International Trade and Human Rights: Balancing the Act

24 September-4 November 2014 (E15314) | Closed
Instructor: Mihir Kanade

This certificate course offered by HREA and the Human Rights Center of the University for Peace introduces participants to the interactions between the human rights-centric approach of the United Nations (UN) and the economic approach of the World Trade Organization (WTO). The international vision post-Word War II envisaged creation of the UN to take care of two of the pillars of the New World Order, namely peace and human rights, whereas the other two pillars of trade and finance were entrusted to the Breton Woods Institutions namely the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, as well as to the regime under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade 1947 – the predecessor of the WTO. All member states of the WTO have signed at least one core human rights treaty under the auspices of the UN. As such, it is imperative that while operating at the WTO, states must adopt policies that would at the very least, not infringe upon their human rights commitments under the UN, and would in fact further them.

However, various WTO agreements and policies have resulted in undermining human rights around the world in very complex ways. This has resulted in a fragmented nature of international law governing human rights on the one hand and international trade on the other. States also find themselves in a rather ambivalent position where, in furtherance of trade obligations under the WTO, they end up breaching their own human rights commitments under the UN. Even institutionally, the WTO, including its judges and officials, have long preferred that human rights issues should not gravitate towards the WTO which is a trade institution, and should be handled solely by the UN.

This e-learning course introduces students to the various linkages between international trade and human rights, how the two regimes interact with one another, and the current debates on how to resolve the tensions between the two. In the first two weeks of the course, participants specifically examine the interactions between the human rights centric approach of the United Nations on the one hand, and the predominantly economic approach of the WTO on the other, and analyse both regimes from a historical and legal perspective to understand why they have developed in ‘splendid isolation’, despite having shared institutional objectives. The doctrinal and policy debates underlying these linkages will be highlighted to give participants an insight into why states, while operating at the WTO, adopt policies that tend to disregard their own human rights commitments under the UN.

The next two weeks of the course are devoted to analysing how human rights are affected by specific WTO Agreements and policies. Concrete issues of trade and human rights linkages will be examined, including labour rights, biosafety regulations, the intellectual property rights regime under the WTO, trade in natural resources during conflicts etc., in order to highlight these tensions. In the fifth week of the course, the focus is on the human rights implications of Regional and Bilateral Trade and Investment Agreements and how they interact with the broader tensions between multilateral trade under the WTO and human rights. In the last week, participants will examine the various responses and solutions proposed to resolve the tensions and to build convergence between the two regimes of international trade and human rights.

Course structure

This e-learning course involves approximately 30 hours of reading, interaction with students and instructor on discussion boards, and webinars with invited guests. The course is based on a participatory, active learning approach, with an emphasis on critical reflection and peer-to-peer learning. The maximum number of course participants is 25. Students who successfully complete the course will receive a certificate of completion. It is also possible to audit the course.

Course outline

Week 1: UN and WTO: Human rights approach vs. economic approach; historical and factual narratives of the two regimes and the need for harmonisation
Week 2: Legal and doctrinal aspects of international trade and human rights linkages
Week 3: Deconstructing the linkages-I: TRIPS Agreement and human rights, biosafety and human rights, WTO Dispute Settlement procedure and human rights
Week 4: Deconstructing the linkages-II: Labour rights and international trade, human rights exception Clauses in WTO Agreements, international trade, natural resources and armed conflict
Week 5: Human rights implications of regional and bilateral trade and investment agreements
Week 6: Exploring solutions and suggesting convergence; human rights impact assessments, development approach, judicial approach, pragmatic approach

About the instructor: Mihir Kanade

instructor photo_Mihir KanadeMihir Kanade is the Director of the Human Rights Center at the United Nations mandated University for Peace (UPEACE) and is an Academic Consultant to the Department of International Law and Human Rights at UPEACE. Prior to the present position, Mr. Kanade practiced for seven years as a lawyer in the Supreme Court of India and the Bombay High Court, focusing on issues of fundamental human rights violations. He holds a LL.B. from Nagpur University and a Masters degree in International Law and the Settlement of Disputes from UPEACE. He has served extensively as a legal advisor to many human rights organizations, including those involved with refugee protection, and has represented them before different courts and tribunals in criminal, constitutional, asylum, human rights and labour cases. His current primary area of academic research and study is Human Rights, Development and International Trade linkages. He is a consultant to the United Nations University, Tokyo, on a project titled ‘WTO Agreements, United Nations and Human Security’. Mihir is also the instructor of the HREA-UPEACE joint e-learning courses Business and Human Rights, Corporate Social Responsibility, Development and Human Rights, Health and Human Rights, Indigenous Peoples’ Rights and International Human Rights Law (Foundation Course).

Who should apply

The course is intended for staff members of development and trade organisations, including development NGOs, government agencies, inter-governmental organisations. Candidates should have a good written command of English and have high competence and comfort with computer and Internet use. HREA and UPEACE aim to ensure equal gender and geographical distribution across the selected participants.


Tuition fee for participants: US$ 575; tuition for auditors: US$ 215. Payments can be made online with major credit cards (Discover, MasterCard, Visa), PayPal, bank transfer (additional fee applies) and money transfer (Western Union, MoneyGram). Bulk rates are available. Payments are due upon registration.

How to register

Registration is closed.

Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently asked questions about HREA’s e-learning courses.