Saturday, January 29, 2005

How NAFTA Failed To Protect Workers and What Is To Be Done

In case anyone tries convince you that even if NAFTA is bad for American workers, it's good for foreign workers, ask them to read these reports.

The Maquiladora Health & Safety Support Network has released a report, NAFTA’s 10 Year Failure to Protect Mexican Workers’ Health and Safetyon the 10th anniversary of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and its “labor side agreement,” the North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation (NAALC). According to Garrett Brown, author of the report and coordinator of the Network,
The NAALC has been a particular failure for Mexican workers,who were told that the NAALC would “protect, enhance and enforce basic workers’ rights.”


Not a single illegally fired worker was reinstated, not a single independent union has been established and bargained collectively, not a single workplace hazard has been corrected as a result of NAFTA and the NAALC.


There are several causes for the failure of the NAALC to ensure,let alone enhance, enforcement of Mexico’s health and safety regulations. These include the failure to recognize and address Mexico’s economic context, which directly undermines the necessary political will, limits government resources, and fuels corruption.
The procedures of the NAALC itself lack transparency, worker and public participation, and accountability.
Brown notes, however, that there have been some gains as a result of the agreements, but the gains have been made not by the responsible government agencies, but by the workers themselves and non-governmental organizations:
These gains include greater awareness of occupational health and safety issues in some Mexican workplaces, broader knowledge of government regulations and enforcement procedures among some Mexican workers, and unprecedented cross-border solidarity and joint activities between workers, unions, women’s groups, environmentalists and occupational health professionals.
The main solution is massive debt relief for developing country, because with the mountain of debt they are living under, "protection of workers’ health will always come second to economic necessities."

The second report, Why NAFTA Failed and What’s Needed to Protect Workers’ Health and Safety in International Trade Treaties describes how trade agreements that actually benefit workers can be structured.

The optimal setting to protect workers’ health and safety in the rapidly changing global economy would be workplaces with informed and empowered workers active in enterprise health and safety programs and committees, backed by genuine management commitment and adequate resources, in a country with comprehensive regulations meeting international standards, effectively enforced by a government with political will and sufficient human, financial and technical resources.

Such a setting does not exist anywhere in the actual global economy, but steps can be taken toward achieving this goal.