Trade, Violence and Migration: The Broken Promises to Honduran Workers
In October 2014, the delegation led by AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Tefere Gebre arrived in Honduras to meet with workers, labor, faith and community partners as well as government officials and learn about the impact of U.S. trade and immigration policies on Honduran workers and their families. The Northern Triangle as a whole—the section of the Central American isthmus that includes Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador—is challenged by widespread labor and human rights violations, crime, violence and corruption. Powerful gangs threaten, intimidate and kill families. The delegation decided to travel to Honduras because it shares many of the same problems of its neighboring countries, but it stands apart in its severity. Honduras is currently the murder capital of the world and has in past years been shaken by political instability, institutional corruption and repression. The children of Honduras and their families are fleeing their communities at a higher rate than in any other country in Central America—more than 18,000 unaccompanied Honduran children arrived in the United States in FY 2014.
The delegation spoke with union leaders representing sectors affected by the Central America Free Trade Agreement-Dominican Republic (CAFTA-DR, or CAFTA) including port workers, and workers from the agriculture, manufacturing and apparel industries, who are fighting to improve their working conditions in the face of employer intimidation and government inaction. They met with returned migrants, who faced dangerous journeys and militarized border enforcement and detention. They heard from local community and political leaders who explained the endemic political corruption in the country, and their struggle for a more just Honduras.
From this investigation, it is clear Central American children and their families will continue to flee their homes until they can live their lives without constant fear of violence, exercise their rights without retaliation and access decent work, all of which will require concerted policy changes in the United States and Honduras.
Examining the Root Causes of the Central American Refugee Crisis
In recent months, thousands of refugee children and their families have fled dangerous conditions in their communities, making the perilous journey through Central America and Mexico and arriving in the United States. By fleeing violence in their home countries in Central America, many become victims of trafficking, sexual abuse and further violence. They take on these risks and travel thousands of miles because staying home simply is not an option. The crime, violence, crushing poverty and failure of governments to protect the lives and rights of citizens in their home countries are so extreme that children and their families see little choice but to undertake a life-threatening journey to survive, hoping for a better future. To begin to address this complex phenomenon, which nativists in the United States have labeled incorrectly as an “immigration” problem that only can be solved with enhanced border controls, we must target the root causes of this massive displacement. Unfortunately, flawed U.S foreign and trade policies have exacerbated dangerous conditions in these countries, breeding desperation. The answer is not more militarization of the border or callous treatment of refugee children, but rather a reimagined approach to relations in the region.
International Labor Migration: A Vision for Shared Prosperity
There are approximately 232 million migrants in the world, with the overwhelming majority migrating for work. They often travel long distances to support their families, improve their income and build a better life. As the economies of many origin and destination countries have come to rely on migrant workers and their remittances, politicians and corporate interests have sought to “manage” the movement of migrants like everyday commodities in temporary, seasonal and circular migration programs. Supporters of these programs claim they provide migrants the ability to migrate safely, for a specified period of time, and improve their household income with higher wages and remittances. In reality, these programs mainly serve employer interests by providing a flexible, disposable workforce without adequate protections, without a voice at work and without permanent settlement options. Thus, migrant workers often find themselves in a captive and temporary employment relationship, within a system fraught with shockingly common forms of abuse on both ends of the migration experience. But there are alternatives. This policy statement articulates a vision of labor migration that would promote shared prosperity by lifting up and empowering workers in both origin and destination countries.
AGOA was enacted in 2000 to “promote stable and sustainable economic growth and development in Sub-Saharan Africa.” While AGOA’s primary mechanism is a narrow tariff preference system, the act has been strategically aimed at promoting wider goals of supporting democratic governance, enhancing civil society, combating corruption and promoting the rule of law. In the 15 years AGOA has been in effect, it has failed to meet these loftier ambitions. This report focuses on AGOA’s current shortcomings and offers recommendations to strengthen program to promote shared prosperity. AGOA is due for reauthorization in 2015, which presents an opportunity to promote a new vision for an economic and trade agenda that benefits Africa’s workers and addresses the challenges of a changing global economy. AGOA should spur not just job growth, but job growth that is fair, sustainable and provides a decent living for African workers and their families.
In 2011, the U.S. and Colombian governments signed the Labor Action Plan (LAP), which was supposed to address Colombia’s appalling labor rights record. This report details how, three years later, violence against trade unionists continues and workers still have difficulty exercising basic rights. 73 trade unionists have been murdered since the LAP was signed, and threats have actually increased in the last year. Workers were promised direct contracts and permanent employment, but the vast majority of the labor force is still trapped in informal hiring arrangements, that leave workers without benefits or the ability to organize to improve their situation. In spite of numerous new labor laws and decrees, companies are still violating worker rights with impunity. Most have not actually faced any legal sanction, and the few that have been fined have not paid up. This Report details how the LAP has failed workers, and how it can be changed to ensure people can freely and safely exercise their fundamental labor rights.
In September 2013, the Dominican Constitutional Court determined that individuals who are unable to prove their parents’ regular migration status can be retroactively stripped of their Dominican citizenship. For the many potential victims of this shameful policy who were born in the Dominican Republic, it means being barred from participating in the only society they have ever known. Dominicans of Haitian descent and Haitian immigrants are a critical source of cheap labor, and the deliberate creation of a stateless underclass increases the already formidable risks of exploitation. Workers without documentation cannot enter the formal economy and are pushed into dangerous, low-wage work. Workers are more dependent on their employers, less likely to report abuse and face the threat of deportation if they seek help from government officials. They are not recognized as member of trade unions, leaving them without a voice on the job or access to the pensions or social security systems that they contribute to. Stateless children often have trouble registering for high school, and are more likely to end up working in the worst forms of child labor. This report briefly shares the stories of Dominicans of Haitian descent who are struggling to maintain their status, pursue higher education, seek opportunities for meaningful work and career advancement, obtain justice against abusive employers, and ensure their children are recognized as citizens and have access to critical services. Lea el informe en español.
NAFTA at 20
Trade is not an end in itself, but a means to enhance living standards and promote shared prosperity. Unfortunately, the legacy of NAFTA and the flawed U.S. trade policy it both shaped and reflects has been stagnant wages, declining social standards and increased inequality in all three countries. The NAFTA model promotes the economic interests of investors and corporations at the expense of workers, consumers, farmers, communities, the environment and even democracy itself. While the overall volume of trade within North America has increased and corporate profits have skyrocketed, wages have remained stagnant. Productivity has increased, but workers’ share of these gains has decreased steadily, along with unionization rates. NAFTA exacerbated inequality in all three countries. The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and other forthcoming trade agreements do not have to repeat the mistakes of the past 20 years. Instead of facilitating corporate actions that exploit workers, pollute the environment and poison consumers, trade deals must move away from this flawed model toward a system that builds sustainable, inclusive development, fosters social mobility, ensures corporate accountability and encourages rather than hinders innovative social policy. Lea el informe en español.
The failure of governments to protect workers’ rights in the global economy has left a yawning gap of regulation and helped spawn an $80 billion industry in corporate social responsibility (CSR) and social auditing. Yet the experience of the last two decades of “privatized regulation” of global supply chains has eerie parallels with the financial self-regulation that failed so spectacularly in 2007 and plunged the world into deep and lasting recession. This detailed and extensive report by the AFL-CIO reveals just how bad much of the CSR industry has been for working people. Not only has it helped keep wages low and working conditions poor, it has provided public relations cover for producers whose disregard for health and safety has cost hundreds of lives. The AFL-CIO research underscores the central failing of the CSR model, which is based mainly on short and cursory visits to factories and no proper discussion with workers. This, coupled with the big global brands holding on to the “Walmart” model of driving prices to local producers ever lower and demanding ever-faster production, the dominant social auditing model will never achieve decent, secure jobs for the millions of workers at the sharp end of the global economy. Lea el informe en español.
Against a backdrop of more than a quarter-century of violence against unionists and human rights defenders and an apparent lack of interest or ability to defend workers’ fundamental labor rights, including the rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining, the United States and Colombia in April 2011 negotiated the “Colombian Action Plan Related to Labor Rights,” (also known as the “Labor Action Plan”) to forge a path forward for the long-stalled U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement. In conjunction with other organizations committed to improving the labor and human rights situation in Colombia, the AFL-CIO has been monitoring the progress of the Labor Action Plan and concludes that, although new laws and directives are in place, the government of Colombia has not yet demonstrated successful implementation.