Hm, I’m not sure this AP report is news exactly: “The Labor Department worked for more than a year to maintain secrecy for studies that were critical of working conditions in Central America, the region the Bush administration wants in a new trade pact.” Didn’t we have this story around these parts months ago? Oh well. The key to note here is that, not only would DR-CAFTA give Central American countries free reign to keep their atrocious labor standards in place, but those countries would be allowed to weaken those standards if they felt like it.
Anyway, also thought I’d link to this article by Richard Rothstein, disputing the argument that developing countries “need” dismal labor standards in order to be competitive on the global market. Besides, it’s not like the “standards” crowd is calling for $10 an hour wages and health benefits for all Central American laborers. The bare minimum, though, should be the right to organize and the right to speak out in the workplace. If higher standards or wages means a country will be uncompetitive, well, that should be the decision of the workers in the country, a decision negotiated with business. This isn’t unreasonable. I’m also not sure I’d oppose CAFTA on labor-rights grounds if the deal simply kept in place the current provisions under the Generalized System of Preferences, which pressures Central American governments to “afford internationally recognized labor rights.” That system isn’t perfect, obviously, but it was still something, and was actually useful for pressuring several countries to reform their labor laws. CAFTA, however, would junk the Generalized System of Preferences, which has the misfortune of being both unnecessary and unconscionable.