Today, in the eve of the sixth round of the renegotiation of North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), a group of migrant worker women and supporting nongovernmental organizations across the trinational trade corridor took the next step in holding the United States government accountable for violating its obligations under the NAFTA labor side accord. The group argues that the United States fails to protect women and remedy labor rights violations in temporary labor migration programs.
The group of migrant leaders and advocates submitted a supplement to petition MEX 2016-1 filed in July 15, 2016, alleging the United States took inadequate action to combat sex-based discrimination in recruitment, hiring, and employment practices within its H-2 temporary visa programs. As of today, 556 days after the original submission, the petition remains under review by the Mexican National Administrative Office, and no response has been issued.
“The current dispute resolution mechanism under NAFTA has proven to be toothless and ineffective,” said Rachel Micah-Jones, executive director at Centro de los Derechos del Migrante, Inc. (CDM), one of the co-petitioners. “The lack of accountability on behalf of governments facilitates labor abuses for migrant workers, which disproportionately affect women.”
The supplement includes Engendering Exploitation: Gender Inequality in U.S. Labor Migration Programs, a report highlighting the continued discrimination and abuse women across guestworker programs confront in their recruitment and employment in the United States.
“As a woman, recruiters systematically excluded me from jobs that were offered to men,” said Adareli Ponce Hernandez, a migrant worker woman and co-petitioner, who testified at the U.S. Trade Representative’s hearing on NAFTA in June 2017. “Our petition explains how the United States failed to meet its commitment to eliminate employment discrimination, and we continue to wait for justice.”
Produced by CDM, the Comité de Defensa del Migrante (Migrant Defense Committee, or Comité), and the University of Pennsylvania Law School’s Transnational Legal Clinic (TLC), the report draws on a combination of desk research and interviews with workers and urges policy changes to address sex-based discrimination in guestworker programs. Recommendations include the collection and publication of recruiter data; increased monitoring; meaningful enforcement; and effective oversight by government agencies to provide access to grievance mechanisms, support, and legal services.
In May 2017, CDM launched a trinational campaign alongside migrant workers and allies to strengthen migrant worker protections in the renegotiation of NAFTA. During the campaign, the organization has submitted public comments for the record, circulated advocacy opportunities to encourage action from workers and allies, and testified alongside migrant worker leaders before the U.S. Trade Representative.
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