Jun 23, 1988


GENEVA, JUNE 21 (IFDA/CHAKRAVARTHI RAGHAVAN) -- The best way to secure application of better international labour standards in the countries of the third world would be to help growth in these countries, the ILO Director-General Francis Blanchard suggested Tuesday.

Blanchard, who was replying to the three-week general debate at the 75th International labour Conference, discouraged the idea of inserting a social clause in trade relations.

Workers’ organisations in the industrialised countries have been calling for such a clause in international trade agreements and rules, and the United States has been trying to sponsor this idea in the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT).

In his report to the Conference, Blanchard had expressed reserve over the idea of creating special mechanisms in GATT to protect the rights of workers and ensure fair labour standards.

Blanchard noted that several delegates out of the 285 speakers, including 117 ministers who had spoken, had expressed satisfaction with the references to the issue in his report to the Conference.

Blanchard also noted that the representative of International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) had spoken in support of minimum labour standards as a factor in international trade relations, and had argued that a social clause making trade relationships dependent on fundamental ILO standards would discourage "unfair competition in trade".

While the ICFTU representative had thought that this would not be a protectionist measure but would facilitate "a more open system of world trade", a number of third world representatives, including both the Labour Minister of India and the Workers’ delegate from India, were among those who had challenged this viewpoint.

There was a need, Blanchard said, to take note of the fact that this issue was constantly being brought up in the ILO and elsewhere, particularly in the GATT.

This should encourage the ILO and the GATT "to concert their efforts", and attempt to analyse "exactly what is involved in the concepts of comparative advantages, unfair competition, minimum standards".

The analysis should be done on the basis of "as accurate an assessment as possible of the situation".

For this the ILO had facilities on the spot, and could also derive assistance from its supervisory machinery for observance of international labour conventions and standards.

Either by itself, or in co-ordination with GATT, the International Labour Conference should be considering what facilities could be provided "both for expansion of international trade and for improvement of working conditions of populations whose means of subsistence or sometimes even survival depend very largely on international trade".

The ILO Director-General added: "but having said this, I cannot deny that the solution must be mainly sought in a much more balanced and fairer relationship between the industrialised countries which believe in high levels of social protection and developing countries which are at grips with inextricable problems of indebtedness and markets".

"In short, the more progress third world countries can make the better international labour standards will be applied and obviously they need help in this connection".

International standards and technical help were inter-linked, the ILO Director-General said, and deplored the increasing constraint on resources.

Earlier in his reply, Blanchard had said that revival of global economic growth was "an urgent necessity", both for creating employment and protecting human rights.

Questioning the prospects for democracy and human rights in a world shared by a majority existing in poverty and a small number enjoying affluence, Blanchard reminded the delegates that a mere one percentage point increase in the GDP in Latin America and Asia and two percentage points in Africa could raise an estimated 250 million people above the poverty line.

This, he said, should be the minimum standard that the conference should seek to achieve and surpass.