The International Labor Organization: The International Standards System and Basic Human Rights; Human Rights, Labor Rights, and International Trade

In This Review

The International Labor Organization: The International Standards System and Basic Human Rights

By Hector G. Bartolomei De La Cruz, Geraldo Von Potobsky, and L
Westview, 1996
296 pp. $69.95
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Human Rights, Labor Rights, and International Trade

Edited by Lance A. Compa and Stephen F. Diamond
University of Pennsylvania Press, 1996
311 pp. $39.95
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With the globalization of the economies of the rich countries, the question of international labor standards is likely to be pressed with greater urgency. The Swepston book, an extension and update of a Spanish book by his two co-authors, is basically a useful treatise on the International Labor Organization -- how it works, what actions it has taken, and the status of international labor standards and formal conventions on workers' rights. Unfortunately, it suffers from a limited (and sometimes misleading) index, so that readers have to dig around for what they want.

The second book is the product of a 1992 conference at Yale Law School, updated through 1994. Most of the 15 authors are sympathetic to pressing forward internationally on workers' and union rights, which they view largely from an American (legal) point of view. But there are useful contributions by Denis MacShane on the European social charter and by Philip Alston on fair labor standards in U.S. trade legislation. Alston finds these provisions at best hypocritical, since the United States itself has not ratified the relevant ILO conventions, and at worst bald protectionism clothed in the language of workers' rights. Several essays describe how transnational issues of workers' rights have entered American courts. There is much stimulating material here, although there is little recognition, beyond the essay by R. Michael Gadbaw and Michael T. Medwig, that many foreign workers, if they had to choose, might prefer wage- increasing economic development, as in many East Asian countries, to American conceptions of workers' rights. Hence there is too little discussion of the extent to which such a tradeoff might actually be in force.