Labour cooperation

Cooperation programs, included in the majority of trade agreements, provide partners with the necessary conditions to comply with their commitments. Cooperation may help improve workers’ rights, consolidate financial and administrative resources to ensure compliance with labour laws (control and inspection, tackle informal employment) and strengthen ministerial capacities for better understanding the reality of workers. Governments and members of civil society may collaborate in the development or implementation of these programs. Moreover, cooperation provisions in trade agreements rely on institutions (ministerial council, ministerial contact points and Permanent Secretariat) for the implementation of cooperation programs aiming to improve the practices of each country.

Types of cooperation may include:

  • Financial assistance
  • Technical cooperation
  • Joint Research and Study Programs
  • Information Sharing


Ways to improve cooperation:

  • Increasing financial resources allocated to cooperation programs.
  • Increasing civil society’s involvement in cooperation programs.
  • Developing and implementing action and/or remediation plans to strengthen cooperation.

Arguments in favour

  • Sharing of best practices in labour is an effective way to promote respect for fundamental workers’ rights.
  • Financially assisting developing countries is essential to ensure compliance with their commitments and obtain tangible progress.
  • The exchange of information, on legislation and on the reality of workers, allows for more targeted action.

Arguments against

  • Cooperation is not sufficiently binding to enable real change in State practices.
  • Cooperation undermines State sovereignty and the internal cooperation process.
  • Financial assistance is a waste if it is not linked to well-designed programs and effective monitoring mechanisms.

What they said:


«The only route that offers any hope of a better future for all humanity is that of cooperation and partnership.»

Koffi Annan. Speech pronounced at the UN General Assembly on 24 September 2001



«It is precisely the countries that permit the greatest exploitation (in other words, primarily the industrialising countries) that set the standards for the rest of the world.»

Ray Marshall, former Secretary of Labour of the United States. “The Importance of International Labour Standards in a more competitive global economy”, in Sengenberger W. and Campbell D., “International Labour and Labour Interdependence”. International Institute for Labour Studies, Geneva, 1994



«The central objection to social clauses in trade agreements is generally that they violate the sovereignty of nation states by prescribing their social policy.»

Christoph Scherrer. «The Economic and Political Arguments for and against Social Clauses». Intereconomics: Review of European Economic Policy, vol. 31, n°1, January 1996



«Social dialogue is defined by the International Labour Office to include all types of negotiation, consultation or simply exchange of information between, or among, representatives of governments, employers and workers, on issues of common interest relating to economic and social policy.»

International Labour Office (ILO). «Social Dialogue: Seeking a common voice». Geneva, 2005