Are trade and investment proper tools for creating decent work for all?

As part of the new EU trade and investment strategy, the EU seeks to make trade agreements more effective and more transparent while creating new job opportunities. In particular, the EU wants to use trade policy to support inclusive growth and promote the development of the poorest countries. However, criticisms and doubts have been shared among trade unions and civil society organisations concerning the effective and real contribution of trade agreements to creating decent work opportunities.

In this context, the question “Can the EU better support job creation in developing countries?”  has been raised and debated during a conference co-organised by the ITUC, ETUC and ActionAid.

 rom a quantitative perspective, evidence shows that trade has been an important tool for job creation in both developed and developing countries. However, when one is looking from a qualitative angle, trade may look much less attractive. Although the number of jobs may have increased, it did so by offering unsafe low-paid jobs with questionable working conditions and without the provision of proper social protection and security systems.

Among the main issues that were raised during the conference, the following points stood out:

  • the power imbalance and asymmetrical relationship in which developing countries have less room for negotiation;
  • the rapid pace of industrialisation, that is too fast and too soon, which may severely harm developing countries. Instead, a correct management with phase-in, phase-out and sequences would be more appropriate;
  • the issue of values, which does not reflect the real value of goods;
  • the lack of gender perspective in trade and investments policies contributing to deepening the gender gap.

It is up to the EU to ensure that its trade and investment policies go hand in hand with the respect of human rights, equality and social justice. In this regard, Agenda 2030 and the Decent Work Agenda offer a comprehensive framework which promotes cooperation and stresses that inter-linkages between the economic, social and environmental dimensions are essential to development.

In the framework of the Progressive Lab for Sustainable Development, SOLIDAR together with FEPS and the S&D group further explores some of the above-mentioned issues through papers of young researchers’ on the inclusion of labour standards in the Economic Partnership Agreements.

Related content