Goods made from Child Labour should be banned for Trade


The Dutch Government has tried to mobilise other European Union Member States to eliminate the ‘worst forms of child labour’ in third states by means of unilateral trade-related restrictions. The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) has also weighed in on import bans on products that have been produced using child labour in third states in a remarkable series of 2011 Concluding Observations.

To begin with, the CRC explained that it regretted that there were no restrictions for corporations to import or sell goods in Finland that were produced using child labour in third states. Furthermore, the CRC stressed that Italy should use its leverage as an EU Member State to ensure that cotton originating from child labour does not enter the European market.

Finally, the CRC suggested that import restrictions might be required with regard to products from third states that are investigated by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) for using child labour in its Concluding Observations for the Republic of Korea.

Current state of the debate on import restrictions on products from child labour

The debate on the link between trade and child labour of developing and emerging states is evaluated. The main arguments regarding the effectiveness of import restrictions are also set out. Finally, it is observed that the old dichotomy between economically developed states and other states in this debate has faded. Why is the debate on a linkage between trade and child labour so contested? Issues are central to this debate. First, import restrictions would deprive developing and emerging states of a comparative advantage in the global market place.

WTO regime through the lens of the attitude-behaviour gap

The ILO is considered to be the dedicated international forum to strengthen labour rights. However, it is currently not sufficiently equipped to advance human rights protection, such as the abolition of child labour. Part of its perceived failure is due to the strength of the WTO regime. State Parties to the GATT have to deal with the WTO regime when they aim to improve corporate accountability through imposing import restrictions on products of child labour. It has been suggested that the discussion on a social clause can be avoided under the WTO regime. In particular, State Parties that aim to impose trade restrictive measures could rely upon perceptions that the importing market has regarding products produced by child labour under Article III(4) GATT and Article XX(a) GATT.

(Courtesy: Global Governance Watch)

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