The Labour party on Sunday pledged to end what it calls the Conservative government’s “corporate-centred approach” to trade and rebuild policy around protecting workers’ rights and interests both in the UK and abroad.
In an echo of the late former foreign secretary Robin Cook’s “ethical foreign policy” plan, Emily Thornberry, the shadow international trade secretary, outlines the new plans in a report published at a special session of the TUC’s annual congress.
The report also deliberately echoes the “worker-centred trade policy” set out by the Biden administration in the US. Labour claims that such an approach will enable it to make progress towards a free trade agreement with the White House, which the government has so far failed to achieve.
Among the specific pledges drawn up in consultation with unions are guarantees that parliament will have a vote on the negotiating objectives for all new trade negotiations under a Labour government, as well as on any final deals.
On the international stage, the report includes plans for a new law building on the genocide amendment which was defeated by the government earlier this year – which would block trade deals with countries such as China, which many MPs say have committed serious abuses of worker and human rights.
The plans will be seen as a significant step in Labour’s efforts to building a post-Brexit approach both to international relations and trade based on values and rights instead of solely national commercial interest.
In an introduction to the report, Thornberry writes: “I truly believe that trade can be a global force for good, driving progress on climate change and international development, demanding respect for human rights and gender equality, and raising standards and prosperity throughout the world.
“But we must start with a trade policy that will create decent, well-paid jobs here at home, raise standards around the world, and ensure every trade deal the UK signs is used to protect, promote and enforce the rights of workers, wherever they may live.
“The government may be wasting the opportunity they have been given to re-shape our trade policy as a force for good and an example to the world, but this document shows that Labour is ready to fill that void and show what is possible instead.”
In the conclusion to the report, Labour claims that the current government’s failure to take the issue of workers’ rights seriously has damaged its prospects of securing a trade deal with the Biden administration.
It states: “Boris Johnson’s government appears not to realise that their deliberate dismissal of workers’ interests and rights in relation to trade puts them firmly at odds with the only country that can realistically help them reach their manifesto commitment to cover 80% of the UK’s trade with free trade agreements by the end of 2022.”