U.S. Department of Labor Accepts ILRF Complaint Against Peru

"Camino a Puno Golpeando quinoa" by Michael Hermann - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

On September 21, the United States Department of Labor (DOL) formally accepted a complaint filed by ILRF and Peruvian unions against the government of Peru for violating labor rights provisions of the 2009 U.S.-Peru Trade Promotion Agreement.

ILRF welcomes this decision, and calls upon the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) to initiate formal consultations with the Government of Peru to address widespread abuses of workers’ rights. Peru will now be subject to a six-month DOL investigation to determine the extent of violations in its garment, textile, and agricultural export sectors, which employ hundreds of thousands of workers producing billions of dollars of goods for the U.S. market.

In addition to alleging that Peru is failing to enforce its labor laws, the complaint argues that Peru’s Non-Traditional Export Promotion Law fails to comply with minimum standards on freedom of association adopted by the International Labor Organization (ILO). The special export law exempts employers from key parts of the general labor code by allowing them to hire virtually their entire workforce for an unlimited duration on a series of renewable, temporary contracts, some as short as 15 days. Garment and textile employers have taken advantage of the special law by systematically declining to renew the contracts of thousands of workers who joined unions in an effort to improve wages and working conditions.

Guillermo Horna, Protection Secretary of the Federacion Nacional de Trabajadores Textiles de Peru (FNTTP) says that these “massive firings of union members are constant and ongoing” and are “not compliant with the labor chapter [of the free trade agreement] regarding unions and collective bargaining rights as established by the International Labor Organization.”

In a rare occurrence, major multinational apparel companies appear to agree with the union leader’s analysis: in 2013, five U.S. based global brands, including Nike and New Balance, wrote a public letter to Peruvian President Ollanta Humala expressing concerns that the special export law may violate their codes of conduct and should be amended or replaced.  

DOL’s acceptance of the complaint has implications for the ongoing negotiations over the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the controversial proposed mega-trade deal involving the United States and 11 different countries, including Peru, Mexico, Malaysia, and Vietnam. The TPP, which the Obama administration hopes to finalize within a few weeks, will purportedly contain stronger labor standards than those in the U.S.-Peru FTA, meaning that Peru must address the issues raised in the complaint or it will be out of compliance with the TPP on day one.