GMB Experts in the World of Work
Join GMB today
 Follow @GMB_union

EU Trade and Ethical Trading

GMB is one of the UK’s most active trade unions in opposing corporate free trade agreements.

The EU is currently negotiating a number of major international trade deals, from the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with the US and the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) with Canada, to the global Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA) and bilateral agreements with Singapore, India and Japan.

Opposition to these major EU trade agreements is growing, with mass protests against the corporate-led deals taking place across Europe and over 2,000 cities and councils – representing some 75mn people – now declaring themselves TTIP and CETA-free zones.

GMB has major concerns about these deals, which will affect us all directly, from our rights and freedoms at work to the NHS and public services you and your family rely on. We are also campaigning against the development of already established agreements (such as with Colombia and Peru) which lack a trade union voice and fail to adhere to basic human rights.

GMB wrote to EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström to urge her to put people, not multinational corporations, first in her new EU Trade Strategy, published in October 2015 (see our letter in Additional Resources below). Although the proposals suggest that EU labour and social standards will not be affected by trade deals, they fail to explain just how the EU plans to enforce decent workers’ rights and protections both in the EU and the partner countries, without any binding labour clauses with penalties or sustainable development chapters.

The “Stop TTIP” European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) opposing the EU-US and other corporate-driven trade deals has reached a record number of signatures – 3.4 million and growing! If you’re against trade deals that threaten labour standards, democracy, consumer protections and the environment, sign the petition here.




Latest EU developments on TTIP and CETA

TTIP vote splits EU Parliament
Members of the European Parliament voted on their recommendations for the EU-US TTIP trade deal on 8 July 2015, adopting a position that endorses the dangerous investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS). All but one of our Labour MEPs voted against the amendment that included ISDS but sadly they were out-voted. Although the recommendations do call to keep public services out of the agreement and make some progress in strengthening protections for workers’ rights and environmental standards, existing trade agreements give us little reassurance that this will be adhered to. The EU and US continue their negotiations on the deal and the next time it will be in the EU Parliament, MEPs will only be able to vote for a yes or no ratification of it, with no scope to amend.

A Corporate Europe Observatory study highlights how major corporations have increased their lobbying activities over TTIP, with private businesses accounting for 100 of 122 lobby meetings with EU Commission trade staff over the past 6 months.

Say NO to CETA
In the meantime, the EU-Canada CETA trade deal is due to be referred for adoption by the EU Parliament by the end of of 2016, again without any scope to amend.

EU leaders are soon to decide whether CETA should be considered a ‘mixed’ agreement, which would mean the deal has to be ratified by each individual EU national parliament. A veto from only one country could scupper the entire agreement. Things aren’t looking good for the deal with several national MPs and political parties already vowing to oppose it.

GMB will be calling for rejection of both deals, in line with TUC policy of outright opposition – a position which has also just been adopted by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU). France’s Secretary of State for Foreign Trade has also warned that the country will not ratify a CETA deal that contains an ISDS clause.

A new report, co-drafted by the European Public Services Union federation (EPSU), has revealed how CETA threatens our public services and will make EU countries much more vulnerable to costly corporate lawsuits.

Click here to sign the TUC petition to say STOP to CETA. 
And click here to sign the War on Want petition demanding David Cameron ensures CETA is a ’mixed’ agreement and that he guarantees all MPs a final vote on whether or not to ratify the deal. 

Read International Federation of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers' Associations (IUF) Peter Rossman’s article on ’Unpacking CETA’ here.

The European Federation of Public Service Unions (EPSU) launched its anti-CETA campaign on International Public Service Day, 23 June 2016. More information and campaigning materials are available on its website. EPSU has also co-signed a statement expressing doubts and concerns on the new interpretative declaration to accompany the CETA agreement. See a copy of their statement in the additional resources below.


Investor protections in trade deals

When an overwhelming 97% of responses to an EU public consultation state their opposition to a corporate-driven Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) clause in EU trade deals, you would think the EU Commission would listen to public concern and immediately scrap the idea. And this is what it claims to have done – by introducing a new international Investment Court System (ICS) instead. GMB is not convinced and sees this court as ISDS in other clothes. Not only would trade deals like the EU-US agreement currently being negotiated still allow ISDS until the new court has been set up (something which is still years away), but the EU-Canada deal nearing the final ratification process still contains an ISDS clause – making a mockery of the new proposals. By continuing to offer privileged services to corporate investors, the EU Commission is failing to address fundamental public concerns with trade deals that threaten our public services, rights, protections and standards in the interests of increasing corporate profit.



German judges have questioned the legality and necessity of the new Investment Court System (ICS), a half-baked proposal by the EU Commission to try to counter major public opposition to investor-trade dispute settlements in international trade deals.

According to the judges, the ICS has no legal basis and would not stop foreign investors from being able to sue national and local governments for regulating in the public interest. The process for appointing judges to the ICS also does not meet international standards for legal independence, despite Commission assurances of full transparency and public scrutiny.

A damning report from a UN expert has also revealed that the new ICS, just like ISDS, remains incompatible with fundamental human rights, democracy and the rule of law. The UN expert has called for this type of mechanism to be excluded from all future global trade agreements and for existing ISDS clauses to be phased out, to ensure that trade deals work for the people and not fat cat investors.

This is yet another thorn in the side of the EU Commission, which continues to insist on negotiating the discredited corporate EU-US trade deal (TTIP) in the face of mounting opposition. GMB continues to campaign for the end to this and all other business-driven trade agreements.

Read Corporate Europe Observatory’s new report on The Zombie ISDS here.


Latest developments on TiSA

The European Parliament voted in February 2016 on the global Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA) report, with some adopted amendments aiming to strengthen social and employment safeguards and calling for the full exclusion of public services. GMB has urged MEPs to closely monitor progress on the negotiations to ensure all their recommendations are incorporated – and to vote against the deal’s ratification if their proposals are ignored.

GMB had previously written to MEPs working on the TiSA report, outlining our opposition to the agreement and stating that if the risks are not removed, the deal should be opposed (see our letter in Additional Resources below).

ETUC Congress in October 2015 adopted an emergency resolution warning of the risks of TiSA, which will restrict public authorities’ right to regulate and threatens workers’ rights and universal access to quality public services.

See Penny Clarke, Deputy Secretary General of the European Public Service Union federation (EPSU)’s article on TiSA in our September 2016 EU news bulletin.

TUC Congress 2014 — Composite adopted affirming outright opposition to corporate trade deals

GMB played a leading role in the development of the 2014 TUC composite on TTIP, which confirms our outright opposition to the deal and calls for a halt to negotiations that:

  • Threaten the future of our NHS and other key public services being opened up to further privatisation with no road back;
  • Risk job losses;
  • Undermine labour standards, pay, conditions and trade union rights. The US refuses to ratify core ILO conventions, and operates anti-union ‘right to work’ policies in half of its states;
  • Reverse years of European progress on environmental standards, food safety and control of dangerous chemicals, given US refusal to accept stricter EU regulation of  substances long banned in the EU;
  • Deprive EU member states of billions of pounds in lost tariff revenue.

A copy of the full composite adopted is available on the TUC website.


'No to Global Trade Agreements Driven by Corporate Greed'

Read the June 2014 article by Asha Wije for Union Junction here.

Share this page

Additional Resources

Interpretative Declaration Placates but Clarifies Nothing

download pdf926Kb (pdf) - 13 October 2016

EPSU co-statement against the Interpretative Declaration set to accompany the CETA agreement

GMB response to EU consultation on TTIP impact assessment

download pdf118Kb (pdf) - 09 June 2016

GMB response to the EU consultation on the draft trade sustainability impact assessment for the EU-US TTIP trade deal


download pdf312Kb (pdf) - 31 May 2016

Bury toxic trade agreements! says GMB

GMB letter to MEPs on TiSA (October 2015)

download pdf65Kb (pdf) - 29 October 2015

GMB letter to MEPs on the plurilateral Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA)


download pdf277Kb (pdf) - 10 September 2015

TTIP vote splits EU Parliament, ISDS endorsed

GMB input to new EU Trade Strategy (Sept 2015)

download pdf161Kb (pdf) - 01 September 2015

GMB input to European Commission proposals for a new Trade Strategy

GMB update briefing on EU and Global Trade Agreements (June 2015)

download pdf343Kb (pdf) - 05 June 2015

EU trade ‘fresh start’ pledge already smells stale

GMB letter to Labour MEPs on ISDS (March 2015)

download pdf121Kb (pdf) - 03 March 2015

GMB calls for Labour MEPs to oppose the Investor-State dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanism being included in any trade agreements

GMB letter to Lead Socialist MEPs on ISDS (March 2015)

download pdf121Kb (pdf) - 03 March 2015

GMB calls for MEPs to oppose the Investor-State dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanism being included in any trade agreements

GMB response to EU Ombudsman on transparency in EU/US trade deal (October 2014)

download pdf191Kb (pdf) - 27 October 2014

GMB response to EU Ombudsman public consultation on the transparency of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations

GMB Briefing on EU and Global Trade Agreements (September 2014)

download pdf263Kb (pdf) - 16 September 2014

TUC follows GMB lead on EU and Global Trade Agreements


download pdf237Kb (pdf) - 01 July 2014

GMB response to European Commission Public Consultation on Investment protection and investor-to-state dispute settlement (ISDS) in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership Agreement (TTIP)


download pdf175Kb (pdf) - 14 March 2014

Response from EU Commissioner Karel De Gucht to GMB letter on ISDS in EU trade agreements

ISDS in EU trade agreements – GMB letter to Commission (January 2014)

download pdf88Kb (pdf) - 31 January 2014

GMB letter to EU Commissioner Karel De Gucht on ISDS in EU trade agreements

GMB response to House of Lords on EU/US trade deal (October 2013)

download pdf222Kb (pdf) -

GMB response to the House of Lords' call for evidence on the TransAtlantic Trade and Investment Partnership

Education for Sale

download pdf2180Kb (pdf) - 23 June 2015

TTIP and Education – information leaflet

End Corporate Courts Now!

download pdf102Kb (pdf) - 18 September 2014

AFL-CIO factsheet on How the Investor-to-State Dispute Settlement Threatens Public Welfare and Undermines Democracy


download pdf610Kb (pdf) - 28 April 2014

Public Services International Special Report: The Trade in Services Agreement and the corporate agenda