Date: Fri, 13 Jun 97 10:52:14 CDT
From: rich%pencil@VTVM1.CC.VT.EDU (Rich Winkel)
Organization: PACH
Article: 12686

/** 442.0 **/
** Topic: Social Clause For GSP **
** Written 9:12 PM Jun 11, 1997 by labornews in **
From: Institute for Global Communications <>

A social clause for the GSP?

By Natacha David, ICFTU Online..., 160/970611/ND, 11 June 1997

Anxious to speed things up, the European Commission has made public a document on the new Social Clause, or incentive clause as it calls it. The unions supoprt this step, but wan't to be sure that this Social Clause is accompanied by effective application mechanisms.

Brussels, June 11 1997 (ICFTU OnLine): The European Commission is relaunching the debate on social clauses through its publication tomorrow of a working document on the Generalised System of Preferences, which it presented to Member States at the end of May. This document analyses the state of progress on this subject in the WTO, the ILO and the OECD and proposes various options in its conclusions.

The EU's Generalised System of Preferences provides for even more preferential customs tariffs to be granted to the countries that apply the strictest labour standards, namely the respect of the freedom of association and the absence of child labour (only forced labour and the export of products produced in prison were concerned before). The Commission will shortly be proposing to the European Council concrete proposals for the application of these incentive, rather than punitive, clauses, says the Commission.

For the ICFTU, the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) and the European trade union committee for the textile industry (ETUC-THC), this document is fairly open on the subject of the application of the incentive clause. A few months ago, the ICFTU sent a proposal to the European Commission concerning the monitoring of the application of the incentive clause which may be integrated into the new version of the Generalised System of Preferences in 1988. At the end of May, a joint delegation from the ICFTU, the ETUC and the ETUC-THC held informal discussions with Commission officials to discuss their proposal.

Two stages

The Commission wants to act quickly and the trade unions intend to respect that intention, but nonetheless express reservations over the timetable for the application of these social clauses. The Commission foresees a procedure in two stages. First, countries which wish to benefit from the preferential social clause must show that they have introduced legislation to ensure the respect of ILO standards or equivalent measures. Then, case by case, governments must certify that the products concerned have been manufactured in acceptable conditions. In Pakistan, for example, the football industry, which has accepted a FIFA code of conducted adopted following trade union pressure, must hencefoward meet the standards required. It is highly unlikely that it could make the same claim for other types of production, such as brick manufacturing for example.

Trade union reservations

The trade unions have three reservations regarding the Commission's proposals. First, the unions stress the need to establish a waiting period, three weeks for example, between the first and second stages, so that if interested parties such as the ICFTU, the ETUC or the ETUC-THC can clearly prove that the country concerned is not respecting the required standards, the country will be barred from moving on to the second stage. Secondly, the trade unions are concerned that there are too few European officials responsible for monitoring the standards. For the textile industry for example, only two officials, who already have the onerous task of combating dumping, have been assigned to carry out this monitoring.

Thirdly, the trade unions insist that this incentive clause be applied to the real producer countries, not those which in reality are exporters, to prevent countries such as Bangladesh for example from seeking to benefit from the clause to export clothing which has in fact been manufactured in China. The ETUC and the ICFTU have twice invoked the social clause in the European GSP to oppose forced labour in Pakistan and in Burma, winning notable success in the second case on March 24 this year.