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US asks Mexico to review alleged denial of workers’ rights at garment facility

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States has asked Mexico to review whether workers at a denim garment factory in the Mexican state of Aguascalientes are being denied the right to freedom of association and collective bargaining, the U.S. Trade Representative’s office said on Monday.

U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai said the request regarding a garment facility owned by Industrias del Interior (INISA), which was founded in 1975, marked the first such labor rights complaint in the garment sector.

Washington has stepped up complaints against facilities in Mexico since the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement, known as USMCA, took effect in 2020, including cases that have paved the way for new unions to secure better pay and benefits.

“This announcement demonstrates again the Biden-Harris Administration’s commitment to using the Rapid Response Labor Mechanism to safeguard the rights of workers and the promises enshrined in the USMCA,” Tai said in a statement.

“Today’s action highlights the United States’ focus in ensuring workers in all sectors have freedom of association and collective bargaining rights.  As in previous matters, we look forward to working closely with the Government of Mexico to address the issues present in this case.”

USTR said Tai had directed Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen to suspend the final settlement of customs accounts related to entries of goods from the facility. 

USTR said the Interagency Labor Committee for Monitoring and Enforcement (ILC) received a petition from a Mexican labor organization, Frente Auténtico del Trabajo (FAT), and the Sindicato de Industrias del Interior, a union representing workers at the facility, on May 12.

It alleged that INISA is coercing workers to accept the company’s proposed collective bargaining agreement revisions and intervening in the union’s internal affairs. The petition also alleged INISA is failing to bargain in good faith with the union.

The ILC reviewed the petition and found what it called “sufficient, credible evidence of a denial of rights enabling the good faith invocation of enforcement mechanisms,” USTR said.

The USTR request gives Mexico 10 days to agree to conduct a review, and then, if it agrees, 45 days to complete it.

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Leslie Adler)

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