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U.S. Strikes Labor Rights Accord With Guatemala

Ends dispute over CAFTA violations.

WASHINGTON — The U.S. has reached a labor rights enforcement agreement with Guatemala stemming from allegations of workers’ rights abuses in several industries there, including apparel manufacturing.

Acting U.S. Trade Representative Demetrios Marantis and Acting Labor Secretary Seth Harris said Thursday that the U.S. and Guatemala have agreed to what they called a “robust” enforcement plan to address labor abuses in Guatemala in a case brought by the U.S. under the Central American Free Trade Agreement dating back to 2010.

Companies shipped $1.25 billion in apparel made in Guatemala to the U.S. in 2012, according to the Commerce Department’s Office of Textiles and Apparel.

The 18-point plan stipulates specific steps Guatemala must take to improve enforcement of labor laws within six months.

 

“This landmark agreement with Guatemala demonstrates that by using the tools in our trade agreements, we can achieve tangible and concrete commitments that will improve the daily lives of workers in Guatemala and ensure a level playing field for American workers upon its implementation,” said Marantis. “This plan reflects Guatemala’s commitment to constructive engagement to meet its labor obligations under our trade agreement and the United States’ commitment to working with our trade agreement partners to help ensure respect for labor rights.”

The Obama administration filed a labor complaint against Guatemala under the CAFTA labor chapter in July 2010, marking the first time the U.S. has filed a case challenging a country’s labor practices against a partner in a free-trade agreement. The U.S. case stemmed from a 2008 AFL-CIO petition outlining the alleged failure by the Guatemalan government to effectively enforce labor laws.

The U.S. charged Guatemala with not meeting its obligations under CAFTA because it failed to enforce the right of association, and the right of workers to organize and bargain collectively and to maintain “acceptable” working conditions.

The two sides were unable to resolve the matter through consultations, which led to the U.S. requesting a meeting of the Free Trade Commission in 2011, followed by the establishment of an arbitration panel and eventually a suspension of the case while the two sides continued to negotiate an agreement on an enforcement plan.

Under the enforcement plan, Guatemala has committed to beefing up labor inspections, expediting and streamlining employer sanctions and ordering remediation of labor violations, increasing labor law compliance by exporting companies, improving monitoring and enforcement of labor court orders, publishing labor law enforcement information and establishing mechanisms to ensure workers are paid when a factory closes.