A “Social Clause” through the Back Door? Labor Provisions in Preferential Trade Agreements

What are the causes and the consequences of labour provisions in preferential trade agreements?


International developments in the social dimension of globalization have long gone unnoticed because progress towards social regulation of global capitalism has been slow or insignificant. In the past ten years, there has been a spectacular growth of preferential trade agreements (PTAs) with references to labor provisions. This is a remarkable and somewhat surprising development, given the failed attempt to include a social clause to multilateral trade agreements as recently as the 1990s.

This project investigates the causes and consequences of labor provisions in PTAs. The objective of this research is to deepen our understanding of how to improve labour standards in the context of globalization. Beyond providing an original academic contribution, the research outputs will be of great policy relevance given how collective labor rights have come under increased strain worldwide as a result of deepening economic globalization, skill-biased technological change and the 2007-08 global financial crisis. By probing deeper into the interests of developed and developing countries to link trade and labor issues, this project will shed light on the likelihood of future inclusion of social issues in the multilateral trade system.


  • International trade
  • Labor rights
  • Trade unions
  • Social development
  • Global governance


  • Development
  • Economics
  • Human rights
  • International relations
  • Political science


International Organisations:

  • International Labour Organisation (ILO)

Non Governmental Organisations:

  • European Trade Union Institute

States & Public Collectivities:

  • Union Syndicale Suisse

Relevant Countries

  • All countries


This project, started in 2014, has been completed.

Contact the project team

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Research team

Damian Raess
Université de Genève

Cédric Dupont
Graduate Institute Geneva

Marcelo Olarreaga
Université de Genève

Sonja Peters
Principal Member
Université de Genève

Dòra Sàri
Principal Member
Université de Genève

José Corpataux
Associated Member
Union Syndicale Suisse

Andreas Dür
Associated Member
Universität Salzburg

David Kucera
Associated Member
International Labour Organisation (ILO)

Joost Pauwelyn
Associated Member
Graduate Institute Geneva

Philippe Pochet
Associated Member
European Trade Union Confederation