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New GAO Report: DOL Must Hold Trade Agreement Partners Accountable for Labor Violations


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A new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) recommends that the Department of Labor (DOL) increase its efforts to police labor laws in countries that have free trade agreements with the United States.  In 2013, labor pacts between the U.S. and 14 other countries accounted for 35 percent of all U.S. imports.  

The GAO report reveals that investigators found major problems in Colombia and Guatemala, where union leaders were murdered and threatened.  In other countries, accountability is problematic as many violations are concealed through a buck-passing system of subcontractors.  The report shows only five formal complaints being received by the DOL, of which only one has been resolved.  The pending complaints pertain to the human trafficking, forced labor, and retaliatory firings of workers who participated in union activities in the Dominican Republic.  Another pending complaint involves discrimination against workers in Bahrain.  

The GAO report suggests that labor officials in other countries are confused about how to file complaints with the DOL, a problem the GAO suggests the DOL remedy.  The GAO also suggests that the DOL work with the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative to draft a plan to better monitor and enforce labor laws.  

Following the report, Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D–Conn.) told The Hill that the Labor Department lacked necessary funding to hold countries accountable.  DeLauro is the ranking member on the House Labor, Health, Human Services, and Education Appropriations Subcommittee, responsible for funding the Labor Department.  

DeLauro believes the Obama Administration should halt its pursuit of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), because of the Labor Department’s lack of funding and because of the violating countries involved.

“Without more funding we will remain in the dark about why our businesses are being undercut and American jobs shipped overseas,” she told The Hill. “That is unacceptable.”

Labor leaders worry that the TPP would trample current labor law and engender corporate superhumanism.  Despite these objections the Obama Administration has pushed to fast-track the agreement and prevent Congress or the public from intervening.  The countries involved in the TPP are Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.

DeLauro suggests that a country’s history of violating labor laws and ignoring human rights should be enough to keep the U.S. away:

“Countries and regimes that have proven to be bad actors in the past are likely to be bad actors in the future,” she said. “The fact that we would sign a deal that includes Brunei, Vietnam and Malaysia — which have deplorable working conditions, violate worker rights, restrict free speech and assembly, discriminate against the LGBT community, and treat women as second-class citizens — is unconscionable.”

Read the full report here.


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