Who benefits from trade? - Findings on the link between trade and labour standards in the garment, footwear and electronics industries in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Pakistan, and Vietnam

Trung tâm Nghiên cứu Quốc tế (SCIS) giới thiệu bài nghiên cứu toàn diện trong chuỗi sự kiện "Việc làm bền vững trong chuỗi cung ứng toàn cầu - Vai trò của các chính sách công nghiệp, phương thức mua sắm và chính sách thương mại", do SCIS và Viện Friedrich Ebert (FES) tổ chức. 






The changing nature of international trade, dominated by global value chains, has led to downward pressure on working conditions. Fundamental rights at work, such as the right to organise and bargain collectively, are not upheld. Child labour exists in many supply chains, and minimum wages, when paid, are not sufficient to ensure decent living standards. Forced overtime and lack of safety measures are also common.


This publication wishes to draw attention to the imbalances in international trade and the asymmetric power relationship in global value chains, and to initiate a discussion on how to tackle these challenges.


It is one of the outputs of the regional project Core Labour Standards Plus (CLS+), which was launched by Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung in Asia in 2016. This project aims to promote and develop binding labour standards in trade and global value chains. With growing consumer concern and strong criticism of free trade agreements in Europe, there is momentum to push for binding social clauses in international trade. If governments can show that trade agreements contribute to making the life of workers in Asia better, the growing scepticism towards such agreements could be reduced.


The scope of the CLS+ project is ambitious in the sense that it goes beyond the ILO core labour standards. These core conventions are recognised as an important element of decent work and are used by the European Union (EU) in trade agreements, but they do not cover other important rights such as living wages, maximum working hours including overtime, and safe and healthy workplaces. A living wage is, for example, crucial to lift people out of poverty.


In the first phase of the project, four countries— Bangladesh, Cambodia, Pakistan, and Vietnam—were selected to explore the link between trade and labour standards in key industries characterized by global value chains, namely garments, footwear and electronics. These countries were chosen because they have experienced different schemes of trade preferences, notably with the European Union, but also with the United States.


The FES offices in Bangladesh, Pakistan and Vietnam have been instrumental in finding the lead researcher for each case study. Since FES does not have an office in Cambodia, this case study was completed by a team of researchers from the country with the support of the FES Office for Regional Cooperation in Asia. These offices are also responsible for the publication of the full reports.


The publication at hand contains only the executive summary of each case study together with a synopsis by Hansjörg Herr and Christoph Scherrer summarizing the findings of the studies. They provide compelling evidence for the need to address the decent work deficit in global value chains.


In parallel with the country studies, two other studies have been undertaken. The first examines social clauses in trade agreements and the reasons for their ineffectiveness. The second study estimates the potential tariff savings for EU importing companies upon entry into force of the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement.


In addition, the CLS+ project has commissioned a study to develop a model social clause that could be incorporated in future trade agreements. Although the future of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is uncertain, the EU is pursuing negotiations over bilateral free trade agreements with other countries in the world, not least in Asia.


The findings of the project could also be used to improve the schemes of generalised tariff preferences applied by the EU, both in terms of conditions to be met for the benefitting country and sanctions in case of non-compliance.


In the second phase of the project, once the research is finalized, a set of policy recommendations will be drafted for advocacy purposes. The office for regional cooperation in Asia and the national FES offices in the countries concerned will carry out a number of activities together with partners to disseminate the findings of the project, and continue to work on solutions to the challenges that have been identified.


Lastly, we would like to thank all those who have contributed to the project with their knowledge and insights, and helped shape this publication.


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