Why do developed and developing countries have different attitudes toward the adoption of global rules for the protection of labour and the environment?
Environment and labour protection are two controversial subjects when it comes to adoption of global rules. Developed countries try to maintain some universal standards whereas developing countries see these environmental sustainability and labour rights promotions as a new form of protectionism. Well, they’re right in some sort – there were no environmental or labor standards applied to today’s developed countries when they were ‘’developing’’ yesterday, were there?
Developing countries believe that it’s unfair to expect them to adhere to high level environmental standards that are designed by developed countries. It’s true – To establish and adhere to globally accepted rules when you’re already developed is much easier than when you’re still hustling to achieve your economic development. How fair is to expect Zimbabwe or Bangladesh to adhere to those rules that are applied to US or Canada when producing goods when Bangladesh’s economic development is at the point of having a minimum wage of $38/month? Imposing such rules just restricts these countries’ ability to supply relevant products to the developed world.
The debate is no different when it comes to labour rights. Developed countries argue that exploitative working conditions exist in developing countries – which is true. They further claim that such conditions should be eliminated because they provide a competitive advantage to developing countries. Well, it’s very delicate, because on the one hand, you agree that substandard working conditions should be lifted, and on the other hand, you also think there’s nothing wrong to give some competitive advantage to developing countries. That advantage can be the only advantage they can have against developed countries, right?
I had read an article about some garment workers in Indonesia who get paid an astronomically low amount comparing to developed world standards. It’s interesting – they were actually happy that they have an opportunity to work and make money, so that they can go to school and get education and build a future. There were young entrepreneurs who built their businesses with the money they made and saved from those garment factories. I’m not pro-child labor or anything, don’t get me wrong :), but I personally think that it’s easy to say ‘’stop child labor, shut down the sweatshops’’ – because then what? There are people whose lives and families unfortunately depend on those sweatshops. That’s why I believe – stopping sweatshop labour should be done as long as you replace it with better conditions and better jobs for the affected society.
Well, no wonder the global rules for labor and environment protection inspires intense debate among WTO member governments. It’s a delicate topic 🙂