June 8, 2006

US labor groups urge sanctions probe on China

By Doug Palmer

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. labor groups urged the Bush
administration on Thursday to increase pressure on China to
stop widespread labor abuses they said have cost millions of
Americans their jobs in addition to harming Chinese workers.

The 9 million member AFL-CIO labor federation filed a
petition, for the second time since 2004, asking the U.S. Trade
Representative's office to launch a one-year probe into whether
China's "systematic repression" of worker rights is an unfair
trade practice that warrants using U.S. sanctions to stop.

"In China, millions of child workers and forced laborers
produce goods and services, many of them for export. Workers
who protest or seek to form independent unions are fired,
beaten and imprisoned," the AFL-CIO said.

U.S. Rep. Chris Smith, a New Hampshire Republican, and Rep.
Ben Cardin, a Maryland Democrat, co-signed the petition, which
the AFL-CIO said showed bipartisan support in Congress for
tough action. USTR has 45 days, or until late July, to decide
whether to accept the request and start the investigation.

The Bush administration rejected a similar "Section 301"
petition filed by the AFL-CIO two years ago, saying it would
work with China to improve conditions in a country whose vast
supply of cheap labor has made it a manufacturing giant.

The labor federation said repressive and often dangerous
workplaces have reduced Chinese manufacturing costs 10 percent
to 77 percent. The AFL-CIO calculated that "unfair cost
advantage ... displaces approximately 1,235,000 jobs in the
United States."

Section 301 of the 1974 trade act would allow the president
to impose sanctions or take other action if USTR determined the
treatment of workers in China constitutes an "unreasonable
trade practice" that disadvantages American companies.

The AFL-CIO urged the Bush administration to slap duties on
China's exports to the United States and gradually ratchet
those back as Beijing reaches certain benchmarks for improving
labor conditions. They also called for rules that would require
U.S. corporations to disclose wages, hours, and working
conditions of their affiliates and contractors in China.