Trade-Based Strategies for Combatting Child Labor

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Trade-Based Strategies for Combatting Child Labor

Digital Commons @ Boston College Law School
  • Human Rights
  • International Trade
  • International Law
  • Sanctions
  • Child Labor
  • International Labor Rights


International commerce facilitates abusive child labor when it offers a market for the goods produced through such practices. International trade sanctions are thus a logical avenue for confronting abusive child labor, by eliminating the commercial opportunities for such goods. However, it is not clear that domestic child labor sanctions would survive legal challenge under WTO law as currently interpreted. For international trade law to serve as a viable strategy for change, there must first be a clear theoretical and doctrinal case for the WTO-consistency of domestic child labor-based sanctions. In this chapter, we present this case, using the U.S. section 307 forced labor statute as an example. Relying on existing case law of GATT panels and the WTO Appellate Body, we demonstrate how a child labor sanction can be held consistent with the exceptions in GATT Article XX for measures protecting public morals, and measures protecting human life and health, provided it is implemented in a non-discriminatory manner. By offering a strategy for guiding domestic trade sanctions through a WTO challenge, we suggest how the full power of international trade can be deployed in the service of vulnerable children, enabling WTO members to act affirmatively against child labor practices.

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