Poor Peru. It seems international investors might be losing interest in sending money its way. For those who argue that it is too hard to compete in international trade when you have decent rules on the books about inspecting workplaces, enforcing safety regulations or protecting the environment, Peru has responded, “No problem! We’ll just push through a jumbo pack of regressive changes to undo good laws passed on promises of a more just, inclusive and sustainable society.” Sound shocking? Maybe. But also true. That’s exactly what the government of Peru did on July 11, rolling back both labor and environmental laws.
The new set of laws, popularly referred to as the “jumbo package” (paquetazo), wipes out rules providing for safe workplaces, a clean environment and corporate accountability. Peru’s minister of economy and finance summed up the goal as: “to create a more friendly environment, to reduce the impediments to investment.” Numerous commentators immediately pointed out that passing such regressive laws to jump-start trade and investment is a violation of the trade commitments made in deals with the United States, the European Union and Canada.
In 2011, Peru passed new laws that improved occupational health and safety and labor inspections. These laws promoted a culture of risk prevention in the workplace, emphasizing the employer’s duty to prevent those risks. Employers had to maintain a safe and healthy work environment, provide employees with adequate protective gear and provide information on workplace risks and occupational safety and health training. The law even required them to develop an action plan for the prevention of workplace accidents and to cover all costs related to workplace accidents or injuries. Similar improvements were made at the time to environmental laws to provide increased environmental impact evaluation and consultation in response to the mobilization of rural and indigenous communities that had lived through centuries of environmental devastation by the mostly foreign mining industry.
In response to these reforms, some apparently felt these standards were too high for Peru’s workers and communities. According to Peru’s official government newspaper, the 2011 workers’ health and safety laws were “made for developed countries and not for our reality.” Wait, did someone just say that Peruvians should not expect the same level of protection as those who live in richer countries? They sure did.
Perhaps even more clearly than its violation of labor standards, the new Peruvian law clearly conflicts with its commitments made to protect the environment.
Additionally, the U.N.'s top official in Peru, Rebeca Arias, wrote the foreign minister on June 26 objecting to environmental aspects of the new law.
The government is expected to order up a second super-sized package of “reforms” next Monday, ironically on the country’s independence day. Observers expect that recent laws to increase the hiring of people with disabilities are expected to be among the numerous measures rolled back next week.