Minister tells trade body to act on child workers

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The Independent Online
THE WORLD Trade Organisation must press for better labour conditions in developing countries, a cabinet minister told the body's new head yesterday.

Stephen Byers, Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, raised the issue in his first meeting with the WTO's new director general, Michael Moore.

He wants the world trade body to set up a new permanent forum with the International Labour Office, which has set conventions against abuses such as child labour but is often unable to implement them.

Mr Byers also wants a joint study between the two organisations to look at how better labour standards can be tied to agreements on trade liberalisation, which would allow developing countries to sell more goods to the West. "The important thing is to get the two organisations talking to each other properly, which at the moment they don't," Mr Byers said.

The Department of Trade and Industry says it believes it has a moral duty to address labour standards in less developed countries. Many big UK high street firms now do much of their manufacturing in the poorer parts of the world, where child labour is still common and wages are often low.

UK ministers will address the issue at the next world trade round in Seattle in November. However, the move is unlikely to satisfy campaigning groups who are calling for a human rights clause to be put into any agreement.

The Department of Trade and Industry says that to push developing countries too hard could be self-defeating because it could lead to them walking out of the talks altogether.

Campaigning groups welcomed the move last night but said it would not go far enough. They want to see a "social clause" in any agreement struck in November. Penny Fowler, policy adviser for Oxfam, said strengthening links between the WTO and the labour organisation would be a step in the right direction.