One of the tradeoffs made by the US administrations to gain support for entering into Free Trade Agreements is that these agreements impose certain standards on the parties – to protect the environment, human rights and union rights.
So what will the Obama administration do when the terms of one of those agreements are blatantly violated?
The AFL-CIO filed a legal petition on Thursday with the United States Office of Trade and Legal Affairs :
Concerning the Failure of the Government of Bahrain to Comply with its Commitments under Section 15.1 of the US-Bahrain Free Trade Agreement
Citing numerous well documented violations and noting that the General Federation of Bahraini Trade Unions which represents all workers in the kingdom has not only had its efforts to mediate the ongoing conflict turned down but union leadership has been harassed, fired and disappeared. Amongst those fired from their jobs are the Deputy General Secretary and five colleagues. And the following filing goes on to note:
The leaders of unions (both GFBTU affiliates and nonaffiliates) have suffered retaliation for their trade union activity. The nine executive members of the Arab Shipbuilding and Repair Yard (ASRY) trade union have been dismissed …Bahrain National Gas (BANAGAS) fired the entire executive committee of the union … The Bahrain Petroleum Company fired trade union chairman and a founder of the Bahrain trade union movement … On April 4, Rulla el Saffar, president of the Bahrain Nursing Society was detained and her whereabouts are unknown…
The vice-president and four board members of the Bahrain Teachers Association (BTA) were arrested on March 29 and the General Secretary on March 30. They continue to be held incommunicado…
And that is just a small selection.
Article 15.1 of the Free Trade Agreement requires both parties to uphold the standards of the International Labor Organization (ILO) Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work. Not only the above abuses but the ongoing suppression of peaceful political protest are clear violations of the Declaration.
This means that under the FTA, the US is required to suspend the agreement and that is what the AFL-CIO is demanding.
While the FTA was signed under Bush, Obama’s administration is required to uphold the human rights and labor standards of the Agreement.
As AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka noted in a letter to Sec. of Defense Gates which “called for “urgent political intervention…to stop [Bahrain’s] descent into dictatorship.”
The trade union movement in Bahrain is critical to democratic and peaceful coexistence in a pluralistic society…The Department should demand of its counterparts an end to the extraordinary repression taking place at the doorstep of one of America’s largest military installations (U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet). Any lesser response to this crisis undermines our moral authority.