Document Type



Despite the increases in global wealth attributable to globalization and increased international trade, the damage done by socially irresponsible production practices remains an area of concern for international human and labor rights advocates. Because international trade law under the World Trade Organization (WTO) imposes strict limitations on the policy options available to Member States, international human rights and international trade have been viewed as fundamentally at odds with one another. This Article argues that market-based incentives can be used to allow international trade to reinforce established human rights principles, rather than constantly undermining government attempts to formulate appropriate policy solutions.

This Article proposes that the United States create and implement a voluntary, government-run system of human rights label. Like the content positive labels currently offered for organic products, this human rights labeling system would provide consumers with additional information in order to reward producers who had met certain standards. Unlike the current system that allows producers to place whatever “human rights” labels that they want on their products and allows numerous third-party certification schemes, a government-run system could serve to create one label that consumers will recognize as credible, consistent, and enforceable.

Most importantly, the labeling system proposed by this Article does not run afoul of the United States’s commitments under the WTO. The two relevant agreements, the Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT Agreement) and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), are examined in depth for any possible conflicts. The Article concludes that because of the voluntary nature of the label, the proposed labeling scheme should be able to survive scrutiny by a WTO dispute settlement panel, if it such a challenge were to arise. Further, the Article argues that the label could be justified as a general exception, as provided for in Article XX of the GATT.

Date of Authorship for this Version

October 2008