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UK Trade Agreements: Workers’ Rights

Volume 712: debated on Thursday 21 April 2022

13. What steps she is taking to ensure that workers’ rights are maintained in all UK trade agreements. (906462)

23. What steps she is taking to help ensure that workers’ rights are maintained in all UK trade agreements. (906473)

The Minister will be aware that the TUC was first promised a seat on a trade advisory board in November 2020, and 18 months on it has still not been offered that seat. It was quite right that life sciences, transport, financial services and various other bodies have seats on these trade boards. Why do the Government have a problem with the TUC or any of our trade unions, which do an enormous amount of work in protecting workers’ rights in this country?

The issue is that the unions have not taken up the seat they were offered, but my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has included dialogue with unions in our trade negotiations at every opportunity—most recently, with the work she has been doing to secure a US FTA—and we will continue to do that. They are important stakeholders, and they will always be offered a seat at the table.

Can the Minister tell the House whether the issue of labour standards in supply chains has been raised with India during the trade negotiations?

The hon. Member will know from the trade negotiations that we have concluded already, that this always forms a part of those negotiations through our discussions and consultations. I can get her chapter and verse on that and some details. It is not one of the FTAs I look after, but I can assure her that that is a core part of our negotiations.

In 2019, the UK signed a trade deal with Colombia. Two years after that deal, Colombia remains the deadliest country for workers and trade union members, with 22 assassinations in the last two years alone. However, the UK’s trade deal has no clear enforcement mechanisms to protect the rights of workers or trade unionists. Will Ministers learn anything from this failure, especially when they negotiate future trade agreements with Gulf states?

I refer the hon. Member to some remarks on this issue that I made last year in Westminster Hall, where I took the time to list some of the activists—trade union activists, environmental activists—who have been brutally murdered. I listed those people on the Floor in Westminster Hall because it is important that we shine a spotlight on those issues. She will know that we have also taken great efforts to raise this issue at the UN, and I think we are upholding our obligations to those people in doing that.