International labor union grouping the International Confedera-tion of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) denounced the World Trade Organization on Thursday as a secretive, undemocratic body undermining human and worker rights around the globe.
The Brussels-based condfederation -- which says it represents 158 million workers in 150 countries -- also accused rich powers in the WTO of trying to force poor nations to open up their service markets for exploitation by big multinational firms.
"Adequate public oversight of the WTO is impossible because negotiations take place behind closed doors," declared an ICFTU statement on the trade body's current Doha Round, now moving towards a crucial conference in September.
Trade unions, civil society groups and representatives of national parliaments were shut out while decisions taken at the Geneva-based body had far-reaching implications for domestic policies, the statement said.
The ICFTU said it was especially concerned over the powers of the WTO's dispute settlement body which it argued could "overrule any democratic national laws" seen violating trade rules.
It said the trade body "casts aside social or environmental standards in its agreements" in favor of narrow economic considerations.
WTO officials routinely decline comment on such charges but argue that control of the body lies with its members -- mostly states with elected governments -- and that decisions are taken on the basis of a consensus that can be blocked by any country.
"For decades, trade unions worldwide have been striving to improve conditions for working people all over the world," ICFTU General-Secretary Guy Ryder said.
"We cannot risk having these hard-won victories overturned and the WTO must be reformed to put social concerns first in its scale of priorities."
The criticism was the toughest yet from the ICFTU, which long kept itself apart from international anti-globalization groups and their criticism of the 146-member WTO.
The labor body's statement came on the eve of a new session of Doha Round discussions in Geneva on liberalizing sectors like banking, insurance, tourism and telecommunications.
The 15-nation EU is also asking other WTO members to say how far they might be ready to open up sectors like water supplies and transport, while the US wants access to other areas like education and health.
Labor unions and some non-governmental organizations have campaigned against any move in this direction, saying public services should be in the domain of national governments.