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Bill To Set Standards for Women’s Rights and Strengthen Labor Standards for U.S. Trade Program

Washington, D.C. – As Congress considers reauthorization of the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) before the end of the year, U.S. Senators Bob Casey (D-PA) and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) propose legislation to strengthen and update GSP standards on worker rights and ensure countries receiving GSP afford equal rights and protection under the law, regardless of gender. Around the world, women disproportionately face challenges in the workplace and barriers to entering the workforce. These challenges include legal barriers to work, restrictions on property ownership, restricted educational opportunities, violence and harassment and wage discrimination. The Women’s Economic Empowerment in Trade Act would ensure countries receiving trade preferences under GSP strengthen standards on worker rights and the rights of women.

“The improvements put forward in this legislation to the Generalized System of Preferences are long overdue. When it comes to upholding the rights of workers and the rights of women, the United States should lead the way. U.S. trade laws must align with the central objectives of supporting women’s full economic participation, globally. The Women’s Economic Empowerment in Trade Act will ensure the rights of women and measures on non-discrimination, and violence and harassment in the world of work, are incorporated as required standards for counties to receive trade preferences under GSP,” said Senator Casey.

“Women disproportionately face challenges in the workplace including legal barriers to work, restrictions on engaging in collective action, restrictions on property ownership, educational opportunities, and heartbreaking reports of violence, harassment and wage discrimination,” said Senator Cortez Masto. “We have to tear down these barriers and do everything we can to create safe work places for women in the United States and across the globe. I’m proud to introduce a bill that would take us one step further in protecting and strengthening worker’s and women's rights.”

"The United States government's approach to foreign trade, among other areas of foreign policy, has a significant impact on the economic opportunities of people living across the globe. The Women's Economic Empowerment in Trade Act is an important first step to ensure that US trade policies consider and address gender-specific constraints that prevent women from equally participating in and benefiting from international trade," said Megan O’Donnell, Assistant Director for Gender, Center for Global Development.

“In a world where it will take about 100 years to achieve gender equality,” says ICRW Policy and Advocacy Manager Aria Grabowski, “it is critical that the United States use all of its foreign policy tools, including trade, to ensure that systems are more inclusive.  With the bill introduced today by Senators Casey and Cortez Masto, U.S. trade policy took a positive step to help speed up that timeline. We applaud their leadership to ensure that US trade policy helps to promote an ideal that is woven into our founding documents: that all people, everywhere, are created equal.”

"Legal barriers that affect a woman’s ability to work and fully participate in society shortchange not only women but entire economies. By encouraging countries to level the legal playing field for women, U.S. trade preference programs will better advance their goal of promoting economic growth and development,” said Jamille Bigio, Senior Fellow on Women and Foreign Policy at the Council on Foreign Relations.

The Women’s Economic Empowerment in Trade Act will:

I. Add criteria to GSP on:

  1. Women’s rights and equal protection under the law;
  2. Bars gross violations of human rights;
  3. Non-discrimination; and
  4. Violence and harassment in the workplace.

II: Strengthen standards under GSP to ensure countries adhere to the commitments in the program and provide more tools to bring complaints and encourage changes on the ground in country.

III: Establish a supplemental review mechanism to ensure a Nation’s laws align with their commitments under GSP.

IV: Encourage the adoption of data collection measures to aid country evaluations and outcomes.

Read the Women’s Economic Empowerment in Trade Act here.