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September 25, 2005

Free Trade with Rich Rapists

When union advocates demand that labor rights be included in trade agreements with other countries, the typical response is that it's unfair to impose rich countries' standards on poor countries.

Even putting aside why poor countries can't afford basic human rights to speak in the workplace, what will be the excuse of the "free trade" crowd in defending a free trade agreement with the United Arab Emirates, one of the wealthiest nations per capita on earth?

As this report in the NY Times details, this is also a country with some of the most savage abuse of workers in the world:

Of the one million Dubai residents, fewer than 200,000 are citizens...The United Arab Emirates has earned the dubious distinction of having some of the worst labor conditions. Human Rights Watch has cited the country for discrimination, exploitation and abuse. Many foreign workers, especially women, face intimidation and violence, including sexual assault, at the hands of employers, supervisors, and police and security forces, the rights group said, while children are especially vulnerable to labor and sexual exploitation and denial of basic rights.

Unionizing is forbidden, and most workers have no recourse other than the Labor Ministry.

The story highlights one case where the Labor Ministry actually helped out one small group of workers, no doubt a small gesture to declare to the US public that conditions are improving, but help that will no doubt disappear the day after a trade agreement is signed.

Unless binding commitments to respect labor rights are included in the agreement, with enforcement mechanisms included where workers, not just governments, can bring a case for decision.

Such a mechanism is not going to happen under this President, but if we can't even say No on a trade agreement to rich emirs raping their employees, when will we ever say no to worker abuse?

Posted by Nathan at September 25, 2005 08:52 AM