This chapter examines ‘labor’ as an issue which international organizations have attempted to regulate over the last century by using legal and other techniques to construct modes and structures of governance. It begins by setting out the five reasons why the terrain of labour is especially difficult for IOs to negotiate. It then considers how these reasons both structure and complicate the competing narratives of the labour issue, in the context of the roles and actions of prominent IOs as well as significant events and debates. It is argued that the long-held narrative about international labour standards as a necessary cost to be paid in order to either to constrain markets in the name of fairness, or to avoid radical social outcomes, is today inadequate. Rather, a new, alternative account is needed: that labour law can be, and is best seen, as holding positive value for both the creation of real human freedom, just societies and economic progress.
Trade liberalization and the improvement of labour and social conditions find expression and operate coherently and consistently with each other. The aim of this article is to explore the legal relationship between World Trade Organization (WTO) norms and labour norms and, in particular, whether and how labour considerations can be intertwined with the interpretation and application of WTO rights and obligations so that WTO Members, as States, can benefit from, and comply with, both trade and labour international regimes. This article looks at trade and labour issues from three perspectives. The first one is the extent to which some WTO multilateral trade disciplines provide policy space for labour concerns. Another one is the extent to which Members can agree to make regional arrangements that pursue labour objectives. The last perspective concerns unilateral trade preferential agreements, where compliance with labour standards is becoming a criterion for trade preferences.