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Human Rights Watch

NOVEMBER 15, 2006
1:47 PM

CONTACT: Human Rights Watch
Tel:1-(202) 612-4321

US: Congress Must Protect Women Workers in Trade Law

WASHINGTON - November 15 - The US Congress looks likely to renew trade legislation that turns a blind eye to the rights of women workers in developing countries, Human Rights Watch said today.

US lawmakers are due to vote this “lame duck” session on extending the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP), which allows thousands of products from developing countries to enter the United States duty free. Since 1984, GSP has tied trade benefits to respect for labor rights by requiring beneficiary countries to take “steps to afford internationally recognized worker rights.” However, it excludes protection from employment and workplace discrimination from the list of rights.  
“This outrageous exclusion in effect says rights for women workers have no place under US trade law,” said Carol Pier, senior researcher on trade and labor rights at Human Rights Watch. “In many countries, women produce most of the goods exported to the United States under the preferences system. Yet they often suffer daily discrimination, including sexual harassment and forced pregnancy testing. It’s a major problem that Congress should address.”  
Congressional representatives have introduced two bills that would extend for two more years the Generalized System of Preferences, which expires on December 31. The US House of Representatives could vote on one or both bills during the “lame duck” session this week or in early December. The US Senate could act next. Neither the Democratic nor the Republican bill adds protection against discrimination to the list of worker rights recognized under the system, though Democrats claim to champion the protection of labor rights in US trade policy.  
The elimination of discrimination in employment and the workplace is a fundamental human right, as reflected in a plethora of United Nations and International Labor Organization legal instruments. The Generalized System of Preferences covers other internationally protected workers’ rights: the right to freedom of association; the right to organize and bargain collectively; a prohibition on forced labor; a minimum age for the employment of children; and acceptable conditions of work with respect to minimum wages, hours, and safety and health.  
“Women workers do not deserve second-class treatment, and it’s high time the US system recognizes that,” Pier said.


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