Blog | Trade

The U.S. Needs to Do More to Protect Basic Labor Rights in Honduras

Berta Cáceres memorial
AFL-CIO

The U.S. Department of Labor recently issued a “progress” report on the Honduran government’s implementation of an action plan (MAP) negotiated between the parties in 2015. The MAP was developed in response to a complaint filed in 2012 by the AFL-CIO, Honduran unions and Honduran nongovernmental organizations under the Central America Free Trade Agreement’s (CAFTA) labor chapter, which included cases concerning child labor, illegally low pay, and denial of the right to organize and to bargain. The U.S. government found that nearly every claim in the petition was supported by the evidence and that the Honduran government had in fact routinely failed to enforce its laws.

While a handful of the 17 cases in the 2012 complaint have been resolved due to the intervention of the U.S. government, the situation in Honduras is fundamentally unchanged. The majority of cases in the complaint are unresolved, particularly in the agricultural sector. Meanwhile, employers commit new systematic violations. Despite an important new labor inspection law and the hiring of new inspectors, labor law continues to be violated routinely without meaningful consequences. While fines have been increased and levied, none are actually being collected, nor are the violations being resolved. Since 2012, we have seen numerous unions busted—some with government involvement and all without government action to provide a remedy. Violence against trade unionists remains a serious problem. For example, in 2017, a worker and union member at a melon exporter was attacked and wounded with a machete as a consequence of his union activity. Trade unionists also have suffered in post-election violence. No one has been held accountable for these crimes. In the coming weeks, we will provide a detailed report card on the MAP.

After focusing on progress, the current U.S. government report concludes that much work remains to be done, with persistent shortcomings in enforcement. The report names a few of the most notably intransigent employers violating the law such as Kyungshin Lear in auto parts and SurAgro-Fyffes in produce. Just as employers such as Hanesbrands and Pinehurst in the maquila sector have been freed from targeted enforcement after remediating previous violations, those employers who remain in violation should be effectively targeted for increased enforcement. The report also raises, for the first time, the issue of ongoing violence against unions, yet fails to hold Honduras and its employers accountable for the failures documented in the workers' 2012 petition and 2015 U.S. government report.

Over 6.5 years, the governments of the United States and Honduras have consulted regularly on the MAP and have implemented a number of capacity-building programs. However, conditions on the ground for most Honduran workers remain just as dire as they were in 2012. Workers trying to use trade agreements to defend their rights have seen this before. A CAFTA petition to defend workers in Guatemala lingered in the enforcement system for over nine years before being dismissed without any improvement in conditions. The same cannot happen here. We urge the U.S. government, therefore, to move to the next step in the dispute settlement process to show that the steps taken so far are woefully insufficient to establish respect for basic labor rights in Honduras.

The above photo was taken at a memorial for Berta Cáceres, a Honduran indigenous rights and environmental activist who was murdered in 2016.

Explore the Issue