Trade Pressure Used to Support Workers

Philips- Van Heusen plant in Guatemala

The first time Guatemala was placed under review (probation) for eligibility of GSP benefits was in 1992 after US/GLEP (before the name changed to USLEAP) and nine other U.S. human rights, trade union and religious groups filed a worker rights petition with the support of the Guatemalan trade union movement. The AFL-CIO also filed a petition.

The probation was finally obtained in 1992 after six years of various groups filing annual petitions on Guatemala. The probation was maintained for five years, and helped lead to a 40% increase in the minimum wage, the first reform of the labor code in 40 years, the opening of new labor courts, and increased fines for violations. However, the new courts failed to function, new fines were not imposed, and key provisions of the new code were not enforced. The GSP review was lifted in 1997, primarily as a "reward" for the Guatemalan government negotiating an end to the country's 30-year old civil war.

PVH- During the course of the PVH organizing campaign at Camisas Modernas, the GSP petition process was successfully used to support the workers. For example, the Guatemalan government granted the PVH union legal recognition in 1992 just days before a hearing before the U.S. government in an effort to show progress on worker rights. It was the first legal recognition granted to a maquila union in six years. Later, the U.S. government cited the signing of the 1997 collective bargaining agreement as one of the justifications for ending the GSP probation (although the contract was signed because an international campaign persuaded PVH to do so, not because the Government of Guatemala enforced its law. On the contrary, Human Rights Watch found that the Guatemalan government had abdicated its responsibilities in this matter.)

While many factors contributed to the successes of the PVH campaign, the GSP petition and the pressure it placed on the Guatemalan Labor Ministry was an important factor.

Del Monte Plantations in Guatemala

In October 1999, leaders of the SITRABI banana union representing Del Monte workers were forced at gunpoint to flee for their lives with their families. Enormous international pressure succeeded in forcing the Guatemalan government to finally schedule a trial for March, 2001 for those accused of participating in the violent intimidation of the SITRABI leaders. The court found 22 of the 24 accused guilty of coercion and false imprisonment. However, since these charges have sentences of less than five years, the defendants can pay a fine rather that serving jail time. (See Del Monte worker campaign for more information)

Testifying at the trial was high-risk for the SITRABI leaders and witnesses. The SITRABI leaders and their families are now in the U.S.

In an effort to create needed pressure on the Guatemalan government to protect those involved in the trial, the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) made an unprecedented move in October 2000 and self-initiated a review of Guatemala's trade benefits granted through the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP). On March 9th, 2001 the USTR held a hearing in Washington DC meant to inform the USTR's decision on Guatemala's eligibility for GSP benefits. The SITRABI Secretary of Conflicts, Enrique Villeda, USLEAP, and the AFL-CIO presented testimony at this hearing.

The Government of Guatemala began to respond to the U.S. pressure, providing heavy security for witnesses testifying at the SITRABI trial and working to secure a conviction in the trial.

Bad Guys Go Free, Good Guys in Exile

While the trial resulted in the first convictions in modern Guatemalan history for violence against trade unionists, the effective outcome of the trial resulted in the bad guys going free and the good guys in exile since the jail time was avoided by paying fines, placing union leaders at continued risk. Nevertheless, on March 31, 2001 the U.S. Trade Representative announced that it would not only not suspend any of Guatemala's GSP benefits, but that the review would be lifted completely. USTR claimed that Guatemala met the conditions set for eligibility, but USLEAP called USTR's defense of its decision misleading.