Advancing workers’ rights through trade

A trade program provides market 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 trading partners to protect workers’ rights worldwide.

Safeguarding worker rights has been a core principle of U.S. trade policy since 1988. The Biden administration’s worker-centered trade policy furthers that effort, seeking to ensure that prosperous trade benefits workers at home and abroad.

U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai said in June 2021 that trading partners that fail to allow workers to exercise internationally recognized labor rights harm 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-standard trade agreements that empower workers,” Tai said, describing the administration’s approach in June 2021. “We know we can’t do this work alone.”

Advancing rights in the U.S., Mexico, Canada

The 2020 United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) is one example. That pact includes a rapid response labor mechanism (RRLM) to protect workers in those three countries.

On August 16, the United States and Mexico announced the successful resolution of a petition raised under the RRLM after claims that workers at Teksid Hierro de México, S.A. de C.V., an auto parts facility in Frontera, Mexico, were denied rights to free association and collective bargaining.

The RRLM process gave an independent union its full rights and ensured payment of back wages to illegally terminated workers. The Mexican government facilitated talks between the company and workers following a U.S. request for review.

In July, the United States requested that Mexico review similar allegations at an auto parts facility in Piedras Negras. It is the fifth request the United States has filed under the USMCA’s RRLM.

Improving labor conditions in Haiti

To bolster working conditions in Haiti, the U.S. government provides Haitian manufacturers preferred access to U.S. markets provided they make continual progress toward protecting internationally recognized worker rights.

First enacted in 2006, Congress has extended the Haitian Hemispheric Opportunity through Partnership Encouragement (HOPE) Act through 2025.

Strengthening worker rights around the world

Other ways the United States seeks to promote worker rights around the world include:

  • Cooperation on strengthening global supply chains: Adhering to labor and environmental standards are among the core tenets 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 seek strong labor and environmental standards while advancing fair and prosperous economic growth.
  • U.S.-EU Trade and Technology Council: Founded in June 2021, the council seeks to promote worker rights as part of efforts to ensure future technologies reflect democratic values and benefit everyone.
  • Development Financing: The State Department’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. ODF also assists the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation in ensuring infrastructure projects protect internationally recognized worker rights.

The U.S. government also supports workers’ rights at home. In April 2021, Biden formed a White House Task Force to ensure federal policies support workers’ right to organize and collectively bargain.

The AFL-CIO, the largest association of U.S. labor unions, backs U.S. government efforts to improve the rights of workers abroad through trade. These programs “are important tools to grow economies and raise standards,” the AFL-CIO said in a statement on U.S. trade preference programs. “We collaborate with partners around the world to try to leverage the labor rights commitments to allow workers to organize and share in the wealth they create.”