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Labour Standards Provisions in EU Free Trade Agreements: Reflections on the European Commission's Reform Agenda

Research paper by JAMES HARRISON, MIRELA BARBU, LIAM CAMPLING, FRANZ CHRISTIAN EBERT, DEBORAH MARTENS, AXEL MARX, JAN ORBIE, BEN RICHARDSON, ADRIAN SMITH

Indexed on: 25 Nov '19Published on: 01 Oct '19Published in: World Trade Review



Abstract

Labour standards provisions within the Trade and Sustainable Development (TSD) chapters of EU Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) are presented as a key element of the EU's commitment to a ‘value-based trade agenda’. But criticism of TSD chapters has led the European Commission to commit to improving their implementation and enforcement, creating a critical juncture in the evolution of the EU's trade–labour linkage. This contribution synthesizes findings from academic studies that have examined the effectiveness of labour standards provisions in EU FTAs. It then considers the reform agenda as presented by the European Commission, and explains how some of the proposals could tackle failures identified. However, it also argues that there are various limitations with the Commission's current proposals, and outlines how legal obligations and institutional mechanisms created by trade agreements could better be harnessed to improve working conditions and rights at work around the world.