Casey: When it Comes to the Rights of Workers and Women’s Economic Empowerment, the United States Must Lead

Following request from Sen. Casey, Rep. Blumenauer, GAO produces report finding only episodic reporting of issues pertaining to the rights of women and equal protection in trade programs; beneficiary country performance on indicators related to women’s rights and economic participation varies widely

Casey: When it Comes to the Rights of Workers and Women’s Economic Empowerment, the United States Must Lead

Washington, D.C. – Following a request from U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) and U.S. Representative Earl Blumenauer (D-OR-3), the Government Accountability Office (GAO) published a report on women’s rights and economic participation in trade preference programs. The GAO report highlights the lack of requirements for Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) to monitor or report on women’s economic participation and rights. The report, titled “Observations On Whether Women's Rights and Economic Interests Are Protected or Promoted by U.S. Trade Preference Programs,” reviewed ten years of agency reports, finding only episodic coverage of issues related to the rights of women and equal protection in trade programs. Around the world, women disproportionately face barriers to equal protection and economic participation, including legal barriers to work, restrictions on property ownership, restricted educational opportunities, wage discrimination and violence and harassment in the workplace. GAO’s review of indicators related to women’s rights and economic participation shows that beneficiary country performance on these measures varies widely.

Key GAO Findings:
1. U.S. trade preference program statutes do not include provisions specifically promoting women’s rights and economic interests.
2. U.S. agencies are not required to monitor or report on women’s rights and economic interests with respect to trade programs.
3. GAO’s review of 10 years of agency reports found only episodic coverage of issues pertaining to the rights of women and equal protection in trade programs.
4. Beneficiary country performance on indicators related to women’s rights and economic participation varies widely.

“When it comes to the rights of workers and women, the United States should be a leader. Our trade laws should support women’s full economic participation globally. Firms and countries should not be able to use discrimination, in any form, as a trade advantage,” said Senator Casey. “It is clear from this report that we have a long way to go with respect to advancing women’s economic empowerment and participation, globally. Accordingly, our trade laws must be modernized to include binding measures on the rights of women and equal protection under the law, measures on non-discrimination as well as violence and harassment in the workplace.”

In June, Senator Casey introduced the Women’s Economic Empowerment in Trade Act to strengthen and modernize Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) standards on worker rights and ensure countries receiving GSP afford equal rights and protection under the law, regardless of gender. The legislation also bars gross violations of human rights; includes measures on non-discrimination and violence and harassment in the workplace.

Read the GAO report here.