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Elissa Alben (2001), "GATT and The Fair Wage: A Historical Perspective on the Labor-Trade Link", Columbia Law Review v. 101 (October) p. 1410.

22 January 2001

by Michèle Rioux

This Note examines the emerging definition of fundamental labor standards from the perspective of the purposes and policies expressed in the original General Agreement on Tariff and Trade (GATT). Part I reviews recent approaches under existing GATT/WTO provisions to the problem of labor standards and trade, as well as efforts to adopt a universal definition of labor standards. The author concludes that the modern emphasis on Article XX (the WTO "exceptions clause") is closely linked to the historical understanding of what constituted fundamental labor standards at the inception of the GATT. Part II analyzes the debates about trade and labor standards in the early postwar period and in the 1953 GATT negotiations. The author finds that the early GATT treaty was predicated on a conception of fair labor standards as fair wages, a conception that differs markedly from modern human rights based conceptions. In Part III, the author argues that the wage based view of labor standards holds important legal and procedural implications for how—and whether—human rights based labor provisions could be incorporated into the GATT/WTO today. The author concludes that because concerns about "fair labor standards" were integral to early GATT negotiations, history is not on the side of those who advocate entirely delinking trade and labor issues.

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