I hope this is true. Layna Mosley, a professor of political science at UNC Chapel Hill, has an op-ed in the New York Times about the effects of international trade on labor rights.
THE passage this month of free trade agreements may be a victory not only for President Obama, but also for workers in Colombia, Panama and South Korea. Although the anticipated economic consequences of these agreements are small, these pacts also offer a mechanism for improving workers’ rights in partner countries.
There is, however, a more general way in which trade agreements — and the economic ties they generate — benefit workers in developing nations. As Colombia and Panama expand their trade relationships with the United States, workers stand to gain more than just the job creation and higher wages that often come with expanded trade. Research I conducted over the last several years with the political scientists Brian Greenhill and Aseem Prakash suggests that trade with developed nations helps developing countries expand labor rights themselves.
Why? International trade gives producers incentives to meet the standards of their export markets. When developing nations export more to countries with better labor standards, their labor rights laws and practices tend to improve. Our findings, which are based on newly collected measures of labor rights around the world, demonstrate a “California effect” on workers’ rights, in which exporting nations are influenced by the labor rights conditions that prevail in their main trading partners.
This is an interesting argument, though I would need to see Latin America-specific data/analysis to be more convinced. I have never heard anything about labor rights expanding in Central America, for example, despite recent implementation of CAFTA-DR (and things are worse in Honduras, though that is related more directly to the 2009 coup). To be fair, she says labor rights will expand, not that they will expand very noticeably.
Henry Farrell at The Monkey Cage mentions the op-ed but for some reason does not offer any comment.
h/t Kindred Winecoff