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Integrating Trade and Decent Work

New research analyses how trade and labour market polices can support decent work

Integrating labour standards into trade and investment policies can balance economic and social goals, the ILO research finds.

News | 27 November 2023
GENEVA (ILO News) – New research on how trade policies and labour market tools can be used to reduce inequalities and poverty and support sustainable development, has been unveiled at a high-level ILO event.

The two-volume publication was launched at the seminar, Integrating Trade and Decent Work: What Works and Why, organized to throw light on the role played by trade policies, strategies, and labour market institutions in promoting all aspects of decent work – including income, labour rights and working conditions.

Volume I: Has Trade Led to Better Jobs? Findings Based on the ILO’s Decent Work Indicators, examines trade's impact on labour and employment in various countries and policy options. It includes an analysis of the role of women in export-driven industries, the uneven distribution of trade benefits, the role of labour market institutions and analysis of some specific countries.

Volume II: The Potential of Trade and Investment Policies to Address Labour Market Issues in Supply Chains, delves into how trade policies can address labour market challenges, particularly structural imbalances, and looks at how integrating labour standards into trade and investment policies can balance economic and social goals.

The analysis reveals a diverse range of findings regarding the effects of trade on workers and Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SMEs), but one striking commonality is the impact of trade on women’s employment. The study shows that international trade has been a catalyst for the formalization process, especially for female workers. However, more jobs for men and women do not necessarily translate into an improvement of gender equality in terms of occupational segregation, pay, and access to training opportunities.

Trade policies, including, bi- and pluri-lateral trade agreements, have emerged as major tools in addressing these imbalances through the strengthening of domestic institutions to combat gender-based discrimination and enhance the capacity of women. Some multilateral programmes, such as Aid for Trade, are also addressing gender discrimination in employment and gender-based violence in export-oriented sectors.

The seminar, held at the ILO on 27 November, included a panel discussion that brought together senior representatives from the ILO, World Trade Organization, UNCTAD, representatives of workers’ and employers’ organizations, government representatives and other key institutions.

The new research aims to deepen understanding of the complex relationship between trade, investment and labour market policies. It’s intended to help align trade policies and domestic labour market institutions so that they reduce inequalities, poverty and social protection gaps and support sustainable development.

The two volumes are part of the project “Supportive domestic policies for better social, labour market and sustainable enterprise outcomes” (SUPPORT), funded by the Government of Flanders, Belgium.