Fighting for worker justice in the global economy.
Guatemala offers the first test of the ability of CAFTA (Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement) to protect worker rights. In April 2008, the AFL-CIO and six Guatemalan trade unions filed with the US government a CAFTA labor complaint against Guatemala.
The complaint uses several case studies to document illegal firings, failure to bargain in good faith, health and safety violations, and violence against trade unionists in Guatemala. After three years of little progress, the Obama Administration said in August 2011 that it would take Guatemala to arbitration but the governments subsequently resumed closed door negotiations that continued as of the end of 2012. The very limited actions taken by the Guatemalan government over this lengthy period indicate that CAFTA’s penalties for failing to address labor rights violations, including murder, are not feared, especially by employers.
In Janurary 2013, Guatemalan unions released a report with recommendations on what steps should be taken by the Guatemalan government to address worker rights violations in the CAFTA labor complaint.
CAFTA Worker Rights Violations Exclude Murder
Particularly disconcerting is the Obama Administration's view that the murder of a trade unionist is not a violation of worker rights subject to the CAFTA labor complaint process. In addition, the Administration has done little to press the Guatemalan government to address violence and impunity, even though Guatemala trails only Colombia in number of trade unionists murdered. See page 8 of the Fall 2012 USLEAP newsletter for additional information.
In March 2012, over two dozen Honduran trade unions and NGOs together with the AFL-CIO filed a labor complaint on Honduras charging the government with violating the labor rights provisions established by CAFTA (Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement) by failing to enforce its labor laws.
The complaint documents cases of worker rights violations in the garment and autoparts export sector, the agricultural export sector, and the port and maritime sector. Violations include freedom of association and collective bargaining, acceptable working conditions, lack of access to fair and efficient administrative or judicial tribunals and child labor. Each case is accompanied by an analysis of the government's failure to address the violations and enforce Honduran labor law.
This is the second major complaint that tests the effectiveness of the trade agreement’s labor protections; the first was filed against Guatemala in 2008.
The U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Trade and Labor Affairs (OTLA) accepted the petition in May 2012 at which point it committed to presenting a public report within a period of 180 days.
The U.S. and Colombia signed a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) in 2006 it stalled for five years in Congress primarily because of Democratic concerns about violence against trade unionists and pervasive impunity. The Agreement was approved in October 2011 despite a lack of recent progress on violence. Congress also approved Free Trade Agreements with Panaman and South Korea. The Colombia FTA was prematurely implemented in May 2012, before adequate progress in addressing worker rights issues, including violence and impunilty.
The Obama Administration has begun negotiations for a TransPacific Partnership (TPP) FTA involving the US, Australia, New Zealand, Brunei, Vietnam, Chile, Singapore and Peru. Mexio and Canada joined the negotiations in 2012. TPP is the first FTA negotiated by the Obama Administration. Despite 2008 campaign promises for a new deal on trade, the TPP is essentially based on the flawed NAFTA and CAFTA models, albeit with a U.S. proposal for stronger worker rights protections. The U.S. proposal on worker rights protections is reportedly opposed by the majority of other countries engaged in the negotiations but worker rigthts advocates believes it does not go far enough.
Anti-FTA advocates and members of Congress have rallied around the TRADE Act, the Trade Reform, Accountability, Development and Employment Act, which calls for a more balanced way to expand trade. For more information about the TPP and the TRADE Act, see the Citizens Trade Campaign.
Under "Fast Track," Congress is not able to make amendments to trade agreements. The Administration negotiates the terms of the agreement and Congress can only approve or reject an agreement as negotiated. On June 30, 2007, Congress alllowed "fast track" to expire. Without "fast track," it is considered nearly impossible for an Administration to negotiate and pass new trade agreements. Eventual renewal of "fast track" will effectively set U.S. policy on key rules for the global economy in the next round of trade agreements. "Fast track" paved the way for passage of NAFTA, CAFTA, and the most recent agreements with Peru, Colombia, South Korea, and Panama. The Obama Administration said when it entered office that it would not ask for "fast track"authority before undertaking extensive consultations about future directions for U.S. trade policy but it has since then begun negotiations for a TransPacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) and is expected to seek in 2013 a renewal of fast track authority.
- Murder and Impunity: Colombia and Guatemala
- Trade, Globalization, and the Race to the Bottom
- Flower Workers and Economic Justice
- Honduran Labor Resistance to the Coup
- Labor Rights in Mexico
- Banana Worker Justice Initiative
- Sweatshop Initiative
- Coffee Worker Justice Initiative
- Past Struggles
Check out our collaborative labor rights blog, Labor is Not a Commodity!