International Labor Organization, Essay Example
Close connections exist between the state of the global economy and the state of human rights. Due to this fact and also due to the exponentially increasing globalization of economies as well as work-forces, it has become increasingly unavoidable that a nation’s foreign policy is dictated to some degree by its commitment or lack of commitment to human rights and labor rights. In the absence of a global government, the International Labor Organization has emerged as a worldwide advocate for labor rights. Intrinsic to the mission of the ILO is to recognize and exploit productively the strong link that exists between labor rights and human rights. The ILO stands very strong in a philosophical way for the fair treatment of workers and is pragmatically powerful in specific areas such as the eradication of child labor. However, the ILO often lacks the enforcement power necessary to carry out its agenda. That said, there is no doubt that the ILO is relevant to the discussion of human and labor rights. In fact, it is arguable that, at the present time, the ILO is the most relevant international body in regard to labor rights and, by extension, human rights.
The ILO is, of course, a non-state actor and as such is able to draw on the concerted power of labor forces all around the globe. However, its status as a non-state actor also means that the ILO must face the presence of world-wide challenges and and concerns while simultaneously lacking the kind of power a typical state has for enacting laws with genuine teeth. In the article, “ Making Free Trade Fair: How the WTO Could Incorporate Labor Rights and Why It Should” (2012) J.M. Kagan mentions that the ILO’s long history as an powerful advocate for labor rights has always been based on a global scale. Kagan writes that “Since its founding in 1919 as part of the Treaty of Versailles that ended World War I, the ILO has been the principal global body responsible for recognizing and enumerating global labor standards.” (Kagan, 2011, p.195). One key phrase from that statement is “recognizing and enumerating” because these capacities are well within the power of the ILO while making certain that labor standards are enforced throughout the world is beyond the ILO’s means. That does not mean that the ILO is in any way less of a significant player in global politics; it simply means that in regard to the recognition of certain labor standards, the ILO is not solely capable of ensuring that even reluctant nations will recognize and adhere to them.
In order for this to be done, the ILO depends on the assistance of not only non-state actors, but states due to the fact that issues of international labor are innately connected to both private enterprise and government. Navigating the complicated maze of international economics is a demanding process but one thing can be certain in regard to the global economy no mater what perspective is used and that is that the global economy reflects the output and worth of the global workforce. This is a fact that is very important to keep in mind when discussing the ILO’s relevance in the discussion of international human and labor rights. The reason this observation is so important is because it brings to mind the reality that the global workforce is, in fact, interconnected even if it lacks the facade of an overt union or other organization. The ILO is as close to a global advocate for labor rights that exists and is therefore highly significant in the discussion of labor and human rights.
Another aspect in regard to the way in which the ILO plays an important part in the discussion of human rights and labor rights around the world is the ILO’s capacity to actually enforce standards in some cases. For example, in regard to child labor, the ILO has a record of successful intervention both in monitoring and reporting the exploitation of child workers. According to J. Ho in the article “The International Labour Organization’s Role in Nationalizing the International Movement to Abolish Child Labor” (2006) the ILO is uniquely suited to the task of eradicating child labor exploitation. Ho observes that “The ILO’s tripartite structure allows it to effectively monitor and report child labor conditions in various countries […] monitoring labor conditions, and issuing recommendations on ways to resolve violations and improve working environments” (Ho, 2006, p.338). The exploitation of child-labor is one of the focal points of the ILO’s international mission.
This is due to the fact that the ILO regards child labor exploitation as one of the core concerns of the international labor movement. In other words, because the ILO itself regards the eradication of child labor abuse as a primary goal, the organization has made great strides in connecting the crime of child-exploitation withe the general exploitation of labor in general. Ho points out that, “Abolition of child labor is now considered part of a core set of labor principles.” He goes on to note that the issue of child labor was important enough that it spurred the ILO into creating a declaration of “four “fundamental” labor rights binding upon its members regardless of convention ratification.” The four rights included “freedom of association and free collective bargaining; (2) the elimination of forced or compulsory labor; (3) the abolition of child labor; and (4) the elimination of employment discrimination” (Ho, 2006, p. 337). Taken together, the four core principles can be seen as a basic defense of worker rights and the promotion of humane and fair conditions throughout the global workforce.
The preceding points indicate the way in which the ILO is a highly relevant part of any serious discussion of labor rights and human rights in a global context. Just as the previously made points are more or less straightforward and self-evident, they also indicate a n important but less self-evident aspect of the global economy and that is the fact that labor laws are the most fundamentally important aspect of creating a stable middle class in any society. The creation, maintenance, and enforcement of labor standards is in many ways the basis of any middle class society. Kagan points out that this reality is not lost on important members of the U.S. government “Representative Charles Rangel has suggested that the inclusion and enforcement of labor provisions in trade agreements helps to raise the standards of living for workers and thereby builds a middle class.” (Kagan, 2011, p.196) So, it can be persuasively argued that the standards pursued by the ILO are actually those standards that promote and protect the global middle-class.
Since the creation of global prosperity serves the interest not only of promoting human rights but also in creating a climate for global economic and political stability, it would seem beneficial for the United States to form a foreign policy that helps to promote the standards advocated by the ILO. This is another reason that the ILO should be regarded as a significant influence on the discussion of labor rights and human rights. That said, there is also the question as to whether or not the U.S. or any developed country can use the ILO as a way of demanding or encouraging a global commitment to human rights. Interestingly enough, the answer to that question involves branching away from the ILO itself in strict terms and moving out into areas where the ILO in tandem with other states and non-state actors is able create favorable conditions for the adoption of human rights and labor standards by otherwise reluctant nations.
There is actually a three-tiered answer to the way in which the U.S. can use the ILO as a method for encouraging global standards and human rights. The first part of the answer has to do with linking trace agreements with labor standards and human rights. As Kagan points out, one of the most forceful arguments currently being made on behalf of expanding the enforcement of labor laws and human rights is tied to the idea of linking trade-policies with the standards required by the ILO. Kagan writes that this line of debate “contends that trade and labor should be linked in international trade frameworks because this solves coordination problems for countries that seek to raise labor standards.” (Kagan, 2011, p.195). However, Kagan goes on to mention that the capacity of the ILO goes beyond that of merely providing coordination.
Kagan affirms that the ILO as the standard-bearer for global workers’ rights also brings the power of its reputation and influence into the struggle for human rights and labor standards. Kagan remarks that despite this fact, the ILO still suffers from being relatively feeble in regard to the nation by nation enforcement of international standards. Kagan writes that “In light of the enforcement shortcomings of the ILO, linking labor rights to trade agreements presents a more promising avenue for giving these rights meaning.” (Kagan, 2011, p.199). This approach brings a form of punishment to those nations that fail to adhere to the rights and standards that are put forward by the ILO. The punishment consists of being left out of important trade agreements and would impact any nation that stood in repeated violation of human rights or workers rights. Of course the exclusion of nations from trade-agreements is not a power that is held by the ILO and therefore the enactment of the connecting trade-policy and labor standards along with standards of human rights would fall partially on another non-state actor, one which would have the capability to enforce trade-agreements.
The most obvious candidate for this task would be the World Trade Organization. As Kagan and many other observers have pointed out, the WTO is the most natural organization to use in terms of enforcing the standards set by the ILO when it comes to linking standards and trade-policies. Kagan remarks that “As the world’s largest multilateral framework dedicated to trade issues, the WTO would seem to be the appropriate forum for addressing the trade-labor linkage and labor standards.” (Kagan, 2011, p.195). Involving the WTO as a mechanism by which standards were enforced would seem to be not only logical, but ultimately unavoidable. Kagan’s observation that the WTO is a good fit for the job is also based on the fact that the WTO is viewed by many as being obliged to enact standards into its own agreements eventually.
The basic idea behind incorporating the WTO as a method of enacting the ILO’s labor standards is that penalizing nations that fail to uphold basic workers rights and basic human rights will result in a more widespread adherence to the ILO’s standards. this would certainly be a case where non-state actors were able to wield convincing power over states because the global financial system is one where exclusion would certainly result in the weakening and devaluing of any individual nation’s economy. As of present, according to Kagan, the WTO has shown verbal support for the ILO standards but does not require them to be admitted as part of trade negotiations of agreements. Kagan writes that “While labor standards have been debated in the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and WTO trade rounds since 1948 […] the WTO does not explicitly incorporate labor standards into its trade framework.” (Kagan, 2011, p.195). Therefore, one of the things that the U.S. can do to encourage the spread of labor rights and human rights on a global scale is to encourage the WTO to enact the ILO’s standards.
The main influence that the WTO holds over the issue of labor rights is that of enforcement of standards and practices. The ILO has been shown to ab an able organization when it comes to promoting labor rights, and creating an atmosphere for for the creation and processing of regulations and standards. the problem with the ILO has always been one of pragmatic application and the simple fact that the ILO as a non-state actor “lacks the enforcement capabilities to ensure that these rights are respected in practice” (Kagan, 2011, p.196). The combination of the ILO and the WTO is therefore seen by many as a natural pairing that would help facilitate the spread of fair labor standards throughout the world. The accompanying raising of the living-standards and the standards for human rights throughout the world would be additional gains from the pairing of the ILO and WTO.
One of the factors that qualifies the WTO as a good bet for enforcement of regulations and standards is the existence of the World Trade Organization “dispute settlement body,” which according to Kagan is the main instrument by which genuine enforcement of the ILO’s standards can be attained. Kagan observes that “opening the WTO dispute settlement system to labor complaints which affect trade among state parties, […] could go far towards truly making free trade fair trade.” (Kagan, 2011). The many virtues of authentic free-trade are to numerous to list here but certainly include a higher global standard of living as well as a global economy which acts continuously to provide incentives for innovation and also for hard productivity.
The only fair conclusion that can be drawn regarding the status of the ILO as it relates to issues of human rights and labor rights is that it presently acts as a focal point for such a discussion on a global scale. It also acts as a primary agent in changing global standards and for drawing support and enforcement of fair labor laws internationally. The ways in which the ILO are limited are due t its status as a non-state actor, but it is this same status that allows the organization to attract a diverse multitude of representatives and members. The fact that the ILO is able, in many circumstances, to assert itself over the will of states is due to the highly important influence of global trade. Because, as previously mentioned, the global workforce is united in fact if not in ideology or law, the global trace-economy is a constant reflection of the status and condition of the global workforce.
This is a very important thing to keep in mind because it indicates the profound scope of the ILO’s responsibilities. Keeping in mind that the ILO is responsible not only for registering and understanding the needs of workers on a global scale, but that it is responsible for suggesting and often implementing the necessary changes to protect and respect workers internationally, the full-scope of the ILO is more readily grasped in relation to its impact on the global economy. Two main questions arise in this context: the first is what, if anything , should be done to direct America’s foreign-policy toward countries that abuse human and labor rights such as China and India? Secondly, if the ILO’s declaration of labor rights were made practical law in all free-trading countries, as implemented by the ILO and the WTO, what effect would this have on the global economy? The two questions are, obviously very closely related. they also reveal a solid outline of the kind of economic and global-political realities are associated with the just and fair treatment of workers worldwide.
What if , for example, the stablishment of a global minimum wage or a global standard of safety conditions acted as a barrier, rather than an incentive to the creation of a viable working class in a particular society? This is precisely the point mentioned by Swinnerton & Schoepfle in their article “Labor Standards in the Context of a Global Economy.” (1994) The authors mention that many economists have envisioned “the possible phenomenon of nation-states that suppress wages and working conditions to offer global companies low operating costs as an incentive to establish facilities within their borders.” (Swinnerton & Schoepfle, 1994, p.54). Such a viewpoint must be seen as standing apart from the modern trend toward globalization. As such, it should also be regarded as an outmoded way of thinking. The “suppression” of wages is not only a moral affront to workers and one which stands in violation of the ILO’s declaration of workers rights, but a way of viewing the economy that is rooted in the past rather than anticipating the future. This is another important way that the ILO’s philosophies impact the globalizing world; it is due to the ILO that the adoption of labor rights and standards is viewed by and large as a progressive and future-centered vision.
That said, the question of how to deal with nations such as China and India who play a large part in the global economy persists. This is particularly true in regard to the foreign policy of the United States because of the fact that the U.S. is presently in such a large-scale financial debt to China. In such circumstances it hardly seems appropriate for the U.S. to try to pressure China about its labor rights and human rights violations. On the other hand, such a time is actually the best time for America to challenge China on its consistent violations of worker rights and human rights. The reason that it is a very good time for America to act is because America has both a moral and financial incentive to see to it that China adheres to international standards regarding labor and human rights.
The way that Swinnerton & Schoepfle present the argument is to suggest that there is a collective morality associated with any society. This holds true for America and it holds true for the larger global society. Keeping in mind that the global workforce is, whether formally united or not , a collective, the standards that are arrived at for human rights and labor rights by this collective must be seen as holding more intrinsic power than the viewpoint of any single state. Therefore, as the authors indicate, “actions on slavery, forced labor, the employment of very young children, and collective bargaining rights might be considered as a good called “social moral consciousness”” (Swinnerton & Schoepfle, 1994). the functionality of the “social moral consciousness” can be thought of as having two parts: first is its ability to recognize an unjust action and second is its ability to act to rectify the unjust action. The first capacity as we will see is actually an important part of how the U.S. can use its foreign policy as a method for pressuring reluctant countries such as China and India to adopt ILO standards and rights.
Again, it is important to remember that as a anon-state actor, the ILO stands uniquely apart from the potential self-interest of a nation that is, for example, ruled by a dictatorship. This means that, as Swinnerton & Schoepfle point out that, “The ILO’S procedures do not generally lead to agreements between nations […] national governments may differ in the degree of compliance with, or enforcement of, national laws.” (Swinnerton & Schoepfle, 1994). Just as the ILO is unable to directly influence the laws or enforcement of laws in any sovereign nation, but must hope for voluntary compliance, any use of U.S. foreign policy to put pressure on nations to comply to ILO standards must be indirect. In other words, it is highly unlikely that the U.S. could bring its military power to bear in regard to forcing China or India to comply with ILO standards. The question of genuine force being applied by the U.S. against China, India, or any other non-compliant country is moot. Doing so is not only unlikely, it is a virtual impossibility.
If the U.S. is unable to bring threat of military violence against nations who fail to comply to ILO standards, that still leaves a wide-range of diplomatic and economic measures that can be used to influence reluctant nations to adopt ILO labor standards and improve their record on human rights. The first category of action: diplomacy is a very important method. This is due to the fact that abuse of workers and abuses against human rights create their own innate backlash in the global marketplace. Some economists argue that merely informing prospective consumers about the nature of the abuses that happen to be associated with a given range of products is a sound method for reducing the sales of such products and therefore a way of punishing nations who abuse workers or human rights.
This way of looking at labor rights and human rights is to view them purely in terms of market forces. In this view “a certain level of working conditions may be considered as a commodity for which consumers and workers are willing to pay.” Furthermore, the idea is that informed consumers will avoid abusive manufacturers “sufficient information, conveyed perhaps through labeling, may, in many cases, be all that is necessary” (Swinnerton & Schoepfle, 1994). Such a perspective is often presented by its supporters as being in keeping with the trend toward globalization and offers the widest range of choices to manufacturers and consumers. So, in order for U.S diplomacy and foreign policy to deeply impact the activities of abusive nations, all that may be necessary is that the U.S. engage in a diplomatic “information campaign where a full accounting of labor rights and wages as well as conditions and regulations in all nations is made known to all potential trading-partners across the globe. If it is true that consumers will en masse tend to avoid those products that are the result of slave labor or child labor or come from nations who have poor record on human rights, then the market should take care of the abusive parties all on its own.
Of course this is a far too simplistic point of view to hold in regard to the actual construction of U.S. foreign policy toward a nation such as China. However, such thoughts do play a very highly significant role in the creation of part of the approach to foreign policy that should be taken in relation to china by the U.S. For example, through its diplomatic channels, the U.S. could inform China that unless a minimum wage standard was enacted across the board for Chinese workers, a label would be added to Chinese merchandise that was produced through sub-par wage-earners informing American consumers of the abuse. Additionally, a tax of tariff to these kinds of goods could be enacted, or threatened to be enacted. The mere release of the full details of worker and human rights abuses that are current in China might serve to suppress the global demand of Chinese goods. Due to this fact, the further threat of labels, taxes, and international public-relations just might persuade the Chinese ruling-class to do something in regard to enacting ILO compliant standards for their workers.
The true mechanism by which the foreign policy of the United States can impact change in non-compliant nations is to eliminate preferential economic treatment in regard to U.S. trade in cases where a nation has reached an egregious level of abuses against human or labor rights. The withholding of foreign aid and the increasing of taxes on foreign goods are areas where pressure can be exerted with the use of U.S. foreign policy. That said, it is important to remember that just as non-state actors such as the WTO and ILO are limited in the enforcement of standards in countries around the globe, so, too, is the U.S. powerless to directly impact compliance or non-compliance to international standards of labor rights and human rights in foreign countries. This brings us back to the previously mentioned diplomatic strategy of releasing information and details of labor and human rights abuses to all members of world trading community.
The combination of openness and taxation, coupled with the withholding of federal aid is not only a likely combination for success in gaining worldwide adherence to ILO initiated labor standards it is the only functional strategy to do so. That is not to say that the core elements of the strategy could not or should not be augmented or refined in many ways; it is simply an acknowledgment that direct intervention in the state-policies of foreign nations is an impossibility. Therefore U.S. foreign policy in this regard should be shaped in a way that takes into account that the non-interventionist strategies outlines above are the primary starting place for exerting pressure on non-compliant nations.
Another aspect of the question of gaining internationally implemented labor standards along the line of what the ILO recommends is the question of how the enacting of specific principles such as a global minimum wage is likely to impact the global economy as a whole. This question is greatly complicated by the fact that the globalization trend that has been active for decades is less fully developed than it may first appear. While it is true that international economics is a reality and that the nations of the world are in a state of mutual economic dependence, it is far too easy to overestimate the true impact of globalization. On the one hand, information and communication are at an all time high level of availability, actual instances of practical cooperation between any two nations or even groups of nations is uncommon. According to Y. Lambert’s article “The United Nations Industrial Development Organization: UNIDO and Problems of International Economic Cooperation.” (1993), the true state of cooperation between nations in the twenty-first century is dubious.
The lack of cohesion between nations is a problem that faces any internationally based organization such as the ILO. It is also a problem for accurately projecting the evolution and future of the global economy. As Lambert indicates, any organization that functions internationally must be aware of how to deal with the relative instability of international relations. Lambert writes “Stable functioning of an international organization is founded on observing the balance of interests between member countries. The interests of key groups of countries coincide in the field of industrial cooperation only on a rather limited scale.” (Lambert, 1993, p. 189). Part of the way that any adoption of international labor standards would have on the global economy would then, obviously, include a greater sense of mutual cooperation between all countries. Simply by acknowledging that the workers of all nations in the world are protected by a universally accepted series of rights would increase not only the sense of true globalization around the world, it would act as an actual step toward creating true globalization.
The implementation and enforcing of uniform standards in regard to worker pay, safety, and regulation would also provide a powerful incentive for an increase in international cooperation. it would be easier for workers from various nations to work together and easier for administrators to facilitate this kind of employment. Lambert writes that such cooperation is crucial to global development as a whole because cooperation between nations helps to ensure the spread of knowledge, skills, and technologies to under-developed countries. Lambert insists that “”Effective international cooperation in the field of industrial development is most urgent in view of an extremely uneven distribution of the industrial capacities of various countries in absolute and relative figures in per capita terms.” (Lambert, 1993, p. 1) This obviously shows a benefit to the global economy that can be expected from the enacting of global labor standards because as underdeveloped countries develop, the enter as potential consumers and contributors to the global economy. In fact, it might be only a slight exaggeration to suggest that the enacting of labor standards across the globe would touch off an economic explosion in the global market that might last for many decades.
The spread of global standards for human rights and labor rights would also result in a greater amount of economic relations between disparate countries that would, in itself, speed the process of globalization. As Lambert mentions, much of this ideal rests on the potential of eliminating global poverty. Therefore, the adoption of a universal minimum wage, for example, along with other ILO policies must be regarded as steps that would have a positive impact on the global economy. The positive impact would be twofold: first, it would bring billions of people out of poverty, and second, it would spur profit and growth in all economic industries as more people were brought into the world economy as consumers and producers. This is Lambert states that “the striving of developing countries for the establishment of a new international economic order must be considered while taking into account factors of world economics.” (Lambert, 1993, p. ix). The simple fact is that the ILO standards provide the best model for helping to eradicate global poverty and replace it with a sense of global productiveness.
There is, of course, a moral and ethical side to all of these questions. As mentioned earlier in this examination, the ethical implications of the ILO labor standards and policies is an important aspect of why labor rights and human rights must be sought in a worldwide context. Whether by virtue of logic or coincidence, it just so happens that what appears to be morally correct in regard to human rights and labor rights also seems to make sense from a strictly economic perspective. For example, the spread of industrial development would be a morally good thing to accomplish in regard to global poverty. it would also be the best practical thing to do in terms of nurturing the global financial out look. As Lambert affirms, the main force that determines whether or not a particular country raises a strong and vibrant middle class is its level of industrial development. Lambert writes that “Currently industrial development is one of the key factors that predetermine the social and economic life of states and create prerequisites for their influence in the international system.” (Lambert, 1993, p. 23) Two key words in that statement are “predetermine” and “create.” These words show that the global community can, in fact, influence the day to day lives of individuals. This is because the global perspective shown by the ILO standards are based in raising a strong middle class from any given population based solely on the commonality of work.
The ILO has, as the preceding discussion shows, become almost as powerful as a nation in regard to directing the international dialogue of human and labor rights. In some cases, the ILO has emerged as an even more authoritative voice on human and worker advocacy than any state actor. For this reason, the ILO must carefully avoid the trap of stopping in its effort to understand and influence global economics. Instead, the ILO must remain alert and willing to re-envision its policies as conditions change throughout the world. In other words, “The ILO’s vocation of adopting universal standards must be re-examined at regular intervals, to consider how the standards function, the methods used to adopt and supervise them, and how their objectives are being met.” (Bartolomei de la Cruz, Von Potobsky, & Swepston, 1996, p. 57) It is not the means that are the most important issue but the results.
The creation of a global standard for worker and human rights is not only desirable but necessary. The ILO at present is the most influential and significant organization that advocates fro labor rights. The influence of non-state actors such as the ILO and WTO along with the influence of state foreign policy can and should be used to gain international compliance to ILO standards. The stance of the U.S. in terms of foreign policy should be to bring as much pressure as possible against non-compliant nations to gain their compliance. This is not only because the ILO standards for labor rights are ethically and morally correct but because these same standards foster the continued positive growth of the global economy.
Bartolomei de la Cruz, H., Von Potobsky, G., & Swepston, L. (1996). The International Labor Organization: The International Standards System and Basic Human Rights. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.
Ho, J. (2006). The International Labour Organization’s Role in Nationalizing the International Movement to Abolish Child Labor. Chicago Journal of International Law, 7(1), 337+.
Kagan, J. M. (2011). Making Free Trade Fair: How the WTO Could Incorporate Labor Rights and Why It Should. Georgetown Journal of International Law, 43(1), 195+.
Lambert, Y. (1993). The United Nations Industrial Development Organization: UNIDO and Problems of International Economic Cooperation. Westport, CT: Praeger.
Swinnerton, K. A., & Schoepfle, G. K. (1994). Labor Standards in the Context of a Global Economy. Monthly Labor Review, 117(9), 52+.
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