This refers to a proposal to attach a clause to a multilateral trade agreement obliging the signatory governments to respect the fundamental rights of workers, as articulated in the core conventions of the International Labour Organization. The question of a social clause has risen to prominence in recent years as a result of the campaigning of trade unions, some national governments, and development and human rights organizations for the adoption of a social clause by the World Trade Organization (WTO). At the 1999 meeting of the WTO in Seattle, President Clinton called for labour standards to be included in trade agreements, with reinforcing sanctions; a proposal that was rejected by the majority of the 135 countries attending. The argument for a social clause is premissed on the belief that increased trade liberalization is leading to the erosion of national labour standards. In many developing economies, however, arguments of this kind are regarded as a form of protectionism designed to shelter the industrialized economies from competition. [See race to the bottom and regime competition.]
Subjects: Human Resource Management.