U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis and Trade Representative Ron Kirk sent a message on Friday that the Obama administration is serious about enforcing the labor provisions in our trade agreements. They announced that the administration plans to pursue consultations with the Guatemalan government under the labor chapter of the Dominican Republic-Central America-United States Free Trade Agreement, or CAFTA-DR. This is the first time ever that the United States has brought a labor case against a trade agreement partner, and it comes after an extensive Labor Department investigation that found violations of worker’s rights to organize and bargain collectively, as well as poor workplace conditions.
Effective enforcement of labor standards is not only a moral imperative but also an economic imperative. Our own economic progress depends on making sure that our trading partners abide by the labor laws on their books. Enforcement ensures that American workers can compete on a level playing field; that developing countries continue to develop in a just and sustainable way, opening up more markets for American goods and services; and that corporations and the public sector can share the burden of raising labor standards.
Ensuring the enforcement of labor standards helps create a more even playing field so that countries with lower levels of development than our own cannot leverage poor labor standards as a competitive strategy. Assuming that developing countries can only achieve economic growth and development by leveraging poor labor standards is both wrong and unsustainable. In fact, the adoption and implementation of labor standards can help developing countries move up the development trajectory.
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