AFL-CIO Seeks Chinese Trade Sanctions Over Worker Rights

The AFL-CIO petitioned the Bush administration Thursday to impose trade sanctions on China for violating international labor standards.

The petition accused China of using child and forced labor and firing, beating or imprisoning workers who attempt to form unions, all in violation of U.S. trade law, which makes the repression of workers' rights an unfair trade practice.

The labor federation said China's practices keep the wages of Chinese factory workers as low as 15 cents to 50 cents per hour, a level that encourages U.S. companies to close factories in this country and move their production to China. The AFL-CIO also charged that China's practices had contributed to the loss of more than 1 million U.S. jobs.

"The Chinese government persistently and systematically denies workers' rights, hurting U.S. workers and communities, while also preventing Chinese workers from exercising their internationally recognized rights at the workplace," the federation said in its petition.

The move was viewed as an effort to bring pressure on the administration on a politically sensitive trade issue in the months before the 2006 congressional elections. President Bush is facing growing calls to do something about America's soaring trade deficits, including an imbalance with China that hit a record $202 billion last year, the highest deficit ever recorded with a single country.

It marked the second time that unions have asked the administration to bring an unfair trade case against China on the grounds that the country is violating labor rights.

The administration rejected a similar petition on the labor issue in 2004, arguing that it could make more headway on trade issues by using constructive engagement with China.

However, the AFL-CIO petition said that in the two years since the administration turned down the original petition, no advances had been seen in worker rights in China.

The request was filed under a provision of U.S. trade law known as Section 301. The administration has 45 days to decide whether to launch an investigation of the complaints.

If the administration did so, it would have to win a case before the World Trade Organization before it could impose economic sanctions against China.