INTERNATIONAL TRADE UNION CONFEDERATION (ITUC)
The following article was prepared by the ITUC Press Department.
16 March 2015
The US Department of Labour has issued a damning 143-page report documenting widespread and serious violations of labour rights in Honduras. The findings are in response to a complaint filed in 2012 by the AFL-CIO and 26 Honduran unions and NGOs under the Labour Chapter of the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA).
The allegations concerned numerous cases where Honduran employers engaged in acts of anti-union discrimination, imposing non-union pacts to frustrate collective bargaining, as well as cases of non-payment of wages, forced overtime, numerous occupational health and safety violations and, in the agricultural sector, child labour.
In each case, the employer’s conduct was illegal under Honduran labour law, but the government utterly failed to enforce it – by failing to provide a remedy to workers or by failing to sanction employers, or both. Fines have not been increased since 1980, meaning that penalties for serious labour violations range between US$9.35 to $460. Even after the complaint was filed, and the US requested follow-up on the specific cases mentioned, the Honduran government still failed to enforce the law.
The International Trade Union Confederation has identified Honduras as a “Country at Risk” and urges the Honduran government to act immediately on the recommendations in the report. The Honduran government will need to undertake substantial reforms in order to comply with its international legal obligations to effectively enforce its labour laws. This must be done in full consultation with Honduran unions. At the same time, the US government should provide assistance to the Honduran government to see these reforms implemented without delay, and step up support to unions to organise and bargain collectively. If the Honduran Government fails to address the issues raised in the complaint, the US must use the mechanisms available in CAFTA to ensure compliance, up to and including arbitration. Countries signing trade agreements must recognise that where these contain labour-related obligations, these are just as binding as any other provision of the agreement.
The US must also take action to ensure that American multinationals sourcing goods from Honduras ensure that labour rights violations are not occurring in their supply chains. The labour violations in the report occur in sectors, including garments, light manufacturing and agriculture, the products of which are exported to the United States.
Labour chapters have often been promoted as a means to address some of the many concerns about the social and economic impact of trade agreements. As the US negotiates new trade agreements, it must vigorously enforce the labour chapters of existing ones. To date, workers, including in Central America, have not yet seen real change, as impunity for labour violations continues unabated. The US must use all the tools available to demonstrate that these agreements can serve as an effective tool for working people.