WTO and women’s labour rights in developing countries

3 / 2008
Viktorija Balciunaite


The impacts of WTO on women’s labour rights in the developing countries have been raised to the international agenda by various nongovernmental organizations. On the one hand it is assumed that international trade policies are gender neutral. On the other hand a number of authors hold the view that the negative impacts of WTO policies are more pronounced on female than male workers. This paper takes a critical look at these claims. It argues that the impact of the WTO system, the driving force of trade liberalization, on women’s labour rights in the developing countries is a complicated issue, because the effects have been both negative and positive. In support of this claim, this paper first briefly reviews the international framework for the protection of women’s labour rights. Next, the WTO agreements and policies are analysed insofar as they are relevant for the protection of women’s labour rights. The analysis covers, for example, the use of the trade policy review mechanism and restrictions of trade on grounds of violation of public morals.. Finally, a case study is conducted on the situation of female workers in Bangladesh and Pakistan, countries that have recently undergone a liberalization of trade in the textiles and clothing sectors. It is concluded that the increase of international trade in the developing countries has created many work opportunities for women, helped them to become more independent and allowed them to participate in the society more actively. However, it is at the same time posited that in order to comply with its own objectives of raising standards of living and full employment, the WTO should engage itself in active policies to overcome the negative aspects of trade on female workers in the developing countries.

About the author

Viktorija Balciunaite has graduated from Mykolas Romeris University in Vilnius, Lithuania in 2006 and obtained Master’s degree in International and Comparative Law of the IES Program on International Legal Cooperation (PILC) in 2007. At the moment she is working in the European Law Department of the Ministry of Justice in Vilnius, Lithuania.