Belgian proposal for ‘social labelling’ assailed at WTO

by Chakravarthi Raghavan

Geneva, 30 March 2001 - - A proposal before the Belgian Parliament to enable and facilitate ‘social labelling’ of products came in for sharp criticisms Friday at the World Trade Organization in the Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade.

Such a proposal has been mooted in the Belgian Parliament (Senate) by a private member, and has been notified by the European Commission at its website and inviting comments before 31 May 2001.

Though it would technically be characterised as a voluntary non-governmental effort, and the label attached to a country’s observance of core labour standards, the proposal would in fact be officially sanctioned, and thus would run foul of the WTO’s Technical Barriers to Trade Agreement, particularly the provisions of the agreement in Art. 2.

At the meeting of the TBT committee a number of countries raised the issue and strongly criticised the move and expressed their concerns,

The countries that expressed their concerns included the ASEAN, Egypt, Hong Kong China, Brazil, India, Canada, Argentina and Pakistan.

The delegations expressed their concerns over the attempts to inject the labour standards issue into trade and the trade organization.

Apart from this, there was concern that developing countries and their exports would be targeted.

For e.g. the United States has not ratified the core labour standards convention, but says these are part of its constitutional guarantees and observed.

But there are a number of developing countries who have not also ratified the all the seven conventions, with some holding back since as it stands it would apply to civil servants and government services.

Soon after the 1994 Marrakesh meeting and the signing of the agreement, the then ILO Director-General, Mr.Hansenne (of Belgium) had mooted the idea of ‘social labelling’ but it got short shrift at the ILO itself..

The EC explained at the TBT committee that at this point it was a private  member’s initiative in the Belgian Parliament, but that comments on the proposal could be provided to the EC up to 31 May. –SUNS4868

The above article first appeared in the South-North Development Monitor (SUNS) of which Chakravarthi Raghavan is the Chief Editor.

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