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Broadbent says labour rights must be respected in NAFTA, Canada-China FTA, CETA

The Council of Canadians agrees with former NDP leader Ed Broadbent that labour rights must be explicitly recognized and enforced within trade agreements.

In an op-ed published in today’s The Globe and Mail, Broadbent says, “There is widespread recognition of the fact that right-wing populism is, in good measure, due to the anger of working-class families in advanced democracies. Once the well-paid bastion of support for democracy in the North Atlantic region, millions of workers in the United States, Britain and France have shifted their allegiance to leaders and parties that are authoritarian, racist and abusive of human rights. In doing so, they have accurately perceived that international trade agreements in recent decades have been remarkably successful in protecting the rights of capital and enriched the top one per cent.”

He notes, “One part of a response to growing inequality is to change the rules of the game in international trade. The Liberal government has suggested it wants such change. It claims to believe in ‘progressive trade’. However, in the recent negotiations with Europe, the government signed on to a pact, the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, that pays only lip service to labour rights. …The coming renegotiation of the North American free-trade agreement and the possibility of a trade and investment deal with China should not be occasions to replicate past errors. Rather, they should be used as an opportunity to address this serious democratic deficit.”

Broadbent then highlights, “While neither China nor Mexico nor any developing country should be obliged by other countries to raise wages, they should be obligated to respect basic human rights. In the context of trade agreements, this would include the right to an independent union and the right to bargain collectively. These rights have been entrenched in international human-rights conventions and are part of international law. However, these rights are manifestly not respected in either Mexico or China, which suppress truly independent labour organizations.”

He concludes, “Why should agreements provide effective enforcement mechanisms to protect the property rights of corporations but deny the human rights of workers? …What the world desperately needs is a system of global rules fair to both capital and labour. Such a system would require all World Trade Organization members to respect and ratify basic labour rights, notably the right to independent unions as defined by the International Labour Organization. Such a system would also entail an enforcement mechanism with sanctions such as those which now exist to protect corporations’ rights.”

The Council of Canadians is committed to continuing to build alliances with organized labour and to support workers against corporate globalization and unjust practices everywhere. We oppose corporate-dominated trade agreements, including those now manipulatively spun as an ‘openness to the world’, and instead promote the alternative idea of trading relationships that truly serve people and the planet.

For more on our trade campaign, please click here.