GAO: Labor laws shirked in nations with US trade pacts
The Department of Labor must better police labor laws in countries where the U.S. has free trade agreements, the Government Accountability Office says.
A GAO report issued Thursday cited instances where union leaders have been killed and threatened in Columbia and Guatemala, while other countries are concealing violations by farming out subcontractors.
Investigators also identified problems in Peru and the Dominican Republic, which are also among the countries that have entered into 14 free trade agreements with the United States.
The pacts accounted for more than 35 percent of all U.S. imports in 2013, the report said.
GAO said the Labor Department has received five formal complaints of possible labor law violations since 2008, but only one has been resolved.
Allegations of human trafficking, forced labor and retaliatory firing of workers who participate in union activities in the Dominican Republic, and discrimination in Bahrain are pending.
There may be more.
The GAO said there is confusion among labor officials in other countries about how to file a complaint or report violation, according to the report, which urges the Labor Department to remedy that problem.
GAO also wants the agency to work with the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative in drafting a plan to monitor and enforcing labor laws.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D–Conn.) said the Labor Department and the U.S. Trade Representative lack appropriate funding to hold these countries to the labor laws they agree to in trade agreements.
“Without more funding we will remain in the dark about why our businesses are being undercut and American jobs shipped overseas,” she said. “That is unacceptable.”
DeLauro, who sits on the subcommittee responsible for funding the Labor Department, said the U.S. should stop pursuing the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a proposed trade deal with 11 countries including Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.
“Countries and regimes that have proven to be bad actors in the past are likely to be bad actors in the future,” she said. “The fact that we would sign a deal that includes Brunei, Vietnam and Malaysia — which have deplorable working conditions, violate worker rights, restrict free speech and assembly, discriminate against the LGBT community, and treat women as second-class citizens — is unconscionable.”
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