6:58 AM Mar 29, 1996


Geneva 29 Mar (Chakravarthi Raghavan) -- The International Labour Organization's Working Party on Social Dimensions of Liberalization of International Trade is to be continued, and with an expanded mandate to include an examination of a broad range of social and employment effects of freer trade and globalization.

This was decided by the Governing Body of the ILO which concluded its two-week session Thursday.

An ILO press release said the Governing Body's decision means the search for solutions to the social and labour market consequences of economic globalization has been placed firmly on the ILO agenda.

The ILO Director-General, Mr. Michel Hansenne applauded the outcome and said: "Neither a single-minded insistence on trade sanctions nor an inflexible resistance to any form of link between trade and labour standards offers a realistic prospect of agreement. The process we have embarked upon here offers the best hope of improving understanding of how best to harness and distribute the benefits of freer trade and establish rules of the game for the benefit of all social partners in the global economy."

Member-States of the ILO and the World Trade Organization (WTO) should commit themselves to parallel development of trade liberalization and social progress in order to fulfil commitments they have made in both organizations, Hansenne added.

The ILO working party which has been debating the issue since November 1995 (when the Working Party met first) accepted by consensus a Chairperson's statement summing up the discussions at the end of the current meeting.

The conclusions of the Working Party, summed up in a statement by the Chairperson which was adopted by consensus calls for:

* development of a long-term strategy that would seek to improve the state of knowledge with a view to strengthening the ILO's capacity and means of action to help member States -- through more effective technical cooperation and action focused on fundamental human rights Conventions, particularly those dealing with child labour, forced labour, discrimination and denial of the right to organize and bargain collectively;

* a concrete programme of action, to start immediately, beginning with a questionnaire to member-States seeking information on the economic and social results of trade liberalization in the aftermath of the Uruguay Round, country studies and reviews of action undertaken in other international fora, including the OECD, on the subject.

The Working Party is also to coordinate and support developments in work (at the ILO) on the elimination of child labour and ratification of fundamental human rights Conventions.

The next meeting of the Working Party is scheduled for November 1996, just prior to the first Ministerial meeting of the WTO at Singapore.

The Governing Body of the ILO which accepted the Working Party conclusions, also decided to include an item on child labour in the agenda of the 86th session of the International Labour Conference to be held in Geneva in June 1998, with a view to developing a new international instrument on child labour.

The ILO standard-setting process of a double-discussion will be followed, with a proposed instrument targeted for adoption in 1999.

The proposed instrument would aim at eliminating the most egregious and harmful practices like child bondage, forced labour, sexual slavery and use of children in such activities as pornography.

Some of these are already dealt with under two existing instruments: the Forced Labour Convention of 1930 (No 29) and the Minimum Age Convention of 1973 (No. 138).

The Governing Body decided to pursue the adoption of a new instrument because of the proliferation of exploitive forms of child labour. Such an instrument, it was felt, would strengthen the fight against child labour while focusing priorities on the most serious forms of abuse.

The Chairperson's statement on the Working Party on Social Dimensions of Liberalization of International Trade said there was the overwhelming consensus that the work of the Working Party should continue and that a concrete work programme which should be set that would stretch ahead and beyond November this year, and its outcome once agreed should be promulgated and made public so that ILO would have "maximum impact" in this field on other international organizations.

The ILO should undertake substantive action research to establish the reality of what was going on, so that they could all consider and decide what best could be done to promote the positive and alleviate the negative effects, if any, of globalization and trade liberalization, and with particular reference to the ratification and implementation of the fundamental human rights Conventions.

The statement said: "We really need to know more about what was actually happening. Is globalization happening? Has the Uruguay Round made any difference?"

A starting point would be through a questionnaire eliciting information.

The ILO should also pursue the idea of country studies - for which there were already two 'volunteers' from the American region - the United States and Venezuela. These and a few other country studies from other regions could be combined with those envisaged on employment policy, and the practical implications of these should be submitted for the consideration of the officers of the Working Party and those of the Committee on Employment and Social Policy.

While the terms of reference of these would take a little time, at a certain point the Working Party should look at the lessons that could be learnt from these exercises, including the idea of periodic reports from the ILO.

There was agreement on need for a 'free-ranging' debate and review of the ILO means of action - starting with an Office paper on the capacity of the ILO to help member-States to participate in benefits of trade liberalization and the future role of ILO in the context of globalization and liberalization of trade.

This could lead to a strategic action plan to encompass action by both the ILO and member-States, focusing particularly on technical cooperation, but also on other means of actions, including normative actions.

The Working Party, the Chair's statement said, should also look into the effect of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), including that by transnational enterprises, on labour standards in host countries. It should also look into the OECD report, when it is published, and other major reports as they become available.

The statement added that the Working Party should act as a focal point for the ILO to interact with other organizations working in this field, particularly keeping an eye on the international agenda.

Other suggestions to which the Working Party could return to in the course of its work, the statement said, could include use of consumer schemes, at export processing zones, and if there was support for this, at regional trade measures.

While all these suggestions were inter-related and fascinating, the chair's statement said, there must be a logical sequence in the working party's consideration, and the ILO, in planning its own agenda, must take accounting of the wider international agenda.

At the November meeting, the Working Party could look at the OECD report and, if possible, prepare some sort of statement of the ILO's views which could be in the public domain before the Singapore WTO meeting.

The November meeting could also start looking at the FDI issue, with an office paper drawing in part on existing studies such as those by UNCTAD. By its March meeting, the Working Party should be in a position at least to review progress on country studies and hold a review of ILO's means of actions and whether they are sufficient and appropriate.

The precise mandate of the Working Party (on the basis of two formulations before it) and its working methods could be decided at the November meeting of the Working Party. On the basis of what the chair called "the majority consensus view", the title of the Working Party is to continue as now.