Labor provisions in free trade agreements establish official processes for receiving complaints ("submissions") from interested organizations that believe a trading partner is not fulfilling the labor commitments it made. In the United States, the U.S. Department of Labor, specifically the Monitoring & Enforcement of Trade Agreements Division within ILAB's Office of Trade and Labor Affairs, receives and reviews submissions made under the labor chapters of our trade agreements.
Current Status: Review of Submissions
ILAB has accepted labor submissions for review concerning several countries. Our decision to review a public submission does not indicate any determination as to the validity or accuracy of the allegations contained in the submission. This will be addressed in the report that follows our detailed review and analysis.
Labor consultations held (June 22-23, 2014)
On May 6, 2013, the U.S. Government formally requested cooperative labor consultations with Bahrain in a joint letter from the Acting Secretary of Labor and the U.S. Trade Representative. Consultations began when an interagency delegation met with the Government of Bahrain on July 15 and 16, 2013. Consultations continued in Manama on June 22 and 23, 2014, and our ongoing dialogue with the Government of Bahrain uses the DOL report's recommendations as a basis for working with the Government of Bahrain to address the concerns raised in the report related to freedom of association, the right to organize and bargain collectively, and the right to freedom from discrimination in employment and occupation.
In April 2011, the Department of Labor (DOL) received a submission from the AFL-CIO with a statement from the General Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions alleging that Bahrain had violated its commitments under the Labor Chapter of the Bahrain – United States Free Trade Agreement regarding the right of association, particularly non-discrimination against trade unionists.
The review process was extended to adequately consider detailed and voluminous information received from the Government of Bahrain and Bahraini workers, amendments to the Bahraini Trade Union Law, and labor-related developments in international fora regarding Bahrain, in particular at the International Labor Organization. In addition, two delegations visited Bahrain in October 2011 and February 2012 as part of the review.
After reviewing the submission, DOL issued a public report in December 2012 finding that trade unionists and leaders were targeted for dismissal, and in some cases prosecuted, in part for their role in organizing and participating in the March 2011 general strike, and that dismissals also reflected discrimination based, in part, on political opinion and activities. The report also finds religious (sectarian) discrimination against Shia workers. The report also makes specific recommendations intended to serve as a road map for the Consultation process moving forward.
Report Issued (January 11, 2017)
The U.S. Department of Labor has issued a public report in response to a submission filed under Chapter 17 (the Labor Chapter) of the United States-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement (CTPA) by the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations and five Colombian workers’ organizations.
The report recommends that the Secretary of Labor initiate consultations through the contact points established in the CTPA Labor Chapter. To help guide these consultations between the U.S. government and the government of Colombia, the report provides 19 recommendations aimed at addressing the noted concerns, and confirms our commitment to assess any progress by Colombia within nine months and thereafter, as appropriate.
The Office of Trade and Labor Affairs (OTLA) of the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of International Labor Affairs, as the designated contact point under the Labor Chapter, conducted a detailed review of the allegations contained in the submission, including that the government failed to effectively enforce its labor laws, among other claims.
During the review, from July 2016 to January 2017, the OTLA considered all information provided by the submitters, the government of Colombia, and others with direct knowledge of relevant issues. The review also relied on information collected through sustained engagement between the U.S. and Colombian governments since the signing of the CTPA, including information gathered by the U.S. Department of Labor’s labor attaché in Colombia.
This engagement has focused on addressing labor concerns, particularly in the areas of violence against unionists, impunity for the perpetrators of the violence, and protection of labor rights. As a result, the Colombian government has made meaningful progress; however, based on its review, the OTLA has significant concerns about the labor law inspection and enforcement system in place to protect the rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining in Colombia. The report identifies significant concerns regarding abusive subcontracting and ongoing concerns regarding collective pacts that undermine the rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining. Similarly, the OTLA has ongoing concerns regarding cases of violence and threats against unionists and labor activists, and criminal cases of infringement on workers’ fundamental rights.
The report, which demonstrates the U.S. Department of Labor’s streamlined and timely review of labor submissions received under U.S. trade agreements, represents part of the Department’s role of promoting a strong U.S. trade policy by enforcing the labor provisions of U.S. trade agreements and trade preference programs to ensure that no country gains an unfair advantage.
- Public Report of Review: English | Spanish
- Review of Implementation of Recommendations in Public Report of Review
- Original Submission: English | Spanish
- Colombian Action Plan Related to Labor Rights
- Labor chapter: US-Colombia TPA
- ILAB in Colombia
Report issued (September 27, 2013)
The U.S Department of Labor has issued a public report in response to a submission filed by Father Christopher Hartley under Chapter 16 (the Labor Chapter) of the Dominican Republic-Central America-United States Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR). The report was released on September 27, 2013.
The Office of Trade and Labor Affairs of the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of International Labor Affairs, as the designated contact point under the Labor Chapter, conducted a detailed review of the allegations contained in the submission.
The review included two missions to the Dominican Republic; interviews with the Government of the Dominican Republic, workers in the Dominican sugar sector, executives of the three major sugar companies, and other stakeholders; as well as the examination of extensive documentation provided by the Government of the Dominican Republic, the submitter, and others.
The report finds evidence of apparent and potential violations of labor law in the Dominican sugar sector concerning:
- acceptable conditions of work with respect to minimum wages, hours of work, and occupational safety and health;
- a minimum age for the employment of children and the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labor; and
- a prohibition on the use of any form of forced or compulsory labor.
The report additionally notes concerns in the sugar sector with respect to Dominican labor law on freedom of association, the right to organize, and collective bargaining.
The report also raises significant concerns about procedural and methodological shortcomings in the inspection process that undermine the government's capacity to effectively identify labor violations. Such shortcomings include inspectors interviewing no workers or only a small number of workers during inspections, communicating in Spanish with Creole-speaking workers, failing to investigate topics relevant to assessing labor law compliance, and questioning workers in front of their supervisors.
The report offers eleven recommendations to the Government of the Dominican Republic to address the report's findings and improve enforcement of Dominican labor laws in the sugar sector. The report also expresses the Department of Labor's firm commitment to engaging with the Government of the Dominican Republic to address the concerns identified and implement the recommendations and notes that the Department of Labor will review the status of such implementation six months and then 12 months after publication.
- Public Report of Review
- Reviews of Implementation of Recommendations in Public Report of Review
- Submission from Father Christopher Hartley (PDF)
- Labor Chapter of CAFTA-DR
- ILAB in the Dominican Republic
Arbitral Panel Decision Reached (6/2017)
On June 26, 2017, the United States and Guatemala jointly released an arbitral panel decision in the case brought by the United States against Guatemala alleging violations of the Labor Chapter of the CAFTA-DR. The panel found that Guatemala failed to effectively enforce its labor laws, particularly by failing to enforce labor court orders for anti-union dismissals and to take enforcement actions in response to worker complaints. However, the panel determined that evidence did not establish other required elements necessary to prove a violation of CAFTA-DR.
The decision concludes the public submission, consultations, and dispute settlement processes under the trade agreement, which began in April 2008 when the Department of Labor (DOL) received a submission from the AFL-CIO and six Guatemalan worker organizations alleging that Guatemala had violated its obligation under the CAFTA-DR Labor Chapter. After reviewing the submission, DOL issued a public report in January 2009 finding significant weaknesses in Guatemala's labor law enforcement and making specific recommendations for improvement. In July 2010, after Guatemala's actions proved insufficient to address the concerns raised in the report, the United States requested consultations with Guatemala under the CAFTA-DR. The consultations failed to resolve the matter, and the United States requested the establishment of an arbitral panel in August 2011. The Parties suspended the panel while attempting to negotiate a comprehensive Enforcement Plan, but resumed the panel process in September 2014 after Guatemala failed to fully implement the agreed upon plan.
Under CAFTA-DR, the panel decision is final; there is no appeal process. Any press inquiry about the case should be directed to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative.
The Department of Labor will continue to work to help level the playing field for American workers by engaging with the government of Guatemala, worker and employer organizations, and other stakeholders to ensure that Guatemala is upholding its commitment to effectively enforce its labor laws.
- Enforcement Plan
- Arbitral Panel
- Labor Consultations
- Labor Chapter of the CAFTA-DR (PDF)
- ILAB in Guatemala
Monitoring and Action Plan adopted (December 2015)
In 2015, the U.S. and Honduras signed an historic agreement on labor rights that underscores a commitment to a fair playing field for workers in the global economy. The agreement supports a comprehensive monitoring and action plan that addresses gaps in enforcement of Honduran labor law outlined in a February 2015 report from the Bureau of International Labor Affairs on the country’s compliance with the U.S.-Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement.
The plan’s implementation stands to benefit millions of Honduran and U.S. workers, and level the playing field for companies operating in Honduras that play by the rules.
- Monitoring and Action Plan:
- Public Report of Review
- Joint Statement: English (PDF) | Spanish (PDF)
- Original Submission
- Labor Chapter of the CAFTA-DR (PDF)
- ILAB in Honduras
Report issued (July 8, 2016)
The U.S. Department of Labor has issued a public report in response to a submission filed under the North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation (NAALC) by the United Food & Commercial Workers Local 770, the Frente Auténtico del Trabajo, the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy, and the Project on Organizing, Development, Education, and Research, with research assistance from Change to Win.
The report determines that there is insufficient evidence, at this time, to support specific conclusions related to the Mexican government’s application of labor laws at Chedraui retail stores, in light of information in the submission and additional information obtained during the review. Nonetheless, the report discusses in detail the Department of Labor’s longstanding, serious concerns regarding issues raised in the submission, in particular so-called “protection contracts” and the primary factors that facilitate them, such as structural bias in the Conciliation and Arbitration Boards that administer labor justice in Mexico. The report notes that constitutional and legislative reforms pending in Mexico’s Congress would go a long way towards addressing these concerns. The Department of Labor urges expeditious passage and implementation of the reforms and notes that it will continue to monitor and productively engage with the Mexican government on these and other issues in the submission.
The Office of Trade and Labor Affairs of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of International Labor Affairs, as the designated contact point under the NAALC, conducted a detailed review between January and July 2016 of the allegations contained in the submission. The Office considered all information provided by the submitters and the Government of Mexico, including through multiple rounds of requests for and review of supplemental information, and by other stakeholders with direct knowledge of the relevant issues. The report was published within 180 days of initiating review and is the second issued under the Department’s new streamlined process for timely review of labor submissions received under U.S. trade agreements.
Report issued (March 18, 2016)
The U.S. Department of Labor has issued a public report in response to a submission filed under Chapter 17 (the Labor Chapter) of the United States-Peru Trade Promotion Agreement (PTPA) by the International Labor Rights Forum, Perú Equidad, and seven Peruvian workers’ organizations. The Office of Trade and Labor Affairs (OTLA) of the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of International Labor Affairs, as the designated contact point under the Labor Chapter, conducted a detailed review of the allegations contained in the submission.
During the review, from September 2015 to March 2016, the OTLA considered all information provided by the submitters, the Government of Peru, and others with direct knowledge of the relevant issues. The review also included a fact-finding mission in Peru from December 6-15, 2015, to gather additional information on the issues raised by the submission, including through meetings with the Peruvian government, the submitters, workers’ organizations, employers, and other relevant stakeholders.
The report raises significant concerns regarding the right to freedom of association in Peru’s non-traditional export sectors, which includes exports such as textiles, apparel, and certain agricultural products. The report also raises questions regarding labor law enforcement in Peru. To help guide subsequent engagement between the U.S. government and the Government of Peru, the report provides six recommendations aimed at addressing the questions and concerns, and notes the U.S. government’s commitment to assess any progress by Peru within nine months and thereafter, as appropriate.
The report, which was published within 180 days of initiating a review of the matter, represents the U.S. Department of Labor’s streamlined and timely review of labor submissions received under U.S. trade agreements.
- Public Report of review
- Review of Progress to Address Issues Identified in the Public Report of Review: English (PDF) | Spanish (PDF)
- Second Periodic Review of Progress to Address Issues Identified in the Public Report of Review (English)
- Second Periodic Review of Progress to Address Issues Identified in the Public Report of Review (Spanish)
- Original submission: English | Spanish
- Labor chapter: US-Peru TPA
- ILAB in Peru
Report issued (August 30, 2012)
On December 30, 2010, OTLA received a submission from the Peruvian National Union of Tax Administration Workers (SINAUT), Sindicato Nacional de Unidad de Trabajadores de SUNAT. The submission alleges that SUNAT, an executive branch agency of the Government of Peru, has failed to comply with Peru's labor laws as they relate to collective bargaining, in violation of the Labor Chapter of the U.S. Peru Trade Promotion Agreement. On July 19, 2011, OTLA accepted the submission for review and issued a Federal Register notice on its decision on July 26, 2011. OTLA has engaged with the submitters and the Government of Peru as part of its efforts to prepare a public report with findings and recommendations on the allegations contained in the submission. On January 10, 2012, OTLA notified the submitters and the Government of Peru it had extended its period of review.
The Office of Trade and Labor Affairs (OTLA) of the U.S. Department of Labor has conducted an extensive review of the allegations contained in Submission 2010-03, filed under the United States-Peru Trade Promotion Agreement (PTPA) by the Peruvian National Union of Tax Administration Workers (SINAUT). The submission alleges that the SINAUT's employer, the National Superintendant of Tax Administration (SUNAT), failed to effectively recognize the union's right to collective bargaining. Based on the review, the OTLA has determined that the Peruvian Ministry of Labor and Promotion of Employment appears to have fulfilled its duties during the relevant collective bargaining processes, but the SUNAT failed to comply with certain elements of the Peruvian Collective Bargaining Law, including deadlines for launching negotiations. With regard to all other issues raised in the submission, the OTLA has determined that important legal ambiguity during the period at issue prevents a finding that the SUNAT failed to comply with the law or that the Government of Peru failed to comply with or enforce its own labor laws during that time.
Throughout the review process, the Peruvian government has demonstrated a willingness to productively discuss with the U.S. government the issues raised in the submission. In addition, since the petition was filed, the Government of Peru has taken important steps to address some of the issues raised therein, including by issuing legal instruments to help clarify legal ambiguity and facilitate collective bargaining. The OTLA does not believe formal consultations are needed to continue such positive engagement and progress on these matters. As a result, the OTLA does not recommend formal consultations between the U.S. government and the Peruvian government under Article 17.7.1 of the PTPA Labor Chapter.
The Submission Process
A labor submission must meet certain criteria. The allegations must raise issues relevant to the labor provisions in the NAALC or FTA and illustrate a country's failure to comply with its obligations. OTLA's procedural guidelines provide a detailed explanation of what is required. If the submission meets these criteria, OTLA will accept the submission for review. OTLA then conducts the review and issues a public report on its findings generally within six months of accepting the submission. Depending on the outcome of the review, OTLA may recommend further actions, including that the U.S. request Consultations with the other country. The U.S. requested the first labor-related consultations ever under an FTA Labor Chapter on July 30, 2010 with Guatemala.
If Consultations fail to resolve the issue(s), FTA dispute settlement procedures may be invoked under certain circumstances. The procedures and remedies vary depending on the particular FTA, and the NAALC limits which labor issues can be taken to dispute settlement.