The Need for International Labor Standards

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The Need for International Labor Standards

"The statesman, who should attempt to direct private people in what manner they ought to employ their capitals, would not only load himself with a most unnecessary attention, but assume an authority which could safely be trusted, not only to no single person, but to no single council or senate whatever, and which would nowhere be so dangerous as in the hands of a man who had folly and presumption enough to fancy himself fit to exercise it" (Smith, 1776: 456)


There is no question that the combination of the free market and rapidly advancing technologies has integrated the world economy to a level unsurpassed in history. In the quote that begins this chapter, Adam Smith asserts that government intervention in this free market is not only disruptive but also dangerous. However, it is essential that market forces be directed in a manner that is beneficial to working people as well as the owners of large capital interests. Countries that habitually ignore labor rights should not be permitted to enjoy unfair trading advantages at the expense of their workers.

Although Smith feels that governmental or supragovernmental intervention is harmful, it is essential that the rapid growth of free markets be tempered with compassion for those who are fueling this expansion. While there are a great multitude of organizations and laws that protect the interests of corporations, there is very little to protect the world’s working people. Smith, being an economist, is content to merely look at the macroeconomic picture without examining the human side of the situation. It is my thesis that the United States should make functioning and enforceable labor standards an integral part o...

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Ramos, Joseph R. 1970. Labor and Development in Latin America. New York: Columbia University Press.

Smith, Adam. 1976. [1776]. An Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. Indianapolis: The Liberty Fund.

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Van Grasstek, Craig. 1999. "Labor Rights." In Miguel Rodriguez Mendoza, et. al. 1999. Trade Rules in the Making. Washington, D.C.: The Brookings Institution.

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World Trade Organization. 1999. The WTO in Brief.

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