6 Measures for more ethical world trade


Linking human rights with trade is not a utopian dream.

“The debate is not between free trade and protectionism, but between ethical and unethical trade.” This is how the psychologist, sociologist, and philologist Christian Felber subtitled the publication For Ethical World Trade (Deusto, 2018), in which he analyzes and criticizes free trade and protectionism as two extremes, and suggests a more reasonable compromise that gets the best from trade while also avoiding its risks.

(You can watch Felber’s talk at the NESI Forum on reshaping global trade for the common good here.)

For Felber, neoliberal ideology has manipulated the concept of freedom and used it for its own interests. “Who can be against free trade, the free market economy, the free circulation of capital or free enterprise?” asks the author. He argues that we have to look at the current trade panorama from an ethics perspective, and suggests several measures to that end:

  1. Full implementation of human rights, sustainable development, a good life for all, or even the common good. Felber emphasizes that “trade should serve human rights and the fundamental values ​​of a democratic society, because that is its correct place. That’s how it fulfills its function and obtains legitimacy.”
  2. Trade must be understood as a means, not as an end: He argues that economic freedoms are only instrumental freedoms and that they are at the service of superior values ​​that should not be endangered.
  3. The United Nations is a context for making global trade more ethical: We need global trade rules in line with the goals of the United Nations. In fact, at the moment, no government has considered the idea of ​​measuring a trade treaty’s impact on well-being.
  4. The UN should be the seat of international economic development. Many of the agreements, programs, and international declarations that could contribute to ethical world trade already exist; it’s just that they are not integrated into the trade system.
  5. We must bet on regulatory cooperation between states in the field of human rights, labor law, taxation, cultural diversity, climate protection, and sustainable development goals to create an ethical UN trade zone protected from those who do not ratify or respect international law.
  6. It would be positive to link access to the international market to the results of the balance of the common good: that is, the greater the ethical results, the more access to the free market.

After historically analyzing the context and clarifying the causes and consequences of the current trade situation, the publication calls for a reasonable form of exchange that avoids the extremes of both protectionism and unrestricted free trade.


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