» Corporate Power

» Jobs, Wages and Economic Outcomes

» Food Safety

» Access to Affordable Medicines

» Corporate-rigged “Trade” Pacts

» Alternatives to Corporate Globalization

» Other Issues

Trade Data Center

One-stop shop for searchable trade databases, case lists & more

Eyes on Trade

Global Trade Watch blog on trade & globalization. Subscribe to RSS.

Debunking Trade Myths

To hide the facts about failed trade policies, proponents are changing the data

Connect with GTW

What's New – Global Trade Watch

  • April 25: REPORT: Trump's First 100 Days: Federal Contracting with Corporate Offshorers Continues (PDF)
  • April 25: Press Release: New Report Reveals Trump Is Not Punishing Corporations that Offshore American Jobs, but Awarding Them New Government Contracts

View 'What's New' Archives

Africa Trade Bill Still Fails to Protect Worker Rights

February 19, 1999

Dear Representative:

Some backers of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (HR 434) claim that their Africa trade legislation provides labor rights safeguards. In fact, the bill does not provide meaningful protections for workers, which is why African and U.S. unions oppose the measure.

Unfortunately, a recent amendment to HR 434 – offered by Rep. Sam Gejdenson and partially approved on February 11 by the House International Relations Committee – does not correct this serious problem.

The bill's supporters claim that because some of the bill's trade provisions are based on the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP), which contains some labor rights language, that the legislation "covers" worker rights.

In reality, as years of experience have demonstrated, GSP labor rights provisions are hampered by weak enforcement mechanisms and a huge loophole. Under GSP, in order for a country to be eligible for preferential access to the U.S. market, the President merely has to certify that the country is "taking steps" toward the protection of labor rights. This vague language has allowed even notorious labor rights abusers like Guatemala to be certified as eligible for benefits.

Moreover, GSP labor rights provisions cannot be enforced through private action – meaning that when a country is clearly not "taking steps" to protect worker rights, but is nonetheless certified as doing so, no legal action can be taken by U.S. citizens to force decertification. The only recourse is a time-consuming petition process which often results in the rejection of petitions and involves no right of appeal. Finally, GSP labor rights provisions impose no obligations on corporations themselves – only on governments. Corporations that violate internationally-recognized labor rights can do so at will and continue to enjoy market access benefits - as long as they are operating in a country that has been certified eligible, under GSP's vague standard.

The Gejdenson amendment, which adds labor rights to a long list of criteria African countries are supposed to meet in order to be eligible for benefits under the bill, is no stronger than the existing GSP labor provisions – and even less enforceable. Under the portion of the amendment approved by the Committee, a country does not have to uphold internationally recognized worker rights to be eligible for benefits. Instead, the President can certify a country as eligible upon a determination that the country is "making continual progress toward" upholding worker rights. This is scant improvement over the vague and inadequate GSP standard.

Most importantly, there is no enforcement mechanism whatsoever – not even the right to petition allowed under GSP. Rep. Sherrod Brown attempted to correct this problem in the International Relations Committee by adding strong enforcement language, but his amendment was opposed by the backers of HR 434 and was ruled out of order by the Chair.

While the Gejdenson amendment is a step in the right direction in that it explicitly raises the issue of labor rights, it simply does not provide meaningful labor standards in legislation that is otherwise bereft of them. HR 434, as amended, does not contain the kind of worker rights provisions we feel must be included in U.S. trade agreements and trade legislation.

We support the unambiguous labor standards and the meaningful enforcement mechanisms necessary to ensure that the rights of workers will be respected by countries and companies benefiting from the bill. Such provisions are included in Rep. Jesse Jackson's HOPE for Africa bill, which is why we support that Africa trade legislation. We hope you will join us in supporting the Hope for Africa Act.


Ann Hoffman
Legislative Director
Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees (UNITE!)
Chuck Harple
Deputy Legislative Director
International Brotherhood of Teamsters

Copyright © 2017 Public Citizen. Some rights reserved. Non-commercial use of text and images in which Public Citizen holds the copyright is permitted, with attribution, under the terms and conditions of a Creative Commons License. This Web site is shared by Public Citizen Inc. and Public Citizen Foundation. Learn More about the distinction between these two components of Public Citizen.

Public Citizen, Inc. and Public Citizen Foundation


You can support the fight for greater government and corporate accountability through a donation to either Public Citizen, Inc., or Public Citizen Foundation, Inc.

Public Citizen lobbies Congress and federal agencies to advance Public Citizen’s mission of advancing government and corporate accountability. When you make a contribution to Public Citizen, you become a member of Public Citizen, showing your support and entitling you to benefits such as Public Citizen News. Contributions to Public Citizen are not tax-deductible.

Public Citizen Foundation focuses on research, public education, and litigation in support of our mission. By law, the Foundation can engage in only very limited lobbying. Contributions to Public Citizen Foundation are tax-deductible.