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14 J. Int'l Trade L. & Pol'y 4 (2015)

handle is hein.journals/jitlp14 and id is 1 raw text is: The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at:


Received 5 May 2015
Revised 14June 2015
17June 2015
Accepted 17June 2015

Journal of International Trade Law
and Policy
Vol 14 No. 1,2015
pp. 4-22
©Emerald Group Publishing Limited
DOI 10.1108/JITLP-05-2015-&011

Addressing child labour:
reflections on the WTO's role
Jessica Williams
Department of Law, University College Dublin, Dublin, Ireland
Purpose - This paper aims to analyse whether the World Trade Organisation (WTO) covered
agreements ought to be interpreted in a manner that enables an importing country to restrict or prohibit
import of goods manufactured using child labour. This question is pertinent, given the WTO-covered
agreements do not explicitly mention child labour, yet there is increasing international concern for the
phenomenon of child labour, evidenced through international human rights law and international
labour law treaties and a push by some developed countries' WTO Members for inclusion of a social
clause governing child labour under the covered agreements.
Design/methodology/approach - This paper examines the WTO-covered agreements, current
trends in interpretation of the covered agreements by panels and the Appellate Body (AB) and scholarly
debate regarding connecting trade with labour standards and human rights.
Findings - This paper argues: that although inclusion of a social clause in the covered agreements is
unlikely, Article XX(a) GATT, Article XX(b) GATT and Article 2.1 TBT can in certain circumstances
be interpreted as to allow such restrictions on the import of goods; that no clear academic argument
logically precludes connecting trade with labour standards and human rights; and that to legitimate
both the WTO and the international legal system as a whole, the covered agreements, as the basis of
international trade law, ought to be interpreted in a manner consistent with international labour law and
international human rights law.
Originality/value - This paper draws upon the recent AB decision in European Commission - Seal
Products, examining the AB's interpretation of the Article XX(a) GATT public morals exception. This
paper further seeks to provide a succinct overview of the argument surrounding WTO involvement in
the issue of child labour.
Keywords WTO, International law, Human rights, Child labour, GATT
Paper type Research paper
1. Introduction
This article will address the notion of a World Trade Organisation (WTO) approach to
restrictions or prohibitions on the import of goods manufactured using child labour. It
will examine the WTO's current role, demonstrating that currently, it has not explicitly
addressed the issue of child labour, but has rather distanced itself from the issue
without explicitly ruling out involvement. This article finds that under the existing
WTO-covered agreements, although the issue of child labour is not explicitly
mentioned, on an evolutionary interpretation, it is possible that the covered agreements
could be interpreted to enable restrictions or prohibitions on the import of goods
manufactured using child labour. The question is consequently raised whether the
WTO ought to have a role in addressing child labour. It will be argued that whilst
rationales are found both favouring and opposing WTO involvement, no clear case
logically precludes future WTO involvement. It is subsequently argued that the
WTO-covered agreements ought to be interpreted under an evolutionary approach

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