Skip to main content  
  Helping the environment one joke at a time, Grinning Planet. Click to go to home page. flying letter; click to go to signup page for free email version
Get GP free
via email !

WTO (world trade organization) and global trade - impact on democracy and outsourcing jobs

Eco-Logical cartoon graphic of cube-shaped globe

Impact of the WTO and Global Trade Agreements on Jobs and Democracy

  picture of protester holding sign
In 1999 in Seattle, over 50,000 people gathered to protest the World Trade Organization (WTO). People may mostly remember the sensationalistic TV coverage of a few violent incidents and that one guy singing, "Don't Bogart That Joint, My Friend," but overall, the protesters were people dedicated to intelligent discussion of unfair trade and to bringing the issue to the world's attention. Subsequent WTO meetings have also been marked by protests.

Overall, when it comes to these events, one is tempted to think, "What are all these crazy people protesting about?" We've been trained by the "Powers That Be" to think that global trade is an unqualified good, that it's a rising tide that lifts all boats.

To be sure, there are some good aspects to global trade:

  • the ability to acquire goods that can't be produced locally;
  • the opportunity to increase exports—and thus output and jobs;
  • an increase in overall production efficiency (in theory, at least);
  • a productive way to engage other nations in a manner that develops friendly political relations.

Unfortunately, the way in which the world's industrialized nations are pursuing globalization and global trade today is not for the global good, but rather is for much narrower aims: the good of global corporations and the plutocrats who front for them.

This article will discuss the impact of the WTO and global trade on jobs and democracy around the world. An upcoming article will focus on the impact of the WTO and global trade on the environment and food.

Jobs Impact of WTO and Global Trade

Is global trade responsible for the outsourcing of jobs? In short, yes. It's fairer to say, though, that jobs are to corporations like water is to a watershed—they slowly flow towards the lowest point, i.e. to the lowest wages.

In the past, low-skill jobs tended to migrate slowly to countries with lots of cheap, available, low-skill labor. The higher level of education and training in developed countries—and the fact that the level of education and training kept rising—allowed most displaced workers to find different jobs at similar or even higher wages. Thus, the "rising tide that lifts all boats" theory worked pretty well.

However, with the advent of global transportation and computer/communications systems, the barriers to using labor in one country to provide products and services to people in other countries have been markedly reduced. Additionally, education and training levels have risen in developing nations and these countries are no longer just "low-skill labor pools"—they too can handle higher-skill and knowledge-based jobs. The final lubricant for the movement of jobs was the development of the WTO and international trade agreements, in which centralized rulemaking bodies can trump national laws and interests.

All of this means that the world increasingly looks like one huge labor pool with relatively few cartoon image of man with briefcase and hitchhiking sign that says Work Or Bust barriers to using workers from the cheapest labor markets, regardless of whether those markets pay fair wages, ensure worker safety, prohibit child labor and sweatshops, provide benefits like health care and retirement plans, or prohibit their factories from polluting the air, land, and water.

As jobs shift to low-cost counties, workers in the developed nations will eventually have to take lower-paying jobs. Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Samuelson agrees: "The ... real wage has been lowered by this version of dynamic fair free trade." Further, Mr. Samuelson points out that the new availability of lower-priced goods and services in the developed nations may turn out to be feint compensation for having to take lower-paying jobs: "Being able to purchase groceries 20% cheaper at Wal-Mart does not necessarily make up for the wage losses."

Impact on Democracy of the WTO and Global Trade Agreements

Free-traders like to boast of how the WTO and international trade agreements are a vehicle for promoting democracy around the world. The theory is that once the populace in a nation gets a taste of the enhanced fruits of their labors that free trade will bring about, they will make it more and more difficult for dictators and freedom-suppressors to remain in power.

Yep, that's a good theory, but when the global trade rules are designed first and foremost to protect the rights of corporations, not the rights of people, it just doesn't work that way. Corrupt leaders can remain in power and are often strengthened by the global trade agreements, which bring more money into their government's coffers.

For those of us who believe that democracy works best when handled at the lowest (most local) level possible, the WTO can be viewed as anti-democratic—its rules apply at the super-national level; that is, its rules can trump the laws of a country. For example,

picture of protester, one is putting his head inside a paper-mache octopus that represents the W T O  
The WTO is a many-tentacled threat
WTO rulings have challenged provisions of the US's Clean Air Act and Endangered Species Act.

Much of the problem lies in the fact that the WTO is an undemocratic organization to begin with. It's dominated by the most developed nations, including the US, whose governments in turn have become increasingly dominated by special-interest campaign money from large corporations. Thus, the writing of WTO rules is greatly influenced by corporations with inside access to the negotiations. The watchdog group GlobalExchange points out: "The US Trade Representative gets heavy input for negotiations from 17 'industry sector advisory committees.' Citizen input by consumer, environmental, human rights and labor organizations is consistently ignored. Even simple requests for information are denied, and the proceedings are held in secret. Who elected this secret global government?"

One of the stated goals of free trade is to make the world safer by promoting democracy, but with growing international resentment over the unfair characteristics of WTO-born trade agreements (especially in developing nations), it could be argued that free trade—as it is currently being pursued—is doing exactly the opposite.

The Solution to the WTO — Fair Trade, Not “Free Trade”

So, if the idea is not to abandon international trade but to make it fair, what does that look like? The principles offered by the Fair Trade Federation include:

  • Fair Wages — Workers are paid a living wage, which enables them to cover basic needs, including food, shelter, education and health care for their families.
  • Better Workplaces — There are good worker safety programs, with no sweatshops or no child labor.
  • Environmental Sustainability — Pollution is minimized; local resources are used sustainably, particularly in regions of high biodiversity.

That doesn't really seem like too high a bar for us to get over. It's up to us to tell our governments we don't like the way they've been handling global trade, and that trade agreements should be crafted for the benefit of world's many, not the corporate few. It will also help if you buy fair-trade goods to support the growing effort to demand alternatives to WTO-dominated trade.

Know someone who might find this article interesting?
Please forward it to them


Publish date: 08-MAR-2005

More articles and resources on....

Get Grinning Planet free via email

Books for a Better Planet

For more reviews or purchase info, click on any title to go to

  book cover for Myths of Free Trade, by Sherrod Brown

Why American Trade Policy Has Failed

In stepwise fashion, this book takes apart a variety of myths associated with free trade. Here are a few examples: Myth: "Corporate globalization is inevitable." Myth: "Free trade leaves most people better off---rich or poor." Myth: "NAFTA has been a success." The author debunks these and other non-truths mouthed by free-trade proselytizers.

  book cover for WTO - Whose Trade Organization?, by Lori Wallach, Patrick Woodall, Ralph Nader

A Comprehensive Guide to the World Trade Organization, Second Edition

This book documents the WTO's track record by exposing case after case of bad trade deals, and it shows how the WTO chills action on issues such as fighting sweatshops and protecting endangered species. The book even shows how the WTO limits our elected governments' policies on everything from meat inspection to corporate media concentration.

  book cover for Alternatives To Economic Globalization, by John Cavanagh (Editor), Jerry Mander (Editor)

A Better World Is Possible (Second Edition)   (ed. by Cavanagh, Mander)

This book lays out democratic, ecologically sound, socially just alternatives to corporate globalization. The authors present ten governing principles for establishing truly sustainable societies; they describe alternatives to the World Bank, IMF, and WTO that would better serve the needs of the planet; and they detail things that ordinary citizens can do to fight globalization.


Search for more...


Or see more Books for a Better Planet

Back to joke page



free audio news clips link; image of zombie kid - DON'T BE A MAINSTREAM MEDIA DRONE! - Free MP3 news download at Grinning Planet

Hey, we don't pick
the Google ads!   – GP




"I am still looking for the modern equivalent of those Quakers who ran successful businesses and made money because they offered honest products and treated their people decently.... This business creed, sadly, seems long forgotten."

  — Anita Roddick


   > document gif Sign up to get Grinning Planet free by email, or get more info about it Email a link to this page to someone  
   > Issue Number 118
Copyright 2005 © Mark Jeantheau — All rights reserved.   More info

MP3 News Download
Video/Audio News Sites
Environmental News Sites
Investigative Journalism Sites

    - Articles/Resources By Topic
    - Articles By Date

Environmental Quotes
    - Funny Environmental Quotes
    - Peak Oil Quotes

Environmental Cartoons/Jokes
    - Environmental Videos/Animations

Environmental Products
Eco/Nature Greeting Cards

Grinning Planet Farm


Funny Jokes/Cartoons
    - Environmental Cartoons

Funny Animations/Videos
    - Environmental Animations/Videos

Funny Quotes
    - Environmental Funny Quotes


Environmental Books
Global Warming Books
Energy Books
Solar Energy Books
Peak Oil Books
Food-Gardening Books
Media Books


Environmental Movies
Environmental Songs
Environmental Music Videos

Album Reviews
Fun With Lyrics


Home Page
Site Map
About Us
Free Subscriptions
Privacy Policy