AFL-CIO trade expert: Europe has higher labor standards, but no enforcement

WASHINGTON—Europe has higher labor standards for worker rights and union protection than the U.S. does, the AFL-CIO’s top trade expert says. But there’s one thing wrong with them, Celeste Drake adds: No enforcement.

Drake spent time on the continent earlier in July discussing progressive trade policies and the European response to China’s trade actions – particularly the Chinese demand that it now be treated as a “market economy” under world trade rules. If that occurs, China would escape many if not most of sanctions for its unfair trade that the U.S. and Europe seek.

But Drake also discussed trade agreement talks with the European unionists and progressives, she told Press Associates Union News Service in a telephone interview. And that’s where she found the big loophole.

The enforcement loophole is important: Lost in all the uproar over the now-dead Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is the fact that the U.S. Trade Representative’s office was also discussing a multinational “free trade” pact with European nations.

U.S. unions often cite European examples in cases of worker rights, union recognition – including card-check recognition – and work standards when combating multi-national firms. That’s been an Auto Workers point in its campaign to unionize the car manufacturer Nissan, and a Bakery, Confectionery and Tobacco Workers (BCTGM) point when it battled Groupe Dannone (Dannon yogurt). BCTGM used the European standards as winning leverage.

“When it comes to labor standards for trade agreements, they put in the higher standards and they reference” International Labour Organization “conventions on worker rights,” Drake said. Those references and standards have often drawn flak from U.S. government trade bargainers, of both political parties.

And the Europeans even call on disinterested experts to determine if nations violate those worker rights standards, Drake says. But then the action stops.

“But after they determine that Country X violates the standards, that’s the end of the road,” Drake says. “In Europe, they have not had anything enforceable – and it means we have to go back and rewrite those chapters” in any U.S. trade pact with European nations.

Source: PAI