As the US Senate prepared to vote on CAFTA last week, reports surfaced that the US Department of Labor had blocked for a year or more the release of a Department-funded study concerning labor conditions in Central American countries. The AP reports:
The Labor Department instructed its contractor to remove the reports from its Web site, ordered it to retrieve paper copies before they became public, banned release of new information from the reports, and even told the contractor it couldn't discuss the studies with outsiders.
The Labor Department has now worked out a deal with the contractor that will allow the labor rights group to release the country-by-country final reports - provided there's no mention of the agency or federal funding. At the same time, the administration began a pre-emptive campaign to undercut the study's conclusions.
Used as talking points by trade-pact supporters, a Labor Department document accuses the contractor of writing a report filled with "unsubstantiated" statements and "biased attacks, not the facts."
The contractor is the International Labor Rights Fund (ILRF). The reports in question can now be viewed on its web site. The ILRF report is not particularly new or startling. Labor rights are not well protected in El Salvador and the other Central American countries, as my earlier discussion of the balanced Congressional Research Service report pointed out. CAFTA's provisions which penalize countries for not enforcing their own labor standards do offer any significant prospect for improving that situation.
The ILRF has recently issued two reports on conditions in El Salvador. The first report is on labor conditions generally, the second report focuses on the sugar industry in the country.