European Union Pressures El Salvador on Labor Accords

In a move heralded by union and social activists in El Salvador, the European Union announced that it would not give Salvadoran goods preferential trade treatment if the country does not ratify the two key International Labor Organization conventions governing freedom of association. The conventions are ILO Convention 87 concerning Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize and ILO Convention 98 concerning the Right to Organize and Collective Bargaining. The Salvadoran government asserts that it cannot sign the accords without amending the Salvadoran constitution. The international agreements are broad enough to include the right of government and other public sector employees to organize, but the Salvadoran constitution does not accord such rights.

The European Union's use of trade advantages for Salvadoran exporters as a lever to push for recognition of basic labor rights in El Salvador contrasts sharply with the Bush Adminsitration push to award trade advantages to El Salvador under CAFTA while largely ignoring a documented record of abuse of workers' rights in the country.