GENEVA (AP) -- French President Nicolas Sarkozy called Monday for a "revolution" in labor and environment rules to keep unbridled globalization from running rampant over the rights of workers and citizens.
In a speech to the U.N.'s International Labor Organization, Sarkozy railed against a global economic system that he said promoted conflict over cooperation, economic growth over social improvement, and an international competition for jobs and markets that does little to raise living standards or better well-being.
He proposed a reform of the World Trade Organization's judicial system so that labor and the environment are taken into consideration during commercial disputes.
"It will no longer be the trade arbiter who decides; it will no longer be commercial law that prevails over all others," Sarkozy said.
His speech found a sympathetic crowd at this year's International Labor Conference, where thousands of government officials, employers and union representatives heard a series of rants from leaders such as Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva against neoliberal economics, the "Washington consensus" and other codes for unregulated and faulty markets.
Sarkozy said globalization has led to various forms of "dumping" -- moving production to areas with cheap labor and low environmental standards -- that were hindering fair and equitable growth.
"We need rules," Sarkozy said, citing some 50 countries that have yet to ratify key U.N. treaties on child labor, forced labor and discrimination in the workplace. "The right to trade has become the highest right of all. But what about health? Education? Culture? Biodiversity? The climate? And even labor? These are not goods like any others."
Sarkozy called for stronger international work regulations through the ILO and tougher environmental controls from a U.N. climate change summit later this year in Copenhagen, with beefed-up global bodies to enforce the new rules.
"This revolution is based on the idea that specialized agencies can intervene in international disputes, notably trade disputes," he said.
The ILO would be called upon in disputes related to fundamental labor rights, the International Monetary Fund would get involved on issues of "monetary dumping," and a future U.N. environmental organization in trade disputes with environmental aspects, he said.
Sarkozy's proposal would be supported by a number of Western countries. Even in the United States, which de-linked much of labor and human rights from trade in the 1990s, Democrats have become increasingly skeptical of new commercial pacts without safeguards to prevent an expansion of poverty, worker exploitation and environmental degradation. They have held up various agreements sealed by ex-President George W. Bush's administration in recent years.
Poorer countries, however, are wary of any rules that might be interpreted as hidden protectionism. They see cheap labor as their advantage and an opportunity for development. They oppose environmental standards that may hinder their industrial expansion, noting that Western powers spent decades building up their manufacturing capacities while polluting without limits.
Including labor standards in the WTO's work "has been very difficult to achieve," said WTO spokesman Keith Rockwell. He cited the collapse of the trade body's 1999 summit in Seattle on the same day that then-President Bill Clinton made a similar call, and said such proposals continue to provoke "strong reactions from developing countries."
Rockwell said WTO rules are stronger on the environment, citing issues such as trade in endangered species, dangerous chemicals and hazardous waste. On carbon emissions, Rockwell said WTO rules were flexible enough to adjust if countries agree to stricter rules in Copenhagen.