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Honduran Labor Practices Draw Union Ire

AFL-CIO and 12 local labor organizations have filed a petition with the U.S. Department of Labor alleging violations of CAFTA protocol.

WASHINGTON — The AFL-CIO and 12 Honduran labor organizations have filed a petition with the U.S. Department of Labor alleging labor violations by companies in apparel, textiles and other industries.

The document accuses the government of Honduras of failing to enforce its labor laws under the Central American Free Trade Agreement by not upholding laws that enable workers to unionize, organize and bargain collectively or promoting acceptable working conditions.

Celeste Drake, trade and globalization policy specialist at the AFL-CIO, who declined to release the petition because it is confidential, said it contains allegations of labor violations at apparel and textile factories in the maquila sector, which imports fabric from the U.S. and then exports finished apparel, in Honduras. She said the charges primarily center around employers illegally firing the founding members of unionization drives and the Honduran government’s failure to force the companies to reinstate the “illegally fired workers.”

“A big portion of it [the complaint] is in the maquila sector,” Drake said. “Of all of the cases in the maquila sector, the vast majority are in the textile and garment industry.”

She stressed that the petition is against the Honduran government, “not the bad actor employers.

“What is happening is that when the government sees a pattern of this happening, they do not go to the employer and [enforce the law.],” she said.

The petition also cites alleged labor violations in the agriculture and port operations sector.

The Labor Department will investigate and issue a public report with its findings. If the agency finds sufficient evidence of violations and investigations by the U.S. Trade Representative’s Office and State Department find that Honduras has failed to meet its labor obligations under CAFTA, the U.S. government can request consultations with the Honduran government. If those consultations fail to resolve the problem, the U.S. can request an arbitration panel.

Ultimately, if Honduras fails to address the problem, its government could be forced to pay $15 million into an annual fund to improve labor standards.