Under the North American Free Trade Agreement workers have virtually no rights to complain of problems such as exposure to toxic materials, lack of safety gear, training in use of dangerous chemicals, etc. In contrast, investors do have considerable rights under one of the eleven (11) typical free trade agreements the U.S. has with several countries throughout the world. Under NAFTA for example, a company that feels threatened by regulations it feels will be costly can file claims under the Chapter 11. The Investments chapter in NAFTA imposes obligations toward foreign investing companies from other NAFTA countries, and also secures rights for investors to seek compensation through international arbitration for violation of their rights under this chapter. The Chapter 11 investor rights have been described as a dream for multinational corporations and a nightmare for citizens. In 2005 for example, California state was sued under NAFTA for $50 million for enacting a law that protected Indian sacred lands and put an end to open metal mining in a southern desert.
Workers’ rights under NAFTA are virtually nonexistent. At best workers have rights under the North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation (NAALC).
One of the first claims filed under NAALC involved current and former workers at the Custom Trim/Auto Trim Breed-Mexicana factory in Matamoros on July 3, 2000. NAALC is a side agreement to NAFTA. Therefore if a worker is having a problem with her employer who happens to be a U.S. company investing at the border she must direct her action not in a court against the company, but rather before the NAO against Mexico for its failure in enforcing its own labor, health or safety laws or some other international norms that govern the workplace for free trade! This indirect and cumbersome procedure is designed intentionally to favor investor’s needs for smooth, uninterrupted production in the free trade market. Not surprisingly NAALC has been criticized as being weak and ineffective for securing workers’ rights.
In the case of Mexican workers any problems arising in the workplace are reviewed either under Mexican labor law or Mexican health and safety laws and thus a complaint raised under the North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation is directed against Mexico in front a board known as the National Administration Office. The NAO has been renamed as The Office of Trade Agreement and Technical Cooperation (TAATC) is located in Washington, D.C.
Below is the introductory paragraph to the first major complaint filed by a collective group of workers of two companies whose parent company Breed Technologies was based in Florida and that opened up factories in Matamoros, Tamaulipas in 2000 (Breed Technologies changed its name to Key Safety Systems, Inc. in 2003 and relocated to metropolitan Detroit, Michigan).
Submission No. 2000-01 was filed pursuant to the North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation (NAALC) on July 3, 2000, by Current and Former Workers at Auto Trim and Custom Trim/Breed Mexicana, Coalition for Justice in the Maquiladoras (CJM), and more than 20 additional unions and nongovernmental organizations in Canada, Mexico, and the United States.
The submission was accepted for review on September 1, 2000, as it raised issues related to labor law matters in Mexico and because a review would further the objectives of the NAALC. In accordance with its procedural guidelines, the U.S. NAO completed its review of the case, which included a public hearing on December 12, 2000.