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North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation (NAALC)

The ILRF is part of a broad-based movement to reform NAFTA. We believe that NAFTA’s labor component, the North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation (NAALC), has not been injected with sufficient enforcement mechanisms to be effective. Without an effective labor clause, NAFTA will continue to enable the oppression of North American workers. As a contribution to alternative policy discussions, the ILRF has proposed specific reforms to NAFTA’s labor chapter.

NAALC, adopted by the US, Mexico and Canada in September of 1993, commits the three governments to “protect, enhance and enforce basic workers’ rights.” The agreement establishes both national and international structures to promote the observance of labor principles. The inclusion of the NAALC into NAFTA was actually an unprecedented event: it represented the first effort by countries of greatly different levels of development to establish an instrument to push forward labor standards as an aspect of trade liberalization.

Unfortunately, the NAALC is ineffective. As finally negotiated, it lacks enforcement or sanctioning power. First, this agreement acts more as a forum, in which public meetings focusing on governments’ failures to enforce existing labor codes are discussed rather than the activities of employers. More importantly, the NAALC does not have the capacity to punish or regulate those that disregard its policies. Very few investigations of labor abuse have come from the NAALC despite numerous complaints, and those investigations that have been undertaken have been restricted to fact-finding missions.

In the ILRF’s analysis, the following are key agreements which should be included in an effective NAFTA labor chapter:

Agreement on:
1) Base-line regional minimum labor standards.
2) The level of violation that constitutes an actionable unfair trade practice.
3) Complaint procedures that includes access, standing and freedom of choice of venue.
4) The Formation of a Tri-National Labor Standards Commission which is democratic in its selection and open in its proceedings.
5) Establishment of a Process and Timetable to Harmonize Wage and Health and Safety Standards Upward.
6) Certain kinds of products which each country could prevent from entering into its territory.
7) A process to negotiate particular protocols for protecting the rights of immigrant workers and indigenous workers and tribal populations

More on ILRF’s stance on NAALC, including proposed reforms