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Law in Context

Abstract from Volume 21 (2003) Balancing Act

Labour Issues in Times of Globalisation: Is the Social Clause an Appropriate Legal Response?

Jill Murray is a Lecturer in the School of Law, La Trobe University. She has published in Australia and Europe on Australian, European and international labour law. She holds Masters degrees from the University of Melbourne and Oxford University, and a DPhil from Oxford University. She was a member of the Knowledge Network appointed to assist the ILO’s World Commission on the Social Dimen­sions of Globalisation in the area of corporate social responsibility, and her paper to the international group of experts will be published soon. Dr Murray is currently researching inter­national legal develop­ments in the area of the reconciliation of work and family life.

This article suggests that the ‘social clause’ debate has to date hinged on a monolithic characterisation of a single ‘labour issue’ in the context of globalisation. The article seeks to unpack the ‘labour issue’ and, in so doing, three key themes in labour and globalisation are identified: a protectionist theme, an anti-sweatshop theme and a poverty alleviation theme. Not only does each theme emerge from largely distinct political, economic and academic discourses, but also each theme appears to call for different regulatory responses. These differences are discussed in the context of a social clause – universal rules administered and enforced by the WTO – based on the core labour standards of the International Labour Organization (ILO). Two tentative conclusions are made: ILO rules appear flexible and open-textured enough to accommodate various aspects of the demands made within the three themes, and enforcement by the WTO raises difficult questions about the need to ensure the ILO’s continued jurisdiction over its rule-making and interpretation.

(2003) 21 Law in Context 283

   
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