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Rt. Hon. Owen Arthur, Prime Minister of Barbados addresses the International Labour Conference

GENEVA (ILO News) - The Rt. Hon. Owen Arthur, Prime Minister of Barbados, guest of honour at the 90 th Session of the International Labour Conference, today condemned the linkage of labour standards and trade as "immoral and counter productive," saying the International Labour Office (ILO) should have the "teeth" to enforce labour standards in developed and developing countries alike.

Press release | 13 June 2002

GENEVA (ILO News) - The Rt. Hon. Owen Arthur, Prime Minister of Barbados, guest of honour at the 90 th Session of the International Labour Conference, today condemned the linkage of labour standards and trade as "immoral and counter productive," saying the International Labour Office (ILO) should have the "teeth" to enforce labour standards in developed and developing countries alike.

This linkage, he said, "is immoral because it reduces what is in an end in itself - human rights - to a means to an end. Compliance runs the risk of being applied and enforced selectively, and of being biassed against the developing countries."

"Human rights, including labour standards, are too sacrosanct to be used as bargaining tools or as instruments of foreign or trade policy," the Barbadian leader said.

Speaking in the Assembly Hall of the Palais des Nations where the labour conference is meeting from 3 to 20 June, Mr. Arthur expressed his support for the ILO's role in the debate on trade and labour, saying "the primary responsibility for supervising, regulating and ultimately enforcing global labour standards encompassing the core ILO conventions rests with the ILO and not with the World Trade Organization or any other international organization."

Noting that a double standard existed between industrialized and developing countries he added "it is also unconscionable that countries in which trade unions are being squeezed out of industries should be advocating linkages between labour standards and free trade. If competition from abroad gets tough, rich countries feel that they have the right to either use conventional protection against imports, or through linkage, attempt to drive up the costs of production in poor countries."

"It is all however a misguided exercise because the weight of the evidence generated by economists has shown that trade with poor countries is not responsible for driving down wages in rich countries," he said.

Mr. Arthur appealed for a strengthening of the ILO role, saying "if the ILO lacks teeth, as some complain, give it teeth. And let those teeth bite indiscriminately wherever labour standards are violated, in developing and developed countries alike."

"The ILO must have more clout in the formulation of global financial and trade policy, and not just an advisory role," he said. "This may very well entail creating new mechanisms for coordination between the ILO, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, and the WTO. It may indeed call for reform and restructuring in all these institutions. But it is essential that we develop as a matter of urgency an international consensus on what is required to maintain a socially responsible global economy, one whose benefits not only include working people but also include the many developing countries which find themselves currently suffering only the negative effects of globalization and trade liberalization and reaping none of the advantages."