Monday, July 18, 2005


If you have clothes marked “Made in” Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras or Nicaragua, or a job, then the Central American Free Trade Agreement touches your life. The Senate passed CAFTA recently, and the House will take it up later this month. CAFTA is strongly supported by the Bush Administration, which has once again suppressed evidence contradicting its own position.

In preparation for CAFTA debate in Congress, the U.S. Labor Department commissioned a study of labor practices in Central America. The non-profit International Labor Rights Fund (http://www.laborrights.org/) won the contract, and prepared a 400-page report, submitting it in early 2004. The ILRF reported that many Central American countries continue to suppress union organizing, use child labor and commit other serious labor violations; although there are laws against such practices, enforcement is minimal. The Labor Department refused to allow ILRF to publish the study for more than a year, while Rep. Sander Levin (D-Michigan) worked to get it released through the Freedom of Information Act.

America already has bilateral trade agreements with these countries, with stronger provisions supporting workers’ rights than CAFTA’s provisions. Like NAFTA, CAFTA is designed to weaken the power of workers and strengthen corporations, forcing American workers to compete with low-paid laborers in poor countries with weak labor and environmental standards in a “race to the bottom.”

We are capable of finding ways to protect both American and foreign workers and start a race toward a decent living for people in all countries. The question is not: “How can corporations maximize shareholder profit?” The real questions are: “What do people need, and how can we fairly compensate the people who provide those goods and services (like food, shelter, health care and education) for their time and effort?”


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