The relationship between international trade and labour norms is not by any means a new subject. Indeed, the links between trade and labour were already implied in David Ricardo’s theory on comparative costs, formulated in the eighteenth century, and it was in 1788 that Jacques Necker, a Swiss banker and Minister of Finance for the French King Louis XVI, argued that the abolition of Sunday as a day of rest could give a competitive edge to a country’s economy provided other countries did not do the same.1 Later on, during the nineteenth century, several industrialists such as the British Robert Owen and the French Daniel Legrand launched calls for an international regulation of labour on the understanding that countries that wished to improve the situation of their working classes would suffer from competition by other countries which did not. This reasoning was common wisdom for a long time, and in fact still stands. It is very likely that fear of international competition was one major reason that prevented many countries from undertaking measures to correct what even in the nineteenth century were considered the excesses of liberalism. It is worth noting that during the nineteenth century, apart from measures aimed at limiting child labour and night work by women in factories, the State only legislated to reduce working time in the civil service, where there was no risk of international competition.
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