Social development in the context of globalisation

Table of Contents:

Social development in the context of globalisation

Outline of the Community (European Union) legislation about Social development in the context of globalisation


These categories group together and put in context the legislative and non-legislative initiatives which deal with the same topic.

Employment and social policy > Employment and social policy: international dimension and enlargement

Social development in the context of globalisation

Document or Iniciative

Communication from the Commission to the Council, the European Parliament and the Economic and Social Committee – Promoting core labour standards and improving social governance in the context of globalisation [COM(2001) 416 final – Not published in the Official Journal]


Citizens are increasingly aware that global market governance has developed more quickly than global social governance, leading to unbalanced economic and social rules and structures.

With an eye to participating in the realisation of an equitable global economic system, the European Union presents a strategy to promote social development and core labour standards at global level.

The interface between globalisation and the promotion of international labour standards is complex. Trade and investments have a definite impact on social development, and more generally on sustainable development. To ensure that this strategy is effective a comprehensive approach is necessary.

In line with the approach of the Council on Trade and Employment of October 1999, the European Commission proposes reaffirming the universality of internationally recognised core labour standards (freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining, elimination of all forms of forced or compulsory labour, effective abolition of child labour, elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation). The Commission also recalls its support for the work of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and its collaboration with other international organisations, notably the World Trade Organisation (WTO). The rejection of approaches based on core labour standards for protectionist purposes or sanctions-based approaches is also reiterated.

The Commission encourages both making use of and strengthening existing tools and adopting instruments and measures designed to encourage the universal application of core labour standards in various fields of action, both at European and international levels.

Strategy at international level

The Union confirms the key role of the ILO in promoting compliance with core labour standards and affirms the need to reinforce the effectiveness of the ILO’s instruments. Hence, the Union encourages in particular giving greater publicity to the supervisory mechanism, more effective monitoring, and more technical assistance. It also seems necessary to discuss new mechanisms to encourage compliance with core labour standards and a new mechanism for the regular review of social policy at the country level.

The Union also proposes launching discussion and reflection at international level in the international organisations devoted to development (ILO, WTO, etc.). Such a dialogue would help identify policies which effectively reinforce the contribution of trade to social development and ensure a certain consistency of the policies.

Strategy at European level

The Union proposes promoting core labour standards via the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP). The GSP facilitates access to Community markets for developing countries which effectively apply the core labour standards and grants them additional trade preferences. The Union thus wishes to make the GSP more attractive and more transparent. Its base should be extended to the four core labour standards identified in the ILO Declaration of 1998, hence leading to a temporary withdrawal of GSP benefits in the event of serious and systematic violation of one of the core labour standards. The Union wishes to encourage other countries to adopt similar social encouragement systems.

The Union will place more emphasis on the promotion of core labour standards in its overall development policy. In line with the approach applied in the framework of the Cotonou Agreement, specific rules devoted to social development and the promotion of core labour standards will therefore be included in future trade and cooperation agreements.

Sustainability impact assessments will also be used in the framework of future negotiations and trade agreements.

Voluntary private initiatives

The Commission reaffirms the importance of socially responsible corporate behaviour within global labour markets. As the Union already stressed in its Green Paper on Corporate Social Responsibility, it is necessary, with an eye to transparency and effectiveness, to ensure coherence in the content of codes of conduct and social labels and to base them on common core standards, in other words the ILO standards. Thus, in 2000 the United Nations launched the “Global Compact” initiative, encouraging private companies to embrace and enact in their corporate practices the basic principles of Decent Work.


The 1995 Copenhagen World Summit for Social Development and the 1998 ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work led to widespread recognition of the universality of core labour standards. The WTO has also been involved in promoting these standards, by analysing the interface between globalisation, trade and social development. However, it has been made quite clear that respect for these standards cannot justify abuses in the form of protectionist or sanctions-based measures. However, the efforts of the international community must be continued.

Related Acts

Report from the ILO World Commission on the Social Dimension of Globalisation “A fair globalisation — creating opportunities for all” of 24 February 2004

The World Commission on the Social Dimension of Globalisation states that globalisation can and must change. It considers it necessary to create fair globalisation without exclusion. A coherent approach covering the economic, social and environmental dimension and more effective governance, both at international and national level, can contribute to addressing globalisation challenges.

The European Commission, which has actively participated in the work of the World Commission, has incorporated this dimension in the European Union’s external and internal policies.

Conclusions of the Council on the Communication from the Commission: “Promoting core labour standards”. External Relations Council – 21 July 2003 [Not published in the Official Journal]

The Council supports the Commission’s action to promote social development at international level. It states certain priorities in this connection:

  • promote effective dialogue between the WHO and the ILO in order to ensure consistency on this question within the international organisations concerned;
  • reliance on GSP to promote core labour standards;
  • integration of core labour standards and social governance in the European Union’s development policy;
  • promotion of effective and time-bound programmes, to eliminate the worst forms of child labour.

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