects of economic integration on workers. We show that the benefits of globalization are not evenly spread, and that workers are often losers in the trade game. We explain how globalization can weaken domestic labor protections and indicate that the trade regime has yet to provide compensating protection. We suggest that there is a way to construct a transnational labor regime to maintain labor standards and protect labor rights in a globalized economy. We show how negative effects might be counteracted by coordinated action at domestic, regional and global levels and suggest that the lack of a clear vision of how transnational labor law might operate is hampering progress towards an effective transnational labor regime.

Keywords: globalization, labor, trade

Suggested Citation

Trubek, David M. and Compa, Lance, Trade Law, Labor and Global Inequality (November 2005). Univ. of Wisconsin Legal Studies Research Paper No. 1001, Available at SSRN: or

David M. Trubek (Contact Author)

University of Wisconsin Law School ( email )

975 Bascom Mall
Madison, WI 53706
United States

Lance Compa

Cornell University - School of Industrial and Labor Relations ( email )

293 Ives Hall
Ithaca, NY 14853-3901
United States
607-255-7314 (Phone)

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