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8 J. Int'l Trade L. & Pol'y 4 (2009)

handle is hein.journals/jitlp8 and id is 1 raw text is: The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available at


Journal of International Trade Law
and Policy
Vol. 8 No. 1, 2009
pp. 4-24
© Emerald Group Publishing Limited
DOI 10.1108/14770020910959583

International trade and labour:
a quest for moral legitimacy
Zolomphi Nkowani
Lancashire Law School, University of Central Lancashire,
Manchester, UK
Purpose - The purpose of this paper is to critically review the arguments for and against a social
clause as an ethical benchmark for international trade.
Design/methodology/approach - The paper takes a social economic approach in analysing the
case for and against a social clause in international trade. It considers an economic, jurisprudential,
social and human rights case for a social clause.
Findings - The consideration of a social clause purely in economic terms, removed from its social
context fundamentally flaws the arguments on both sides of the debate. The conclusion of south-south
labour agreements, north-south bilateral free-trade agreements and regional integration schemes
incorporating labour standards has a positive impact on diffusing tension and helping in consensus
building around the issue. Labour standards are human rights and to claim comparative advantage in
human rights in trade is unethical. There is a need to keep the debate alive especially within the World
Trade Organization.
Practical implications - The paper provides an insight into the utility of a social clause in the trade
and development agenda for both developed and developing countries.
Originality/value - Given the strength of emotions surrounding the issue, the proposed approach
will assist in detoxing the debate and in providing an avenue for vertical and horizontal consensus
building on the issue.
Keywords International trade, Labour, Social economics, Economic integration, Poverty
Paper type Viewpoint
The new global economy forces developing countries to compete based on their willingness to
offer the lowest possible wages to multinational firms, ensuring that the world's poorest
workers remain poor (Collingsworth, 1998).
Is there an economic case for a social clause (Spagnolo, 1999)? Answers to this question
are divided between the neo-classical and the neo-institutional schools of thought
(Trubek et al., 2000; Kevin, 2006; Leary, 1996). The neo-classical holds that there are
neither theoretical nor empirical grounds for enforcing core labour standards in
international commerce. Contrary to this assertion, I will try to show that there is a
theoretical foundation for linking international trade with labour. I do this by
considering the jurisprudence of labour rights and establishing a practical threshold
for international trade policy and practice. The neo-institutional school on the other
hand argues that markets, both domestic and international have to operate within a
framework of regulations which establish transparent and enforceable rights,
standards, obligations and dispute procedures[1] without which such a framework,
market mechanisms can have potentially destructive outcomes which conflict with
economic and social objectives (Flasbarth and Markus, 2003). At the outset, it is clear

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