Women’s Rights and the Public Morals Exception of GATT Article 20

The public morals exception in Article XX of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) could and should be interpreted in accordance with evolving human rights law on women’s rights. This clause provides an exception to the general rule that members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) cannot take measures against other Members that would restrict trade. Under Article XX, WTO members may restrict trade for a variety of social reasons, including protecting the environment, preventing prison labor, and otherwise promoting “public morals.” This Note will argue in particular that a nation should be allowed to invoke the public morals exception in order to protect women’s rights. In the Turtles case, the Appellate Body of the WTO stated that Article XX should be understood in light of evolving international law and, in particular to that case, with respect to evolving international environmental law.3 Although this reference in the Turtles case may amount to no more than dicta, there are feminist policy reasons for extending this analysis to the public morals exception.