WTO Ministerial Conference: ITUC demands labour rights in trade policy

The ITUC has brought the interests of working people to the heart of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) by demanding that labour rights are embedded in global trade policy.

At this year’s WTO Ministerial Conference, held in Abu Dhabi, 26 February to 1 March, the ITUC delegation pushed for a trade framework that prioritises workers’ rights and promotes social justice, while supporting a development agenda for emerging economies to retain policy space to pursue structural transformation without constraint.

ITUC General Secretary Luc Triangle said: “Since its creation, the WTO has facilitated trade at the expense of labour rights. The inclusion of the basic rights of working people in trade policy is long overdue.”

During the conference, the ITUC organised a panel discussion with the United States’ trade representative Katherine Tai, European Commission executive vice-president Valdis Dombrovskis and South Africa’s trade minister Ebrahim Patel on delivering social justice and labour rights in trade policies.

Luc Triangle stated during the discussion that: “The ITUC considers that the respect of labour rights is implicit at the WTO, as the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work applies to ILO members who are WTO members. We call for greater cooperation between the WTO and the ILO to pursue the inclusion of labour standards in the work of the WTO, in line with the ILO Global Coalition for Social Justice.”

In the discussion, proposals were made regarding the creation of a specific working group on labour and trade charged with working towards the inclusion of labour rights in the WTO agenda.

The Ministerial Conference, however, concluded with minimal concrete outcomes and was marred by concerns over free speech violations, including the detention of participants and restrictions on civil society organisations.