SOAS University of London

School of Law

International Labour Law and Equality Rights

Course Code:
Unit value:
Taught in:
Full Year

This module provides an introduction to the rationales, content, institutions and regulatory frameworks relating to labour standards and equality rights at regional and international level. A comparative, contextual and conceptual approach will be taken. The module examines the standards relating to labour and equality rights that have been adopted by international institutions and within the international community, the methods by which they have been promoted and the specific mechanisms utilised for their enforcement. This entails not only a technical analysis of international instruments and supervisory structures but also detailed consideration of underlying political and economic concerns. These are examined in their social and historical context.

The module focuses on two broad themes. In the first half of the module (Term 1), we will examine how national and international labour laws are responding to the challenge of globalization as it re-shapes the workplace, as well as the impact of economic crisis or economic transition. The focus will be on labour rights under conditions of trade liberalization; labour rights as human rights; the role of international labour standards and the contribution of the International Labour Organization; as well as exploring other international and regional mechanisms for creation and enforcement of labour standards: from the UN, to efforts to establish trade and labour linkages in regional trade agreements, such as the European Union; and the labour dimensions of codes of conduct, social labelling and investor initiatives. The second half of the module (Term 2) focuses on mechanisms for protecting equality rights, internationally and regionally, exploring theoretical foundations of equality laws and evaluating their effects in practice. A comparative approach will be adopted, to explore common themes and different approaches in a variety of jurisdictions, including Canada, India, South Africa, the UK, EU, the US, and the ECHR.

Attention will be given to various case studies, the content of which may change from year to year. Illustrative topics include:

  • Labour rights and human rights;
  • Setting, supervising and enforcing international labour standards;
  • ‘Core’ labour rights and the ILO;
  • ‘Core’ labour rights and the changing economy: Informal work and the global financial crisis;
  • ‘Core’ labour rights and the ILO: Focus on child labour, migrant work and domestic work;
  • The World Trade Organization and labour rights;
  • The role of private initiatives and the international financial institutions;
  • The concept of direct discrimination; the concept of indirect discrimination;
  • Race; Affirmative action;
  • Gender and equal pay between men and women; Pregnancy and parenthood;
  • Disability and age; Religion and belief; Sexual orientation.

NB: This module will never run in the same year as 15PLAH029 International Labour Law. If you are a part-time student, you are not permitted to take both of these modules during your degree.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the course

  • Exhibit a good understanding of the ideas, doctrines and framework sustaining core international labour rights and equality rights;
  • Show an ability to critically appraise the law, not only on its own terms, but also from other points of view;
  • Evaluate the rules studied on their own terms, for example for clarity, consistency and coherence;
  • Relate the legal rules to the experience in practice of those whom they most directly concern, considering the impact of the labour regulation on workers, states, multinational enterprises and its function in society and the global economy more generally;
  • Expose the thinking that underlies different legal interventions, and evaluate the cogency of the underlying premises;
  • Students will also have developed their analytical, communication and research skills, as well as their capacity to understand and evaluate complex legal sources and literature.

Method of assessment

  • Coursework: 10% (3000 words)
  • Unseen Written Examination: 90%

Suggested reading

  • Brian Bercusson and Cynthia Estlund (eds) Regulating Labour in the Wake of Globalisation: New Challenges, New Institutions, Hart Publishing, 2008
  • Janine Berg and David Kucera (eds) In Defence of Labour Market Institutions: Cultivating Justice in the Developing World, Palgrave Macmillan/ILO, 2008
  • Joanne Conaghan, Richard Michael Fischl & Karl E. Klare (eds) Labour Law in An Era of Globalization: Transformative Practices and Possibilities, Oxford: OUP, 2002
  • Sarah Joseph, David Kinley and Jeff Waincymer (eds) The World Trade Organization And Human Rights: Interdisciplinary Perspectives, Edward Elgar Publishing, 2009
  • Tzehainesh Teklè (ed) Labour Law and Worker Protection in Developing Countries, Hart Publishing, 2010


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules