The virus has demonstrated the interdependence of people not only within communities, workplaces and nations but throughout the world. The importance of countries sharing expertise, working together on a vaccine and supporting each other through tough times has demonstrated the value of international collaboration and solidarity. These values must be integral to our recovery.
It is not just the virus that crosses borders. Our economy is truly global in nature: investment, goods, services and people cross national borders every day in increasingly complex and varied pathways. The rules that govern our international systems for trade and finance often act to damage the interests of poorer countries and make it harder for working people across the world to be paid fairly for their labour, driving down regulatory standards and working conditions. Workers in the global south whose livelihoods and often lives depend on the behaviour of large multinational companies are let down by the lack of global rules on workers’ rights and social protections, and the low levels of trade union coverage. Those that face discrimination, including minority ethnic and migrant workers have often paid the greatest price.
These rules have benefited the multinational companies that benefit from cheap labour, but have been promoted by the multi-lateral institutions, such as the World Bank, IMF and World Trade Organisation, that should be standing up for workers’ rights. Reform of international rules and institutions is urgent, and in building back a better country, we must also play our part in building back a better world. Trade unions across the world are pushing for a new social contract with decent work at its heart. Now is the time for countries to come together to build it.
The global trade agenda has been driven for too long by the interests of multinational business. Unfair trade deals and trade rules enforced by the World Trade Organisation (WTO) have driven underdevelopment in many countries by removing protections for domestic industries and displacing workers from good jobs into the informal economy. They have also driven privatisation of public services and undermined social security systems and democratic decision making by enabling both governments and foreign investors to challenge and potentially remove social protections.
The terrible consequences of this trade agenda have been revealed by the Covid pandemic with millions of workers in the informal economy, particularly in Global South countries, forced to face the risk of infection over the certainty of starvation when there is inadequate social protection or access to free healthcare. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimates that as many as 1.6 billion of the world’s two billion informal economy workers are affected by lockdown and containment measures, and that these measures threaten to increase poverty among informal workers in low-income countries by as much as fifty-six percentage points. 
Urgent action by governments and international funders is required to address the needs of these workers now. But in order to ensure that the post-Covid recovery creates decent jobs and protections for all workers, the global approach to trade needs to be fundamentally rethought, with the aim of producing decent jobs for everyone. Governments must use international trade treaties to promote development, gender equality, decent jobs, universal quality public services, social protection regardless of immigration status, and commit governments and companies to uphold ILO standards.
This means that trade deals must:
The UK government should begin by putting in place this approach in its own negotiations on trade with the EU and US. At present, the refusal by the UK government to commit to uphold a level playing field on workers’ rights in the EU-UK deal threatens to begin a race to the bottom in the UK. And the UK government’s negotiating objectives make clear a deal with the US threatens to reduce workers’ rights, data protection and public services. 
Trade unions have long been concerned that global supply chains have developed without proper regulation or the involvement of trade unions which have left countries dependent on few exports and driven down conditions for workers. This has meant that the pandemic has had a devastating impact on countries dependent on the export of goods such as textiles – the clothes that end up in our shops and wardrobes. As there has been a crash in demand, millions are threatened with abject poverty. Research by the ILO shows that:
By insisting on sourcing from countries with low overheads – cheap labour, few regulations and low taxes – companies are complicit in the devastation that follows the mass cancellation of orders. Even if they had been paid living wages - a long time ask by campaigners that rarely, if ever, been effectively delivered, these workers would have little income protection, poor access to health care and minimal food security. The profits of our brands still rest on the total vulnerability of their suppliers’ workforces.
Building on the progress made since the adoption of the UN Guiding Principles of Business and Human Rights, a global effort needs to be made to ensure that business models address these profound inequalities at a far deeper level than has been attempted so far. In the short term, business must join unions in pushing governments to provide social protection and respect the ILO’s core standards, and be prepared to pay if increased costs result. In the longer term, they will have to rethink their purchasing approach, engage in social dialogue and help build a model of global supply chains that is centred on decent work and respect for international labour standards. The era of cut-to-the-bone and infinitely flexible supply chains must come to an end.
The push towards informal models of work, and the lack of regulation of global supply chains have been facilitated by international institutions that have privileged the interests of multi-national business over workers, promoting a deregulatory agenda that has served to entrench inequality. The World Trade Organisation (WTO), International Monetary Fund and World Bank have entrenched rules that have consolidated the power of multinational companies and worked to undermine workers’ rights, labour market institutions, quality public services and other social protections through deregulation, liberalisation and privatisation in both the Global North and Global South.
These institutions must act urgently to protect workers most at risk in the pandemic, but this should be just the start of a new approach which democratises these institutions to ensure equal participation from the global south, and puts decent work, social protection, and a just transition to a lower carbon world at their heart. All development cooperation should follow the principles set out in the Busan Principles for Effective Development Cooperation. 
Urgent and longer-term actions must include the following:
Globally, far right governments have used the Covid-19 pandemic as a justification for anti-migrant, racist and xenophobic actions and an increase in authoritarian measures.
They have sought to sow division and blame ‘the other’ for the social and economic suffering caused by the pandemic to divert attention from their inadequate responses to the crisis and the long term impact of the economic policies which have left workers behind. Furthermore, far right governments have denied migrants and refugees fundamental human rights such as the right to medical care, rights at work including safe working conditions and social security entitlements.
The TUC works with trade unions internationally to counter the far right, supporting unions to organise workers from all countries and racial backgrounds to demand decent treatment and stop racism and xenophobia. But the efforts of trade-unions must not stand alone. A new internationalism based promoting decent work for everyone must be part of a global effort to counter the hatred, fear and division propagated by far-right parties that damage workers everywhere.
 ILO (2020) Contagion Or Starvation, The Dilemma Facing Informal Workers During The Covid-19 Pandemic www.ilo.org/global/about-the-ilo/newsroom/news/WCMS_744005/lang--en/index.htm
 For more detail see www.tuc.org.uk/research-analysis/reports/tuc-briefing-us-and-eu-negotiations
 ILO (May 2020 ) Covid-19 And The Textiles, Clothing, Leather And Footwear Industries available at https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/---ed_dialogue/---sector/documents/briefingnote/wcms_741344.pdf
 The Busan Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation https://www.oecd.org/dac/effectiveness/Busan%20partnership.pdf
 Toolkit for Mainstreaming Employment and Decent Work, ILO, 2008 www.ilo.org/pardev/partnerships/partnerships-and-relations/ceb-toolkit/…
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