Harnessing trade for decent work

The Tripartite Declaration of Principles concerning Multinational Enterprises and Social Policy (ILO MNE Declaration) provides a tripartite agreed policy framework to integrate decent work considerations in trade policies. Expanding access of producers in developing countries to regional and global value chains can contribute to economic transformation, leading to more decent and productive employment. SMEs in particular can benefit greatly from transfer of knowledge and skills, as well as expanded market opportunities created by participation in value chains.

An increasing number of trade and investment agreements reference the MNE Declaration, alongside the Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, and/or specific labour standards. An example includes the European Union’s Trade for All policy, that also forms the basis for the ILO-EU Trade for Decent Work project, which includes a component on the promotion of the MNE Declaration at the global and country-level (trade partner countries of the EU).

Export Processing Zones (also referred to as Special Economic Zones) help countries to become part of the globalized trade system, with a huge economic and employment potential. Decent work in these zones has been an area of attention for the ILO for many years. In 2017, the ILO held a Tripartite Meeting of Experts on the promotion of decent work and the protection of the fundamental principles and rights of workers in EPZs. The Conclusions noted many benefits of Zones for decent work and called on the International Labour Office to provide, inter alia, technical assistance to ILO member States on policies that enable Zones’ contribution to decent work.

The conclusions also called for ILO to intensify the collaboration and coordination with international organizations such as the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), the World Trade Organization (WTO), the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the World Bank to ensure better understanding of the role of EPZs in the context of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, including developing joint data collection and research on EPZs to ensure a comprehensive understanding of their form, composition, function and impact on economic and social development. ILO and UNCTAD undertook a review of the labour policies of government-managed zones. The report, called “Enhancing the Contribution of Export Processing Zones to SDG 8 on Decent Work and Inclusive Economic Growth: A review of 100 zones” was launched at the 2019 WTO Public Forum during a session on Strengthening support for trade through decent work, co-organized by ILO and UNCTAD.

Several sessions and webinars with partners have been organized:For more information, please contact MULTI or multi@ilo.org