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Stephen Joseph Powell
Stephen Joseph Powell
Former US negotiator of trade and fisheries agreements and chief counsel of a large division of the US Department of Commerce implementing federal trade laws. In my second career, I teach and research international trade law and the effect of trade agreements on human rights.
Posted in Law

Book Review of "JUST TRADE"

Dec. 14, 2010 3:45 pm

Rebecca Smith, an accomplished practitioner and scholar in the field of international human rights for immigrant workers, has published a review of JUST TRADE: A NEW COVENANT LINKING TRADE AND HUMAN RIGHTS, my co-authored book with Prof. Berta E. Hernandez-Truyol. Ms. Smith is coordinator of the National Employment Law Project's Immigration Worker Justice Project.

Smith's review, which appears in the October issue of Cornell University's Industrial and Labor Relations Review, 64 Indus. & Lab. Rel. Rev. 13 (2010), notes that Berta and I "attempt to end the 'splendid isolation' of the two areas of law. They argue that trade rules can be read--and in fact were meant--to support human rights. The authors intend the book to be a catalyst for discussion and development of policy coherence in these two areas. They should be applauded for an ambitious, even courageous, foray into this minefield and for a carefully developed, thought-provoking presentation."

Ms. Smith received the United Farm Workers of America’s Aztec Eagle Award, as well as special recognition by the Foreign Minister of Mexico for her work on behalf of undocumented workers before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. She believes that "Just Trade presents a number of bold ideas for the incorporation of human rights standards in trade matters. . . . As a labor rights practitioner, I found a number of these ideas thought-provoking, including that of bringing more human rights issues to the WTO's dispute panels and bringing more human rights elements to trade treaties. For example, Hernandez-Truyol and Powell suggest that the WTO could be a forum for harmonizing human rights and trade law."

Smith wonders whether governments lack the political will to apply our suggested approaches, "either out of fear that their own practices will be exposed, or because they fear jeopardizing other national interests that always seem to merit higher priority than human rights." She cites a tragic case as an example, that of the 2008 claim against Guatemala by labor unions under the new Dominican Republic-Central America-US regional trade agreement alleging illegal firing, death threats, and even reports of murder. Despite findings by the U.S. Dept. of Labor that petitioners' claims were overwhelmingly supported, the U.S. administration refused to seek action under the agreement's strong enforcement provisions.

Looking forward to the "continued development of [our book's] ideas," Smith observes that we "recommend further reforms in the area of trade regulation, suggesting first that trade rules should require multinational corporations to provide assurance that they are abiding by labor standards in order to gain access to favorable treatment, and second that new trade agreements should include a human rights impact statement to test what effect trade liberalization will have on issues such as the treatment of women, poverty, and migration."

Stephen J. Powell, Lecturer in Law, UF College of Law

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