Pushed out the Door, Back in through the Window: The Role of the ILO in EU and US Trade Agreements in Facilitating the Decent Work Agenda


  • Rafael Peels International Labour Organisation
  • Marialaura Fino International Labour Organisation




Although the debate on the inclusion of labour provisions in trade agreements seemed to be closed after the multilateral trade negotiations in the late 1990s, it is revived in the current negotiation of the EU–US Transatlantic Trade and Investment Agreement (TTIP). TTIP negotiations are of particular importance in this regard as the agreement is believed to set the norm for future negotiations. This paper examines the evolution of labour provisions in the EU and US trade agreements in the past two decades. It finds that: First, labour provisions are increasingly included in trade agreements of the US and the EU. Second, ILO instruments are the main reference here, and they often include an explicit reference to the decent work agenda. Third, reference to the role of the ILO in the implementation of labour commitments is less explicit, but leaves the door open for involvement in various ways, mainly through technical cooperation activities, monitoring or via a consultative role in dispute settlement mechanisms.The analysis leads to the conclusion that whereas the trade–labour linkage and the role of the ILO in trade may have been pushed out of the multilateral trade system, the discussion revived in the framework of pluri-lateral trade negotiations.

Author Biographies

Rafael Peels, International Labour Organisation

Research Officer, ILO Research Department

Marialaura Fino, International Labour Organisation

Research Assistant, ILO Research Department


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