After the rejection of any inclusion of a social clause in the World Trade Organization agreements, the 1996 Singapore Declaration formally separated the organizational remits for labour and trade in international law. Since then the World Trade Organization (WTO) has been reticent in addressing labour-related issues in multilateral fora, thus distancing itself from social concerns intimately related to the international trade of goods and services. However, a close reading of the World Trade Reports between 2003 and 2017 shows that the WTO addresses labour standards and policy extensively. The WTO discourse advances specific views on how international trade interrelates with labour standards, labour market policy, migrant workers, unemployment benefits, workers’ skills and social protection. This article shows that the WTO Secretariat, through its reports, strongly links the success of its agenda to deregulatory reforms in labour market policy and labour standards. Against this background the article argues that the crisis of the WTO today, rather than being caused externally by a protectionist turn, is rooted in the failure of the international trade system to sufficiently engage with social concerns.