As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Monday, May 09, 2005

CAFTA will enshrine anti-worker provisions

Thanks to everyone who read my diary about unions yesterday. I noticed in the comments that a number of people talked about the need for cross-border union solidarity, and for recognized global labor standards.

These standards already exist, actually, under an aegis called the ILO (International Labor Organization). They include:

·      freedom of association and collective bargaining,
·      elimination of forced labor,
·      effective abolition of child labor, and
·      elimination of discrimination.

And if DR-CAFTA (the Dominican Republic-Central American Free Trade Agreement) is passed, none of these will ever reach Central America.

Congressman Sander Levin (D-MI), after much difficulty, finally received a suppressed report from the US Labor Department that shows how labor laws in Central America are openly hostile to workers:

The Labor Department commissioned ILRF to evaluate labor laws as part of negotiations for CAFTA. The trade agreement, if approved by Congress in an up-or-down vote, would provide more money for enforcement, but would not require any changes in current labor laws.

The ILRF disagreed with the U.S. Trade Representative’s assessment that labor standards in CAFTA nations are up to international standards, citing examples of workplace discrimination and systematically quashed worker organization.
Levin asked for the study, but said he was rebuffed by the Labor Department for eleven months (emphasis mine), until he threatened congressional action to force the documents into the public domain.

“Essentially, what CAFTA says to Central American countries is, ‘Your laws fall so short of international standards – just enforce your own laws,’” Levin said. “That means, of course, the laws can become even worse.”

Basically, CAFTA's labor provisions really only target enforcement of existing labor laws in its respective countries. If the laws in those countries are below international standards, nothing can be done. Therefore, a government can maintain their shoddy labor laws, and even WEAKEN them to get an unfair trade advantage, without endangering the advantages of market access in the CAFTA agreement. And even the so-called "enforcement" is toothless and does nothing to protect workers. In fact, according to this AFL-CIO report:

As long as the violating country continues to pay itself a fine, even if the fine does nothing to remedy workers’ rights abuses, its trading partners are barred from withdrawing trade benefits under CAFTA.

And those fines are miniscule enough to be outweighed by the benefits for management and government.

This report from Human Rights Watch has more.

In response to analyses such as the above, supporters of D.R.-CAFTA have asserted that labor laws in Central America and the Dominican Republic already meet international standards.  As a result, they argue, the failure of D.R.-CAFTA to require the laws to comply with international norms is inconsequential.  To substantiate their claims, they frequently and incorrectly cite ILO studies of the region’s labor laws completed in 2003 and 2004...

Central American and Dominican labor laws, however, do not meet international standards.  In fact, the 2003 and 2004 ILO studies also find no fewer than twenty-seven areas in which the laws fall short.  In addition, in arriving at the twenty-seven areas, the ILO studies excluded from their analysis Salvadoran laws governing freedom of association and collective bargaining, as El Salvador has not ratified the two principle ILO conventions governing these rights:  ILO Convention 87 concerning Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise (ILO Convention 87) and ILO Convention 98 concerning the Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining (ILO Convention 98).

It is crucially important for workers at home and abroad that we stop CAFTA in its tracks. Trying to get corporations to adhere to global labor and environmental standards is like playing a game of Wack-A-Mole; as soon as you conform to the laws in one place, the corporation packs up and moves to another. Only by broadening support in ever greater numbers can we ensure that labor rights have any meaning beyond a dreamworld scenario.

This Thursday, President Bush is scheduled to meet with the presidents from Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua to discuss DR-CAFTA. While the above link from Bloomberg notes that the measure has little traction currently in Congress, there will be enormous pressure to get this passed. There will undoubtedly be a vote, at the very least in the Senate Finance Committee, before the July 4 recess. The stop CAFTA campaign is a good resource for those interested in fighting this issue.