DRI Partners Reinforce Human and Labour Rights

Three of DRI’s partners have recently concluded their respective projects in Paraguay, the Kyrgyz Republic and Cabo Verde as part of our EU-funded programme, ‘Promoting Human and Labour Rights through GSP+’.

Read on to find out how each of them completed their important work on promoting and protecting human and labour rights.

Paraguay: Examining trade, human and labour rights in-depth

The Centre for Analysis and Promotion of the Paraguayan Economy (CADEP) held two events in December last year to mark the culmination of their work, carried out over the previous two years. They have explored trade and human rights in-depth, focusing on issues such as child labour, the broader state of economic, social and cultural rights in the country, the diversification of Paraguay’s economy during and after leaving the GSP+ scheme in January 2019, and case studies that examined how these issues emerge in the rice and sugar sectors.

Among their recommendations to the EU and the Paraguayan government were the creation of national anti-discrimination law, the ratification of the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, allowing individuals to present complaints of violations at the international level and increased investment in programmes which reduce child labour.

Together CADEP’s reports provide a comprehensive overview of developments and challenges that relate to the basic rights of local communities, economic production, and external trade. These reports can be found here (in Spanish).

CADEP researcher Gustavo Rojas presents during an event in December 2019

Kyrgyzstan: Strengthening labour rights

The Coalition for Democracy and Civil Society presented its findings at a press conference held on January 30. The Coalition and its civil society partners focused on the violations of labour rights for women and children in the Kyrgyz Republic. These same reports were also submitted to the European Union. Recommendations from the reports included the adoption of an action plan to eliminate the worst forms of child labour and a campaign to educate both workers and employers about the right to equal pay, with the involvement of unions, labour inspectors, judges and others.

Prior to this, the Coalition’s project had succeeded in developing a working group with partners in civil society, to whom the Coalition provided training and tools for monitoring and reporting these issues. A national survey conducted by the Coalition in 2019 also revealed that the majority of Kyrgyz people have little knowledge of human and labour rights and the obligations of their government to promote and protect them.

Cabo Verde: Raising awareness and using data to promote human rights

The National Commission for Human Rights and Citizenship (CNDHC) released a study on the knowledge and use of international human rights conventions among judges, magistrates and parliamentarians in Cabo Verde. CNDHC’s organised a national campaign, that was also supported by the UN, to raise awareness and understanding of human rights across the country. This campaign saw the CNDHC engage with schools, prisons, homeless shelters, community centres and national media outlets to ensure this information reached as wide and diverse an audience as possible. These different groups, along with the wider population in Cabo Verde, will now have a greater sense of their rights and the means to realise and protect them.

Participants during a community meeting in September 2019 under CNDHC’s national human rights campaign

Other activities during the project included the creation of a research unit within the CNDHC to make data and analysis available for a range of stakeholders, training workshops for both CNDHC staff and local civil society groups, and a national seminar at which participants from both government and civil society discussed the need to raise awareness of rights among vulnerable groups, as well as the impact of convention implementation on the country’s social and economic development.


The work accomplished in Paraguay, Kyrgyzstan and Cabo Verde is part of the EU-funded programme “Promoting Human and Labour Rights through GSP+”, implemented in nine countries by DRI and our local partners since 2017.


GSP+: Working with civil society to promote human and labour rights

In this video, we take you around the globe, stopping by nine countries to hear more about what DRI and its partners are doing to help promote human and labour rights, why it’s important and what impact it has all had so far! Find out how we work to support civil society and social partners to become effective advocates and drivers of change.


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This change is ultimately intended to be that the beneficiary countries of the European Union’s Generalized Scheme of Preferences Plus (GSP+) meet their commitments to effectively implement core international human and labour rights conventions, in exchange for the removal of tariffs on a range of products exported to the EU.

This video is available with subtitles in the official languages of all nine countries that are part of the project.


This video was produced as part of the EU-funded programme
‘Promoting Human and Labour Rights through GSP+’.

Booklet: How Pakistan is increasing its exports abroad while improving human and labour rights at home

Booklet on the EU GSP+ status for policymakers to help Pakistan further benefit from the scheme.  

DRI published this booklet (in English and Urdu) to highlight the impact of the GSP+ facility in Pakistan and to provide a snapshot of the economic and trade benefits Pakistan has reaped since receiving the GSP+ status. The Generalised Scheme of Preferences (GSP) of the European Union (EU) allows developing countries to pay less or no duties on their exports to the EU. GSP+, a component of GSP, offers additional trade incentives to developing countries in return for the implementation of 27 international conventions related to human and labour rights. The European Union is mandated to review Pakistan’s human rights progress every two years under GSP+.

DRI has been working on human rights in Pakistan since 2014 and in 2016, an earlier version of this booklet was published, which outlined the implications of Pakistan’s inclusion in the European Union’s Generalised Scheme of Preferences Plus (GSP+).

This booklet serves as a useful resource guide for all Pakistanis, especially policymakers and businessmen who are interested in learning more about GSP+ and how Pakistan can leverage the scheme for economic development while transforming compliance structures and increasing diversification of its exports. You can find out more about GSP+ here.


This project is funded by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ).

Pakistan: Increasing exports abroad while improving human rights at home

Javed Ahmed Malik, DRI’s Country Representative in Pakistan, examines how the EU’s GSP+ trade scheme influences human and labour rights in the country. This article was first published in Süd Asien, a German-language publication.  

There is no doubt that the EU’s export quota to Pakistan, known as the Generalised Scheme of Preferences Plus (GSP+), has helped the country boost its exports as well as focus on improving the human rights situation in the country. Since Pakistan’s balance of payment[1] has been consistently negative in the past few years and as the country is heavily dependent upon external financing as well as sustained growth in exports, it is important for the country to retain its GSP+ status with the EU. This is especially true given that the EU is a key market for textiles, with Germany as Pakistan’s fourth-largest trading partner with 5.6 % of total exports[2] after the US, China and the UK. Pakistan’s business council estimated that Germany represented 16% of the total Pakistani exports to the EU in 2018[3]. Germany is also a major exporter to Pakistan and represented 24% of Pakistan’s imports from the EU and 2% of Pakistan’s total imports worldwide.[4]

The EU’s report on GSP+ status is expected in January 2020 and there is a guarded expectation that the country may retain its status due to recent steps taken by the state. However, Pakistani civil society groups often air worries on the country’s progress given the nature of the challenges the country continues to face in implementing laws and showing actual results on the ground.

There has been progress over the last few years. The country has taken several steps to improve minority rights, curb terror and improve the implementation of human rights policies in Punjab, its largest province. In Sindh, which is Pakistan’s second-largest province, the government has gone even further to focus on human rights legislation and has passed over 20 laws dealing with the rights[5] of vulnerable communities including minorities and transgender people. In addition, there has been Pakistan’s recent decision to open the border with India for the Sikh community to visit their holiest religious site at Kartarpur,[6] where the founder of the Sikh religion Guru Nanak Dev spent the last 18 years of his life. The border is now open for Indian Sikhs without requiring a visa for the first time in 72 years and this is seen as a major peace initiative by Pakistan in a year when tensions over[7] Kashmir are very high, something which German Chancellor Angela Markel also spoke about during her recent visit to India[8].

GSP+ lifts all import duties on most goods shipped to EU member countries, in exchange for human rights improvements There is a consensus in Pakistan’s policy that GSP+ has worked for Pakistani exports. This is reinforced by a recent paper supported by DRI, which noted[9] that Pakistan is the largest beneficiary of the scheme that provides a great leverage to human rights champions inside government, political parties and civil society to push for the greater implementation of human rights conventions, covenants and protocols that Pakistan has either ratified or is signed.

Pakistan’s overall exports to the EU increased by more than 50% to EUR 6,870 million in 2018, up from EUR 4,538 million in 2013, contrasting to a steep decline in other markets. Pakistan’s exporters are saving about USD 1 billion on account of waived duties. Large companies are the main beneficiaries[10] and textile exports have risen significantly in both quantity and value, and now makeup 80% of the overall exports from Pakistan to the EU. However other sectors, including leather, footwear and food items (except for rice), are either stagnant or declining. The lack of product diversification and sophistication remains a challenge for Pakistan in further multiplying gains from exports[11].

The state also now seems to be more responsive to human rights concerns, formally participating in various periodic reviews and drafting action plans to address most issues and concerns raised in international forums. Treaty Implementation Cells (TIC) are formed at the provincial level, which is the forum to address human rights issues such as labour, child protection and the conditions in Pakistani jails, and exist in over 25 relevant departments. The government established the National Commission for Human Rights with a broad mandate for the promotion, protection and fulfilment of human rights.[12]

However, there are many areas for improvement, in parallel to positive developments, as the country has taken a turn towards a repressive environment for civil liberties and individual freedoms. Freedom of association has seen unprecedented constraints with the government imposing restrictions on registration of legitimate civil society organizations. Earlier this month, the UN Human Rights Committee evaluated the information provided by the government in follow-up to the committee’s concluding observations on Pakistan’s implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and found most of Pakistan’s responses insufficient or irrelevant[13]. This underlines the need to work on systemic deficits in governance and implies that Pakistan still has quite a distance to go to ensure the supremacy of the Constitution and the separation of powers.

The opening of the Kirtarpur corridor has improved public sentiment in Pakistan towards minority rights and co-existence, has strengthened democratic voices and helped the small peace community to grow with many youth activists openly writing and vlogging about a better relationship between India and Pakistan. Many of them are questioning the logic behind long held traditional views held against each other in both states. However, democracy remains fragile in Pakistan since its restoration in 2008 and vulnerable groups such as women and religious minorities continue to be discriminated against in law and in practice, facing violence and exclusion on a regular basis.[14]

Pakistan could improve its human rights situation by developing a strong narrative on human rights, as guaranteed in the Constitution, and promoted by father of the nation Muhammed Ali Jinnah but successive governments since the 1970s took regressive positions. Along with this, Pakistan will have to improve the implementation capacity of the state to ensure that newly created human rights bodies actually deliver. A strong independent civil society, media freedom should be guaranteed so that the press remains vigilant and keeps the state accountable. GSP+ provides strong support to the human rights constituency and helps business communities understand the value of better working conditions. Retaining GSP+ status can help Pakistan to build on these gains and continue to reinforce democracy as well as human and labour rights.


[1] Arab News 4 July 2019, https://www.arabnews.pk/node/1520036/pakistan

[2] Trading Economics https://tradingeconomics.com/pakistan/exports

(Trading Economics provides its users with accurate information for 196 countries including historical data and forecasts for more than 20 million economic indicators, exchange rates, stock market indexes, government bond yields and commodity price).

[3] Pakistan Business Council 2018, https://www.pbc.org.pk/research/trade-with-the-european-union-28-2018/

[4] Ibid slide No.5.

[5] See Sindh Assembly legislation list to look for progressive legislation

[6] The News Pakistan, 20 Oct 2019.  https://www.thenews.com.pk/latest/543837-pakistan-all-set-to-open

[7] See Sindh Assembly legislation list to look for progressive legislation at

[8] The Print, 1 Nov 2019 https://theprint.in/diplomacy/angela-merkel-says-kashmir-situation-not-sustainable-needs-to-change/314763/

[9] Samiullah (2019) GSP+: How Pakistan is increasing its exports abroad while improving human rights and labour rights at home. Booklet on EU GSP+ status for policy makers, Development, Democracy Reporting International

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] See, National Commission for Human Rights Act, 2012.

[13]  Daily Dawn, 24 /11/ 2018, Dismal Approach to Rights by Rema Omer https://www.dawn.com/news/1518540/dismal-approach-to-rights accessed on 26th Nov 2019

[14] Human Rights Watch (2019) ‘World Report 2019’ https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2019/country-chapters/pakistan#3775af

Handbook on GSP+ Scheme and Human and Labour Rights in Sri Lanka

DRI published this handbook in Sinhala and Tamil to raise awareness among trade union activists, trade unionists and civil society actors on the GSP+ scheme, its economic implications, and eligibility criteria – particularly the list of human rights and labour rights conventions countries must adhere to qualify for, and remain a part of, the scheme. These handbooks were distributed at awareness raising sessions held in the districts to promote CSO members to use GSP+ as a tool to hold government accountable to promote and protect human and labour rights.

Sri Lanka has been an EU GSP+ beneficiary since 2005. In 2009, for the first time, the EU decided to temporarily halt GSP+ benefits to Sri Lanka due to non-compliance with three conventions (ICCPR, CAT and CRC). In 2017 Sri Lanka was re-granted GSP+ status because of positive human rights developments. Official statistics demonstrate the positive impact the scheme has had on Sri Lanka’s economy since the country regained the status. You can find out more about GSP+ here.



This project is funded by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ).

DRI Annual Report 2018

Our Annual Report 2018 is out. It gives an overview of our activities and our organisational development.

In 2018 we continued our work on local governance, constitutions, human rights, rule of law and human rights. Social media monitoring during elections has become an important part of our activity across the countries we work in. Last year we worked with different actors, including government, civil society, election administration and universities.  We regularly consulted and engaged them in discussions to identify their needs and support them in their work to strengthen democracy.

Download the DRI Annual Report 2018

Read the 2018 annual audit report here.

Engagement for Free Expression in Mongolia Closes with National Forum

DRI’s partner organisation in Mongolia, Globe International Center (GIC) has worked for 18 months to increase the protection of journalists, free expression and the right to information within the country. These cross-cutting issues are of concern and importance to different groups in Mongolian society, given the legal restrictions faced by local journalists, the moves towards strict regulation of social media, and the difficulties in accessing accurate and unbiased information in the country.

GIC worked with the Mongolian Bar Association (MBA) and the Media Council of Mongolia (MCM) in facilitating dialogue between diverse stakeholders across the country, reaching out to law enforcement, judiciary and media to collect and analyse national data, developing a human rights reporting handbook for media, and presenting all of the results and conclusions in an alternative report for public dissemination and discussion.

In doing so, GIC has become DRI’s first partner to successfully conclude local implementation of our EU-funded project “Promoting Human and Labour Rights through GSP+” which is being implemented in nine different countries. This project was made possible by Mongolia benefiting from the EU’s trade scheme ‘GSP+’ which gives easier access to the EU market in exchange for better human rights and labour protection – a win-win for Mongolian citizens.

The closing event in Mongolia was a National Forum held by GIC on 23-24 May, which gathered 74 representatives of the Mongolian government, NGOs, trade unions, entrepreneurs and journalists in the capital Ulaanbaatar. They discussed strategies to utilise GSP+ for boosting human and labour rights protection in the country, as well as for trade and job growth. GIC will incorporate recommendations drawn from the event, as well as the results of the MBA’s and MCM’s research, into its alternative monitoring report on Mongolia’s compliance with human and labour rights under GSP+, which will be submitted to the European Union and the Mongolian government. Considering contributions and data from a diverse range of sources, the report will be a key output of the project and will serve as a valuable instrument to amplify the voice of Mongolians in the monitoring of GSP+, influence policy-makers and strengthen efforts for human and labour rights protection and promotion in the country. Furthermore, GIC has produced two shorter analyses, entitled “Threats to Safety of Journalists” and “Legal Environment for Media Freedom”, which can be accessed here and here.


This project is funded by the European Union.

GSP+ Brussels Conference Report

How to promote Human Rights through EU trade Policies ?

The role of civil society, business and beneficiary countries in the gsp+


Download the GSP+ Brussels Conference Report (English)

Download the programme of the conference here.


On 28 November 2018, Democracy Reporting International (DRI), brought together over 60 prominent trade and human rights experts, representatives from GSP+ beneficiary countries, civil society, the business community, EU institutions, as well as academia for the conference “How to Promote Human Rights through EU Trade Policies? The Role of Civil Society, Businesses and Beneficiary Countries in the GSP+”. In light of the third GSP+ monitoring cycle following its latest reform, participants discussed how to amplify the effectiveness of the EU’s GSP+ trade instrument in boosting human and labour rights, in relation to the roles various stakeholders play within the scheme.

In most developing countries economic growth and export opportunities do not go hand-in-hand with improvements in citizens’ enjoyment of fundamental human and labour rights. The EU is promoting sustainable development and human rights through its trade instruments, in particular the Generalised Scheme of Preference Plus (GSP+). The scheme currently grants nine countries (Armenia, Bolivia, Cabo Verde, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Pakistan, Paraguay, the Philippines and Sri Lanka) better market access for improved protections of human rights, labour standards, environment and good governance.

The event drew on lessons learned from several projects implemented by DRI in the framework of the GSP+, including the three-year EU-funded project Promoting Human and Labour Rights through GSP+. DRI, in cooperation with local partner organisations, is using the opportunities created by the scheme to inform and empower citizens so they can claim their rights under the scheme’s 27 UN and ILO Conventions. Local partners carry out monitoring of key human rights issues as well as consultations on the situation of human and labour rights engaging with citizens’ organisations, trade unions, the business community and local authorities. In this way, new spaces of dialogue are opened between groups that do not usually sit at the same table to discuss human rights issues.

Michael Meyer-Resende, Executive Director of Democracy Reporting International, opened the conference with introductory remarks on the scheme’s positive conditionality, providing an opportunity to spread the conversation about human and labour rights to groups traditionally not involved. At a time where the human rights idea loses support among many people, he noted that the GSP+ connection of human rights and increased business offered new perspectives for supporting the cause. With the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights around the corner, in her opening comments Chiara Adamo (Head of Unit for the European Commission’s DG DEVCO unit on Human Rights, Gender, Democratic Governance) underscored that this is a particularly opportune time to re-engage strongly with the partner countries. As GSP+ is one of the most potent tools in the EU toolbox, she advocated it should be employed to champion for the implementation of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs).

Challenges and Opportunities of the GSP+

Speakers at the first panel delved into challenges and opportunities of GSP+. A common theme discussed was that of the scheme’s economic dimension. Walter Van Hattum (DG TRADE) explained that some countries, like Pakistan, followed by the Philippines, have a large scheme utilisation rate and have increased their exports to the EU thanks to the GSP+. The other seven beneficiary countries however, utilise the scheme very little. This is due to lack of political will, lack of scheme awareness, lack of administrative capacity, and/or a lack of economic incentive, as some products do not meet EU import standards or the country cannot/does not produce enough to export to the EU. An additional question, which is under-researched, is whether even in Pakistan and the Philippines, the increased exports benefit the poorest segments of the populations, which is the main goal of the scheme stated in the GSP+ regulation.

Benedict M. Uy (Embassy of the Philippines) echoed the sentiment that the GSP+ had a large positive economic impact in the Philippines, including on foreign direct investment of companies that seek to export under the privileged customs to the EU. He added the scheme could be rendered even more effective by capitalising on its gravitas and tenacity. In terms of gravitas, he reasoned GSP+ must develop enough scale and leverage for beneficiary countries to take it more seriously, while tenacity refers to the fact that results cannot be seen overnight and that continuous engagement with partners remains essential.

In Cabo Verde the scheme has also been valuable, observed Octavio Gomes (Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Communities, Cabo Verde), where GSP+ has encouraged civil society to become a more active player. In this vein, Mr Van Hattum also described several instances of the scheme’s positive effects. For example, in the Philippines, the ILO Convention on the right to organise in the public service was unlikely to have been signed if not for GSP+. Many panellists however, noted that it had not helped to push back the significant number of extra-judicial killings in the Philippines. This point led to discussing a key challenge of the scheme, namely the use (and lack thereof) of the scheme’s withdrawal mechanism. This theme was also taken up by Anis Haroon (National Commission of Human Rights, Pakistan), who stressed that GSP+ should have a stronger accountability mechanism in relation to the poor human rights situation in Pakistan.


The Role of Businesses in the GSP+

The second panel revolved around the role of businesses in the GSP+ and whether they should be involved in monitoring and/or be monitored themselves. Georgios Altintzis (Trade Policy Officer, International Trade Union Confederation) underscored that businesses play a pivotal role in pressuring governments to address shortcomings. While big European importers play a major role, often they are not aware of human rights’ violations occurring many layers down the supply chain. Outsourcing of production results in a de facto outsourcing of responsibility. Mr Altintzis noted that the EU is the place where the big companies exist, with supply chains extending to the rest of the world, and that there is a need to shift human and labour rights’ compliance from beneficiary countries back to European importers. Panellists discussed that if UNGPs on business and human rights were mandatory – or at least part of the GSP+ conditionalities – it would lead to a change of the current business practices.

Rudi Delarue (Deputy Head of Unit, DG Employment, European Commission) followed-up, observing the strong interplay between various dimensions of human rights. A case in point, it being difficult to have a right to assembly when the rule of law is feeble – in cases like this, it is questionable what businesses could actually do to improve the situation. Stuart Newman (Senior Legal Advisor, AMFORI) agreed; in his view the influence businesses can have on gross human rights violations is close to zero, such as in the case of Myanmar, but the impact it can have on labour conventions can be substantial.


The Role of Civil Society in the GSP+

Lenka Vitkova (Team Leader Human Rights, DG DEVCO, European Commission) kicked-off the final session stating the clear role of civil society in the GSP+ agenda and its importance given the worldwide trend of “shrinking space” for civil society. She stressed the need to not take GSP+ as an isolated tool. She sees it as a human rights scheme, not a trade scheme – part of a political dialogue among political players and just one part of the EU’s toolbox. Her recommendation being to take a strategic long-term look on how to involve civil society more in dialogue.

In the Sri Lankan political context, GSP+ is seen as an instrument of Western imperialism, observed Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu (Executive Director, Centre for Policy Alternatives, Sri Lanka). He believes engagement of civil society in the GSP+ monitoring process is insufficient and criticised that the EU overlooked serious remaining human rights challenges when reinstating the GSP+ status to Sri Lanka in 2017. He further described some of the practical obstacles surrounding civil society engagement in the scheme’s monitoring process, recommending consultations not be restricted to merely a few urban unions, but done further afield and conducted in local languages.

Ben Vanpeperstraete (Lobby & Advocacy Coordinator, Clean Clothes Campaign, GSP Platform) picked up this argument, noting that the moment the scheme was re-awarded to Sri Lanka there was no longer any incentive for the government to engage with civil society. Panellists discussed what they considered to be an unclear nature of civil society involvement in a process that Ms Vitkova herself described as fundamentally a political dialogue between governments. Mr Saravanamuttu contended however, stating if dialogue is primarily between governments then the entire panel discussion is unproductive. He argued if civil society is really to be part of the GSP+ then the EU must do the hard work and have thorough consultations, otherwise the process is a facade.

Describing the experience of a different GSP+ country, Marina Ayvazyan (Programmes Development Manager, Eurasia Partnership Foundation) explained that the EU Delegation in Armenia has been successful in having regular dialogue with civil society, but separately from business and government. She believes it would be more beneficial for the EU to bring all stakeholders to the same table, as it would foster much needed awareness raising of the scheme. She believes this is particularly the case with the business community, where possible advantages of GSP+ – which could give lots of benefits to SMEs – are not well known.


Possible Reforms

Suggested improvements to the scheme was a cross-cutting topic among the panel discussions. In addition to the ideas on how to better include civil society in the monitoring process, there was the ongoing discussion of whether the country Scorecards should remain confidential or made public to make the process more transparent. A Scorecard is a list of issues that the Commission prepares for each GSP+ country. It highlights progresses and relevant shortcomings that should be addressed by the country in order to effectively implement the 27 Conventions. The EU keeps Scorecards confidential “to build trust between the parties that subsequently discuss it”; meanwhile several organisations have suggested that the confidentiality inhibits key players (e.g. civil society organisations and labour rights organisations) from fully participating in the monitoring process. Mr Vanpeperstraete (GSP Platform) proposed moving away from Scorecards instead towards country Roadmaps where governments lay out their plans for fully adhering to the 27 Conventions.

The other main discussion centred around the scheme’s withdrawal mechanism, of how and when it should be triggered, as happened for Sri Lanka in 2010. Mr Newman (AMFORI) delved into the technicalities, noting that if Article 19 (i.e. the regulation’s withdrawal mechanism) is triggered, the first and hardest hit people will be the workers. That being said, he maintained the only way to show the scheme’s credibility is to remove the preferences in cases of non-compliance, and that hopefully the mere threat of withdrawal would incentivise improvements. He also discussed the timeline of possible suspension itself takes 16-18 months and that the Commission highlights concerns prior – giving the beneficiary country plenty of notice to change behaviour before withdrawal occurs.

Another possibility is a modification to the scheme, whereby there is the option for partial withdrawal, i.e. only certain sectors are penalised for failing to adhere to the conditionalities of GSP+. On the other hand, several speakers felt that the scheme should not be further complicated. Newer ideas were also floated, such as Mr Altintzis’s (ITUC) proposal to bring the GSP+ and its 27 Conventions under the WTO, in the framework of its current reform.



There is a general appreciation of the GSP+ from most of the involved stakeholders: in some countries local businesses benefit from new trade opportunities; civil society recognises it as an additional opportunity of engagement with the government and an advocacy tool at the international level; international businesses appreciate the scheme’s simplicity and its predictability in the fact that possible sanctions are announced well in advance. Nevertheless, there is a common agreement on the need to further improve the scheme.

As the panels’ discussions indicate, proposed suggestions reflect a wide range of views on GSP+. Some, like Mr Newman (AMFORI) reiterated that the scheme’s primary aim is to reduce poverty. Meanwhile, representatives from the Commission (DG DEVCO) stressed GSP+ as a human rights scheme, not a trade scheme. Ms Vitkova took it a step further, emphasising its role as a political tool and characterising it as a government to government scheme. These various views coincide with the different views on stakeholders’ roles too, such as the extent of the roles of civil society and business in GSP+ and its monitoring process. CSO representatives present called for more formalised and regular EU consultation of civil society, however other panellists underscored the primary role of governments in the scheme’s dialogue. The question of businesses role and whether they can have a positive impact on human rights, or more on labour rights, also remained an important query.

Numerous proposals to improve the scheme have been suggested and it remains to be seen what changes the Commission may take after the next progress report is due in January 2020. It is a strategic time for the GSP+, as the scheme is in its third monitoring cycle following its latest reform.


Download the GSP+ Brussels Conference Report (English)

This publication has been produced with the assistance of the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development and the European Union. The contents of this publication are the sole responsibility of Democracy Reporting International and can in no way be taken to reflect the views of the donors.

GSP+: a human rights or trade scheme?

The EU allows vulnerable countries to export many products to Europe without paying custom duties. In exchange, it expects that these countries respect 27 international conventions on human rights, labour standards and the environment. This scheme, known as GSP+, has worked well on the economic side in some of the countries. For example, Pakistan has greatly increased exports of such privileged products to the EU, thereby creating jobs and revenue. The scheme offers a chance to mobilise new constituents for human rights, such as business.

It is not clear if the human rights side of the bargain has worked as well as the economics of it. Critics point out that despite serious violations, such as extrajudicial killings in the Philippines, the EU did not suspend the preferential treatment. Many analysts feel that the ‘red lines’ of the scheme are unclear; what could constitute serious and systematic violations of the principles laid down in the 27 conventions is difficult to understand. Many feel that a stronger consultation process around the EU’s regular monitoring of beneficiary states would strengthen the role of GSP+.

These were the main conclusions of a conference held in Brussels on 28 November 2018 with some 50 participants from the EU institutions, governments, citizen groups and academia.

The event was funded by and conceived with GIZ in the wider framework of DRI’s EU-supported project Promoting Human and Labour Rights through GSP+.

The nexus between trade and rights: a dialogue on GSP+ in Sri Lanka

In May 2017 the European Union (EU) re-granted Sri Lanka better access to its market through the Generalised Scheme of Preferences Plus (GSP+). The preferences are conditional on Sri Lanka advancing human and labour rights, to which the Island Nation’s National Unity Government has committed through a far-reaching reform agenda since 2015.

DRI’s first round of district level outreach sessions were conducted across the Island including Matale City, Ekala, Batticaloa City, Chenkaladi, Trincomalee City, Kanthale, Mannar City, Ibbagamuwa, Polpithigama, Medirigiriya, Diyabeduma, and Panama.

One year since the deal was agreed between the EU and the Sri Lankan government, many of the reforms have stalled and civil society out of Colombo is still only learning what GSP+ offers as a tool to monitor the human and labour rights situation in the country and enter into dialogue with both national and international stakeholders on how to improve human rights protection in Sri Lanka.

DRI continues to address the need for more information on the GSP+ scheme among grass-roots actors and conducted twelve awareness raising sessions between 7 July and 15 August 2018 on “The Link between GSP+, Human Rights and Labour Rights”. With its workshops, DRI reached a total of 297 Sinhala and Tamil speaking local activists representing various community based organizations across eight districts in various provinces.

The sessions clarified that Sri Lanka and all other GSP+ countries have entered voluntarily into the scheme and their governments therefore fully signed up to implementing international conventions that protect their citizens’ rights. One participant stressed: “We were not aware of the GSP+’s link to human rights, but were rather thinking that GSP+ was just related to the garment industry’s tariffs. This insight opens new avenues for us as activists to demand compliance from the government.”

Civil society representatives voiced their concerns and observations regarding the status of human and labour rights in the country. In all districts people were concerned about the lack of economic, social and cultural rights for many communities in Sri Lanka.

DRI will expand its work around GSP+ in Sri Lanka by training civil society groups on human rights monitoring and reporting against Sri Lanka’s commitments. During a critical time of slow reform progress and even setbacks in the country it is important to have rural community representatives be part of a wider monitoring network to help advance the well-being of Sri Lankans across the Island.


This project is funded by the European Union.

The State of Human Rights in Mongolia

On April 5th, the Mongolian President Battulga announced an initiative to restore the death penalty to perpetrators of child abuse. This declaration goes against global trends of declining executions and convictions. The death penalty was removed from the Mongolian Criminal Code in 2015.

The possible reinstatement of the death penalty was one of the key issues discussed last Friday April 13th, in a two-day event organised in Ulaanbaatar by the Globe International Center, within the framework of DRI’s project Promoting Human and Labour Rights through GSP+, an EU trade scheme that promises better market access for better human rights protections. Ninety participants from civil society organisations, chambers of commerce, national and provincial officers of the National Human Rights Commission, UN agencies and diplomats engaged in a dialogue with expert panellists. The EU Delegation’s representative reiterated that the possible re-introduction of the death penalty “would be a major step backwards and raise questions regarding Mongolia’s international commitments”.

With contributions from a representative of the International Labour Organisation representative, the Secretary General of the Confederation of Mongolian Trade Unions and a representative of the Employers’ Federation of Mongolia, participants discussed how to improve legal and regulatory frameworks concerning the organisation and representation of the informal sector and the right to assembly in the public sector.

In the past few years, Mongolia’s general commitment to the protection and promotion of universal human rights standards was confirmed by the National Action Plan on Implementation of Universal Periodic Review Recommendations. Adequate resources and executive decisions to implement the recent positive legislative revisions are still missing, however. GSP+ provides an opportunity to bring together diverse stakeholders to discuss the country’s progression and shortcomings in meeting its international treaty obligations: notably, the need for stronger partnership between government, civil society, and the business community to implement the already existing action plans.