Mexico Announces Review of Washington State Apple Workers Complaint Under NAFTA Labor Side Agreement


By Pharis Harvey

The Mexican Government announced today that it will conduct a formal review under the NAFTA labor side agreement of U.S. labor laws' effectiveness in protecting worker rights in the Washington State apple industry. The official review was prompted by a complaint from a coalition of Mexican unions and farmworker groups alleging widespread interference with workers' organizing attempts, discrimination against migrant workers, health and safety hazards, and other violations of labor principles established by the NAFTA labor agreement. Migrant workers from the Mexican states of Michoacan and Oaxaca make up a majority of the 40,000 apple industry labor force in Washington State.

Under the North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation (NAALC), Mexico's National Administrative Office (NAO) will launch a 3-4 month intensive review of the complaint and issue a written report. The official NAALC review process includes:

* consulting with the U.S. Labor Department's NAO, which must respond to information requests on conditions in the Washington State apple industry and on U.S. labor law enforcement measures;

* obtaining additional information and data from U.S. labor and farmworker advocacy groups;

* engaging independent experts to investigate the allegations of the complaint;

* seeking public participation through "informative sessions" to be held in Mexico City.

"This is a critically important announcement by Mexico," said Pharis Harvey, Executive Director of the International Labor Rights Fund, which is coordinating U.S. support for the complaint. "It promises a number of steps that will expose some of our own failings in the United States to protect workers' rights. Beyond just exposure, though, this process should provoke changes to strengthen labor law enforcement and to improve conditions in the apple industry."

Nearly all prior NAALC labor complaints involved alleged workers' rights violations in Mexico, said Harvey. "The NAALC should be a balanced agreement that puts every country's labor law enforcement under the scrutiny of international review," he concluded.

ILRF General Counsel Terry Collingsworth said the Mexican NAO review is only a "first stage" in the NAALC complaint process. "The NAO review can be followed by consultations between the secretaries of labor, then by a special 3-person committee of independent experts," he explained. "If health and safety or minimum wage issues are still unresolved, they can go before a 5-person arbitral panel." The process could lead to fines or loss of NAFTA tariff benefits for Washington State apple exports to Mexico, said Collingsworth. Mexico is the fastest growing foreign market for Washington State-grown apples.

Office of Mexican NAO: 011-525-645-2218

Office of U.S. NAO: 202-501-6653