Global Policy Forum

CAFTA: A Topic for Women


By Marianne Mollmann

Human Rights Watch
June 13, 2004

It is not necessary to be an anti-globalization activist to worry about the trade negotiations between Peru and the United States. You just have to be a woman. All trade agreements negotiated by the Bush administration have ignored the internationally recognized right to nondiscrimination in the workplace, and none has included adequate labor rights protections. The result? Peru might benefit from a trade agreement with the United States that does not condemn potential labor rights violations. Women, on the other hand, might enter the workplace in greater numbers, but at a high cost: discrimination in the workplace could rest in impunity. This is unacceptable.

The right to be free from sex discrimination in the workplace is one of the five labor rights considered essential by the International Labor Organization. Both Peru and the United States have international obligations in this regard. Nevertheless, sex discrimination is still a common form of labor rights violation in the Americas, especially in free trade zones that generally destine their production for exports. Of course, international trade and exports do not create sex discrimination, in and of themselves. However, internal political will and external pressure to provide a ‘beneficial investment climate' are often so strong that some countries decide to ignore the labor rights violations committed by export companies. This is the main reason why international trade agreements should protect labor rights with the same strength they protect trade provisions.

Human Rights Watch has documented violations of the right to be free from sex discrimination in several countries, including Guatemala and Mexico. Recently, in January 2004, we gathered the testimony of women workers from the Dominican Republic who were forcibly tested for pregnancy in order to get a job. Peruvian women workers should know that this fact was ignored by Dominican and U.S. trade negotiators who—without any reference to this systematic discrimination—finalized an agreement (CAFTA). If CAFTA is ratified, companies working in the Dominican Republic and other countries in Central America could benefit from preferential access to the U.S. market while they continue to violate the most essential rights of women workers.

To avoid a similar situation in Peru, the negotiations should guarantee equality and rights for male and female workers. It is a priority to include the prohibition of sex discrimination in the workplace as an indispensable element for fair trade agreements.

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