Labour Provisions in Trade Agreements – Seminar

This seminar, which took place in Brussels on 6 December, presented the final reports of a comprehensive International Labour Organization (ILO) Research Department project that assesses the impact of labour provisions on labour market outcomes.

According to the reports there has been a fivefold increase in the number of bilateral and plurilateral trade agreements in the past two decades. These agreements increasingly include labour provisions: today, there are 77 trade agreements that include labour provisions, covering 136 economies. Nearly half of these trade agreements with labour provisions came into existence since 2008. This indicates that labour provisions are becoming a common tool for promoting labour standards in trade agreements.

This expansion provides opportunities to strengthening labour rights in the world. It also raises challenges and questions about the  implementation of these labour provisions and the stakeholder involvement.

This seminar explored these questions, challenges and questions based on the findings of the project reports.

The discussion was organised as an interactive panel exchange. The report was presented by the Research Department of the ILO and commented on by academic experts. This was followed by a roundtable discussion with EU policy makers and the European social partners.

>> Participants included government officials, delegates from trade unions, employers’ organisations and civil society, and academics. The seminar was opened by a high-level panel of EU and ILO officials, and Marianne Thyssen, EU Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs, Skills and Labour Mobility, made the concluding remarks.

The ILO Research Department project builds on research regarding trade-related labour provisions (ILO, 2013 and 2016), which analyses the design, implementation and outcomes of labour provisions in trade agreements, including bilateral and plurilateral agreements.

The project resulted in the following final reports.

The first report, Assessment of Labour Provisions in Trade and Investment Arrangements, provides a technical analysis of the design, implementation and outcomes of labour provisions, based on an analysis of institutional changes in national laws and labour institutions, as well as changes in socio-economic conditions. It provides an analysis of whether and how labour provisions strengthen the framework conditions for decent work under which firms and workers operate.

The second report, Handbook of Labour Provisions in Trade Agreements, provides practical information on the design, implementation and stakeholder involvement of labour provisions in a user-friendly format geared towards non-technical audiences. It also situates the report in the broader trade and labour debate, provides practical country case studies, and examines particular issues related to global supply chains, gender and overall labour governance.

The project itself is based on field research, interviews and country-level seminars with social partners. In addition, interviews with over 50 stakeholders in more than ten countries were conducted, including through seminars in Toronto, Washington DC, Lima and New Delhi.

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