A trade program provides trade incentives to textile producers in Haiti to improve working conditions. Here, workers sew masks and other medical supplies in Port-au-Prince in April 2020. (Dieu Nalio Chery/AP Images)
The U.S. government works with business partners to protect workers’ rights around the world.
Safeguarding workers’ rights has been a fundamental tenet of U.S. trade policy since 1988. The Biden administration’s worker-centered trade policy reinforces this effort, seeking to ensure that prosperous trade benefits workers at home and the stranger.
U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai said in June 2021 that trading partners who fail to allow workers to exercise internationally recognized labor rights hurt the competitiveness of U.S. workers and industry and slow progress toward dignified work and shared prosperity.
“Together with our allies, we must create high-level trade deals that empower workers,” Tai said, describing the administration’s approach in June 2021. “We know we can’t do this job alone.”
Advancing rights in the United States, Mexico and Canada
The 2020 United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) is an example. This pact includes a Rapid Labor Response Mechanism (RRLM) to protect workers in these three countries.
On August 16, the United States and Mexico announced the successful resolution of a petition raised under the RRLM after allegations that workers at Teksid Hierro de México, SA de CV, an auto parts plant in Frontera , in Mexico, were denied the right to freedom of association and collective bargaining.
The RRLM process gave an independent union full rights and guaranteed back pay to illegally dismissed workers. The Mexican government facilitated talks between the company and the workers following a request for review from the United States.
In July, the United States asked Mexico to look into similar allegations at an auto parts plant in Piedras Negras. This is the fifth application filed by the United States under the USMCA’s RRLM.
Improving working conditions in Haiti
To strengthen labor conditions in Haiti, the U.S. government is offering Haitian manufacturers preferred access to U.S. markets provided they make continued progress toward protecting internationally recognized worker rights.
First passed in 2006, Congress extended the Haiti Hemisphere Opportunity Through Partnership Encouragement (HOPE) Act through 2025.
Strengthening workers’ rights around the world
Other ways the United States seeks to promote workers’ rights around the world include:
- Cooperation on strengthening global supply chains: Upholding labor and environmental standards are among the fundamentals of building the resilient supply chains needed to avoid future disruptions, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said.
- Indo-Pacific economic framework: The partnership between the United States and a dozen other Indo-Pacific economies launched in May will aim for strong labor and environmental standards while promoting just and prosperous economic growth.
- US-EU Business and Technology Council: Founded in June 2021, the council seeks to promote workers’ rights as part of efforts to ensure that future technologies reflect democratic values and benefit everyone.
- Development funding: The Department of State’s Office of Development Finance (ODF) supports the Blue Dot Network, launched by the United States, Australia, and Japan, which promotes infrastructure development around the world that complies with international laws and standards . The ODF also helps the US International Development Finance Corporation ensure that infrastructure projects protect internationally recognized labor rights.
The US government also supports workers’ rights at home. In April 2021, Biden formed a White House task force to ensure federal policies support workers’ rights to organize and bargain collectively.
The AFL-CIO, the largest association of US labor unions, supports US government efforts to improve overseas workers’ rights through trade. These programs “are important tools for developing economies and raising standards,” the AFL-CIO said in a statement on U.S. trade preference programs. “We are working with partners around the world to try to leverage labor rights commitments to empower workers to organize and share in the wealth they create.”