How to monitor human rights in a trade context?

20-21 November 2017

Colombo, Sri Lanka

The EU offers nine vulnerable countries significant trade preferences in exchange for better compliance with human and labour rights through a scheme called GSP+. This give-and-take between governments can become a win-win for citizens who should benefit from growth and better human right protections at the same time. While trade statistics are routinely gathered, the question remains, how to track the human rights situation?

Hosted by DRI’s Sri Lanka country office, on November 20th and 21st DRI held its first partners workshop for the global project Promoting Human & Labour Rights through GSP+, which is funded by the EU. DRI gathered its colleagues and NGO partners from Bolivia, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Pakistan and the Philippines on 20-21 November in Colombo to share experiences and discuss country-specific, meaningful indicators to monitor compliance with human and labour rights. For example, in Bolivia, indicators such as employment rates are used to measure compliance with international labour rights standards, but they do not say anything about working conditions. To overcome this challenge, the Bolivian Centro de estudios para el desarrollo laboral y agrario (CEDLA), developed an index of indicators measuring employment stability, salaries, and level of work protection for both formal and informal sectors.

Meanwhile, in the Philippines, a multi-stakeholder body including civil society organisations was created after the country’s second cycle Universal Periodic Review (UPR) to monitor recommendations. The most recent set of recommendations includes the suggestion for the Government of the Philippines to “eliminate completely extrajudicial executions, as promised in the previous UPR”, and to provide “support to the Commission on Human Rights” – which was recently all but defunded. Essential to the body’s work was the establishment of indicators, yet their creation involved much compromise and the prioritisation of recommendations among coalition partners.

After the indicators training, partners from the different countries discussed the challenges and benefits of using GSP+ as an advocacy tool by civil society. Problems sometimes include a lack of awareness of the scheme by business communities, or lack of political will from governments to push for substantial implementation of human and labour rights. Opportunities GSP+ offers however, are new spaces for dialogue and openings to promote the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, as well as momentum to keep human rights on the public agenda and to monitor its implementation.

In this vein, DRI’s Pakistan Country Office staff shared their positive experience with the scheme, where GSP+ is generally welcomed by the government, employers and trade unions. Pakistan has utilised the scheme more than any other GSP+ beneficiary country, with the textile industry benefitting in particular. In 2016 alone, Pakistan exported 5.5 million Euros worth of products to the EU under GSP+; meaning almost 96% of products eligible to benefit from the scheme did so (European Commission, Mid-Term Evaluation of the EU’s Generalised Scheme of Preferences Final Interim Report, 21 Sept. 2017, p.119).


 This project is funded by the European Union


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