Sophia Lin

ICAR and AFL-CIO applaud Sen. Menendez's leadership in promoting labor rights via trade

Sophia Lin

January 19, 2017

On Tuesday, January 16, Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) introduced the Labor Rights for Development Act, co-sponsored by Senator Brown (D-Ohio), and the Anti-Trafficking Trade Act, co-sponsored by Senator Rob Portman (R-Ohio), to promote labor rights and human rights in developing countries that trade with the United States. The International Corporate Accountability Roundtable (ICAR) and the AFL-CIO applaud Senator Menendez’s leadership and the support from Senator Brown and Senator Portman in this matter. We urge Congress to support these bills.

The two bills reform the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP), a trade program that conditionally allows 120 developing countries to import thousands of products to the United States duty free. The GSP, codified under the Trade Act of 1974, was designed to promote economic development in developing countries by allowing duty-free exports to the United States, while raising labor standards through trade. However, enforcement of the GSP qualification criteria has been weak.

These two bills address the compliance gap. The Labor Rights for Development Act would strengthen enforcement and oversight to ensure GSP beneficiary countries meet basic labor standards, including protecting the rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining, preventing the use of forced and child labor, and providing acceptable conditions of work with respect to minimum wages, hours of work, and occupational safety and health. The Anti-Trafficking Trade Act would prohibit countries afforded the lowest ranking in the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons report, Tier Three, from receiving duty-free benefits under the GSP.

Setting and enforcing minimum compliance standards is crucial to incentivize GSP beneficiary countries to respect labor and human rights. This protects workers and communities in developing countries and raises standards among U.S. trading partners. As the largest consumer market in the world, the United States can play an important role in using trade policies to promote inclusive, sustainable economic growth. These two bills will ensure the effectiveness and credibility of the GSP, while sending a signal to the world that the United States values worker and human rights and will no longer provide trade benefits to countries that do not.

A PDF of the letter can be viewed here.

For any inquiries, please contact ICAR's Legal and Policy Coordinator, Sophia Lin at