Work is indeed a human right, but it’s not true that free trade is a major cause of violations of this right. When trade barriers are removed, some jobs will indeed be outsourced overseas, notably to countries where the relative labor cost is lower. But the people overseas who benefit from this outsourcing arguably need the jobs more than citizens of wealthy western welfare states. Also, it’s not because some jobs disappear that others aren’t created. Furthermore, lower production costs often translate into lower retail prices for many consumer goods, something which may compensate for job losses or for shifts in labor markets.
The alternative to free trade is protectionism, and protectionism is a major cause of poverty in developing countries. Absence of poverty is also a human right. We have therefore two human rights that need to be balanced against each other. In this case, I think the right not to suffer poverty should take precedence, for the following reason: on the one hand, protectionism aggravates poverty mainly in developing countries and those countries often don’t have robust social security systems; on the other hand, to the extent that free trade and outsourcing do produce job losses they do so mainly in developed countries that offer social security. The harm caused by protectionism is therefore greater than the harm caused by free trade. Also, let’s not forget the numerous positive effects of free trade:
- more specialization
- more use of comparative advantage
- better access to technology and knowledge
- better and cheaper intermediate goods (raw products etc.) and capital goods (machines etc.)
- benefits of scale
- and increased competition.
It’s very difficult if not impossible to cite a similar number of positive effects of protectionism.
Here’s another advert making the same mistake:
More human rights ads.