Decent Work and Africa-EU Trade Relations

CC - courtesy of Wikipedia

CC – courtesy of Wikipedia

The European Union has vigorously restated its commitment to core labour standards in the global South in the aftermath of the recent Bangladeshi garments factory disaster. Officials have reaffirmed that EU trade policy is aligned to pro-poor development outcomes, and that Europe’s economic ties with developing countries take into account the interests of working people. In particular, the European Commission has emphasised its endorsement of the International Labour Organisation’s “Decent Work Agenda”. This policy platform strives to improve workers’ well-being in global trade networks through pursuit of four interrelated objectives:

1. Increase employment in productive sectors in the global South

2. Promote respect of core labour standards in these sectors

3. Facilitate social dialogue e.g. in terms of trade union recognition

4. Provide social protection e.g. in relation to pensions and sick pay

In the aftermath of the recent disaster, the Delegation of the European Union to Bangladesh notably stated that ‘occupational safety and health is a core element of the Decent Work agenda and that the EU, along with other partners, has been supporting through concrete projects…. working conditions in factories in the garments sector’. Full statement available at: http://eeas.europa.eu/delegations/bangladesh/press_corner/all_news/news/2012/20121128_en.htm

In the case of Europe’s trade and development co-operation with the African, Caribbean, and Pacific (ACP) countries, however, there are mounting concerns as to whether EU policies are promoting decent work opportunities for ‘the poor’. In particular, there are concerns that the European Commission’s pursuit of trade liberalisation in ACP states under Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) does much to jeopardise jobs in import-competing sectors such as textiles and poultry. Meanwhile, forms of employment encouraged within export-oriented sectors such as cut-flower production often revolve around a business model predicated on the exploitation of cheap labour. In this context, there are fears that Europe’s discursive commitment to ‘decent work’ acts more to sanitise developmentally dubious trade policies than to facilitate genuine movement to a fairer global trade system.

These concerns are the subject of a recent paper assessing Europe’s performance in terms of decent work objectives in its relations with ACP countries. The paper entitled ‘Decent Work and ACP-EU Relations’ is freely available to download from the Social Sciences Research Network (SSRN) database: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2276947

For further work on Europe’s relations with ACP countries, please see Dr Mark Langan’s research profile at: http://www.leedsmet.ac.uk/research/dr-mark-langan.htm

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