The signatories of the Trans-Pacific Partnership just announced that they have inked the final agreement, ending years of secret negotiations and back-room corporate deal making. And still, the full text, which will set trade rules for roughly 40 percent of global commerce in a dozen Pacific Rim countries, remains a secret, even as the accord hurtles toward Congress for an accelerated vote.
But those who want evidence of the impact TPP may have on a huge chunk of the world’s workforce can look no further than how an existing free trade accord, based on the same model, is managing labor relations between Peru, a TPP signatory, and the United States. The US-Peru Trade Promotion Agreement’s (PTPA) supposedly state-of-the-art labor grievance process is just starting to be tested in a landmark case involving an odd bedfellowship of multinational megabrands, US and Peruvian labor activists, and federal labor authorities.
Under Peru’s Non-Traditional Export Promotion Law, employers can circumvent “key parts of the general labor code by allowing them to hire virtually their entire workforce for an unlimited duration on a series of renewable, temporary contracts, some as short as 15 days,” according to the complaint. Thus employers have profited from “systematically declining to renew the contracts of thousands of workers who joined unions.”
Thanks to this free pass for exploiting contingent labor, union advocates charge that “massive firings of union members are constant and ongoing.” But here is where the Peru accord’s labor protections could, in theory, kick in.
The PTPA’s much-hyped regulatory framework purportedly enables the US Department of Labor (DOL) to work with US labor advocates to hold Peru accountable for violating workers’ rights. Several Peruvian agricultural and garment sector unions invite this intervention by the DOL.
In Peru’s burgeoning agribusiness sector, with about $1.2 billion in crop exports to the United States in 2014, including asparagus and peppers, a workforce of some 300,000 laborers are reportedly subject to unfair contracts, unhealthy working conditions, and anti-union hostility.
The company Agrícola Virú, which feeds avocados, artichokes, and mangos to the supply chains of General Mills and Trader Joe’s, has reportedly “used a wide range of anti-union tactics,” affecting about 8,000 temporary workers, “including the harassment of union members and leaders with the threat of layoffs and dismissals.” In 2013 the company reportedly “filed criminal defamation charges against a union leader for speaking on a local radio show about the poor working conditions.” Around this time, Walmart avocado supplier Camposol allegedly rejected a collective-bargaining agreement and “filed frivolous legal charges against union leaders for exercising their right to strike.” Government orders to convert temp workers to permanent contracts have gone ignored.