Action Alert — May 15, 2006

Outrageous Oman NAFTA Expansion Raises Charges of Human Trafficking — But Still Advances in Congress

Send an urgent letter to Congress: Vote "no" on the Oman "Free Trade" Agreement or bear responsibility for increasing human trafficking in the Middle Eastern sultanate of Oman.

Dear Fair Trade Supporter,

You may have feared that Congress would just roll over and accept the Bush administration's most degrading trade proposal yet — a "free trade" deal cut with the Sultan of Oman, the absolute monarch of a country in the Middle East already cited by the U.S. State Department for human trafficking, forced labor and widespread political repression.[1]

But after the ruckus many of us made last week about this offensive U.S.-Oman Free Trade Agreement (OFTA), Congressmen Lloyd Doggett (D-Tex) and Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) and other Ways and Means committee members took President Bush to task in their first opportunity to comment on the anti-worker, anti-environment trade deal.

However, despite their heroic efforts, the OFTA is still advancing with the help of a cabal of Congressmen close to the president. So we need to ramp up the pressure and quickly, as the White House strategy is to ram this deal through Congress in the next two weeks before anyone realizes what it means!

Please contact Congress now and urge your representative to oppose the outrageous U.S.-Oman Free Trade Agreement!

At the "mock-markup" of the deal in the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, Congressman McDermott entered into the congressional record a New York Times article that broke the news of the terrifying labor conditions in the Middle Eastern country of Jordan that have been created since a U.S.-Jordan Free Trade Agreement.[2] The article reports on a new 160-page investigation by the New York-based National Labor Committee that reveals how the U.S.-Jordan Free Trade Agreement caused a major expansion in horrific sweatshops filled with impoverished and powerless "guest workers" from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.[3] These workers have been brought to Jordan under indenture contracts — with their passports seized by the boss, regular beatings, wages unpaid, food withheld — to work in sweatshops set up to take advantage of tariff free treatment for clothing imports into the U.S. under the 1995 Free Trade Agreement.

We've included at the bottom of this email a letter sent by the United Steelworkers to the members of the Ways and Means committee that references the text of the New York Times article that Rep. McDermott entered into the record.

As Rep. McDermott pointed out, despite these well-documented devastating results of the U.S.-Jordan FTA, the Bush administration wants to expand this sweatshop model to the Sultanate of Oman — a country where already a majority of private-sector workers are powerless foreign "guest workers." What's more, the proposed U.S.-Oman deal doesn't even include the labor protections that were included in the Jordan deal.[4]

Contact Congress NOW to stop this outrageous Oman NAFTA expansion and to demand justice for the workers in the Jordanian sweatshops created because of U.S. trade policy.

To try to silence these critics, the administration and some of their closest cronies are warming up a propaganda machine blaring banalities about the importance of this deal to U.S. relations in the Middle East. They hope to bring a vote on the deal in Congress in the next couple of weeks, before too many Representatives learn that this is just another NAFTA expansion. That means we need to warm up the people machine to drown out the propaganda with truth.

The OFTA must be renegotiated! Otherwise it is guaranteed to generate the same horrifying treatment reported in nearby Jordan as sweatshops are opened to produce goods that can enter the U.S. tariff free and labor rights free.

We need you to join the truth squad: please contact your congressperson and make sure he or she knows that relegating impoverished Muslim workers in Oman to heinous treatment to make things for export to us is NOT the way to strengthen our image in the region or to create jobs here at home!

Thank you for all that you do!

The Global Trade Watch Team


Here is the text of the letter sent by the United Steelworkers to the House Ways and Means Committee about the U.S.-Oman Free Trade Agreement:

May 9, 2006

Committee on Ways and Means
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515

Dear Representative:

On behalf of the 850,000 members of the United Steelworkers (USW), I write to express our union's adamant opposition to the US-Oman Free Trade Agreement. We understand the Ways and Means Committee will be examining the Oman Free Trade Agreement in a mock markup scheduled for tomorrow.

Before that hearing, I strongly recommend you take a close look at the recently released report of the National Labor Committee on the horrific sweatshop conditions that have flourished in Jordan since the enactment of the Jordan Free Trade Agreement (http://www.nlcnet.org). The USW, and much of the labor movement, supported the Jordan FTA not only because Jordan's labor laws already conformed to International Labor Organization (ILO) standards well before the agreement was signed, but because the agreement committed both parties to respect core workers' rights as identified by the ILO and to enforce their domestic labor laws.

In the case of the Oman Free Trade Agreement, the opposite is true. Current Omani law comes nowhere close to meeting the ILO criteria for compliance with core labor standards. Members of the Ways and Means Committee have been trying to encourage the Omani government to bring its laws into compliance with ILO standards, but as evidenced by the report on Jordan, when "guest workers" are the majority of the labor force and do not speak the language, changing domestic laws they are not aware of will do nothing to protect the foreign-majority workforce in Oman. Despite the raising of the minimum wage in Jordan, not one of the hundreds of guest workers interviewed by the NLC knew this to be the case.

Unlike the Jordan FTA, the labor provisions in the Oman FTA are a clear step backwards as there are no enforceable provisions preventing the weakening of or derogation from domestic labor laws. Even if the Sultan decrees that all labor laws will be in compliance with ILO standards, there is nothing in this FTA to prevent him from decreeing the opposite once the agreement is in place.

The level of disregard for Jordan's labor laws by apparel manufacturers operating in Jordan make it clear that despite labor's support for the Jordan FTA, even that free trade agreement is not up to the task of defending workers' rights when it is not enforced, and the rights of guest workers are particularly in jeopardy. For the Ways and Means Committee to go forward with an agreement that is far less than the provisions of the Jordan FTA will leave little opportunity for the United States to act if similar violations were to occur in Oman where over 80% of the workforce are guest workers.

Appended below is the New York Times article on the report issued by the National Labor Committee. On behalf of the United Steelworkers I strongly urge you to oppose the Oman Free Trade Agreement.

Sincerely,
Leo W. Gerard
International President

Send your own letter to Congress here: http://action.citizen.org/campaign.jsp?campaign_KEY=3664


[1] There are no known Oman-based human rights organizations and the government recently denied a request to establish a domestic human rights center. The U.S. State Department also documents reports of arbitrary arrest; restrictions on the exercise of civil liberties and freedom of speech (including academic freedom), the press, assembly, and privacy; discrimination and domestic violence against women; and restrictions on labor rights. See http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2005/61696.htm. On human trafficking, see Trafficking in Persons Report, released by the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, June 3, 2005.
[2] Steven Greenhouse and Michael Barbaro, "An Ugly Side of Free Trade: Sweatshops in Jordan," New York Times, May 3, 2006.
[3] National Labor Committee, U.S.-Jordan Free Trade Agreement Descends Into Human Trafficking
[4] U.S.-Oman Free Trade Agreement: Report of the Labor Advisory Committee for Trade Negotiations and Trade Policy, Nov. 15, 2005. (PDF)

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