Labour and Human Rights in the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement

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The United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) is the successor to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) of 1994. This agreement was formally agreed upon on October 1st, and is awaiting final ratification and implementation. Following the 2016 Presidential Elections, President Trump withdrew from the Paris Agreement, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and increased tariffs with China. President Trump also imposed steel and aluminum tariffs on Canada and Mexico. How does the USMCAand how did NAFTArelate to civil liberties? 

Labour protection is an integral element of the trade agreements. When NAFTA was signed in 1994, it included labour protections for all three countries. Each country agreed to enforce its own labour laws and follow the standards of the United Nations’ International Labour Organization. However, labour complaints filed through NAFTA’s labour dispute process have gone nowhere. Two dozen complaints were filed in NAFTA’s first decade, the vast majority from Mexico. These complaints included retaliation against workers who tried to unionize, denial of collective bargaining rights, forced pregnancy testing, mistreatment of migrant workers, and unsafe health and safety conditions. Companies accused of violating local labour laws include General Motors, Sony, McDonald and Sprint, among others.

Under USMCA, Mexico has promised to pass laws that guarantee workers the right to form unions and negotiate their own labor contracts. The new pact also requires Mexico to extend labor protections to migrant workers, many of whom come from Central America and are vulnerable to labour exploitation. In the agreement, the U.S. has stipulated that Mexican trucks which cross the border must meet higher safety regulations. The labour chapter of USMCA also includes new provisions which protect against discrimination on the basis of gender identity, and prohibit importation of goods produced by forced labour. However, there is still much left to be desired in the new agreement. USMCA fails to eliminate U.S. tariffs on steel and aluminum, which hurt workers in a number of Canadian sectors. Similarly, workers in cultural industries are left with outdated regulations. Finally, the extension of drug patents for biologics will make medications increasingly unaffordable for families in Ontario.

This post was written by a CCLA-PBSC RightsWatch student. Views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCLA or PBSC.