Debates and action regarding tying labor rights to international trade agreements came to a head in the 1990s with the rapid expansion of global commerce and increasing concerns about its social impacts. Since then, many countries began to promote international labor rights through their trade agreements and trade preference schemes. The United States has always been at the forefront of the movement to codify labor rights by establishing trade preference laws into preferential trade agreements.

The Capstone team was tasked by the Office of International Labor Affairs in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor at the US Department of State to chart the evolution of intergovernmental labor rights accountability mechanisms and to survey a wide range of innovative approaches to promote labor rights and to hold violating parties accountable. During the past three months, the team interviewed domain experts and constructed a database containing various accountability mechanisms through which labor complaints can be made or labor violations can be highlighted, specifically violations by a government of its international labor commitments.  The team also reviewed the history of their adoption. The final deliverable contains a variety of agreements to which the United States is not an active party in addition to those in which it is. These include:

  • EPAs and other international agreements where the US is not an active party;
  • Bilateral agreements, MOUs and engagements where the United States is an active party, including FTAs;
  • Regional trade agreements among developing countries where such agreements make reference to labor rights, such as the South American Common Market (MERCOSUR) and Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)