Fighting for worker justice in the global economy.
The U.S. Labor Education in the Americas Project was founded in 1987 as the U.S./Guatemala Labor Education in the Americas Project by individuals and trade unionists concerned about violence against trade unionists in Guatemala. US/GLEP was one of the first non-profit groups in the U.S. to begin exploring how to undertake effective international labor solidarity in support of workers in Latin America, and has been at the forefront of efforts to hold U.S. companies accountable for conditions, wages, and basic rights of their workers abroad.
US/GLEP’s initial work in Guatemala focused on supporting workers organizing in factories and plantations producing for U.S. companies or the U.S. market and seeking enforcement of U.S. trade law. In the 1990s, USGLEP focused significantly on the apparel sector in Guatemala, helping set the stage for the growth of the anti-sweatshop movement in the U.S. It later began working closely with the banana unions that helped persuade the organization to take a regional approach, at which point USGLEP became USLEAP, the U.S. Labor Education in the Americas Project, in 1998.
Over the years, USLEAP’s primary countries of focus have been Guatemala, Colombia, Honduras, Mexico, and Ecuador along with some work in Nicaragua, El Salvador, Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic. Primary sectors of focus include apparel, banana, coffee, and flowers. USLEAP has also been at the forefront of efforts to make worker rights a core part of U.S. international trade policy and practice, filing workers rights petitions with the US Trade Representative starting in 1991 (e.g. Guatemala and, later, Ecuador) and opposing trade agreements that do not protect worker rights (e.g. NAFTA, CAFTA and the Colombia Free Trade Agreement).
Specific Worker Justice Organizing Project accomplishments include:
Banana Worker Justice Project: Helped persuade Chiquita Brands to accept responsibility for the treatment of workers on "independent" suppliers and begin a dialogue with its workers at a region-wide level that led to a path-breaking regional worker rights agreement in 2001.
Coffee Worker Justice Initiative: Persuaded Starbucks to become the first major U.S. coffee company to agree to adopt a code of conduct and accept responsibility for the working conditions and wages of coffee workers on plantations from which it buys.
Flower Worker Justice Initiative: Helped workers win the only independent union collective bargaining agreements in Colombia's flower sector in 2008.
Sweatshop (Maquiladora) Worker Justice) Project: Helped secure worker victories and collective bargaining agreements at apparel factories in Central America and Mexico. E.g. persuaded the Phillips-Van Heusen Corporation to sign what was then the only collective bargaining agreement in Guatemala's maquiladora sector, for a time establishing a model maquiladora for Central America that paid a decent wage, respected basic rights, and provided all legally-mandated benefits.
Specific Structural Reform Project accomplishments include:
Trade and Worker Rights Project: Used provisions of U.S. trade law to help obtain specific advances, such as legal recognition of maquila unions in Guatemala and banana unions in Ecuador, and broader structural changes, such as increases in the minimum wage, labor law reform and new labor courts in Guatemala.
Violence Against Trade Unionists Project: Wrote a report on worker rights in Colombia that was released by the AFL-CIO in 2006 and 2007. The findings were cited in The Washington Post and The New York Times, among other media sources, as sufficient to justify opposition to a free trade agreement with Colombia which was delayed for five years until passage in 2011.
USLEAP’s work has been covered in The New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, National Public Radio, Financial Times, In These Times, Wall Street Journal, Univision, Inside U.S. Trade, and other major media in the U.S. as well as in Latin America.
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