Two pieces of legislation caught my eye recently. One, the Family Leave Insurance Act of 2009
(H. R. 1723), would expand coverage for workers who need to take time off for the birth of a child, illness of a family member, or other qualifying necessity. The other, the Afghanistan and Pakistan Reconstruction Opportunity Zones Act of 2009
(S.496), would authorize the President to create "Reconstruction Opportunity Zones" (ROZs) - similar to Export Processing Zones
(EPZs) - in Afghanistan and the border regions of Pakistan. Click on the titles to access the complete text of the bills from the Library of Congress website.The Family Leave Insurance Act
(FLIA) is sponsored by Representative Pete Stark (D-CA) and co-sponsored by Represenatives George Miller (D-CA), Lynn Woolsey (D-CA), and Carolyn Maloney (D-NY). It was introduced on March 25, 2009, and has most recently been referred to the House Ways and Means Committee
. The bill would provide 12 weeks of paid family leave to workers who had paid into the program for six months or more. A summary and the complete text of the bill is available on Representative Stark's website
.The Afghanistan and Pakistan Reconstruction Opportunity Zones Act of 2009
is sponsored by Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and co-sponsored by Senators Christopher Bond (R-MO), Robert Casey (D-PA), Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI). It was introduced February 26 and has been referred to the Senate Finance Committee
. The bill lays out requirements that must be met by the country in which the Reconstruction Opportunity Zone(ROZ) would be located, which I have posted in their entirety below.
While the bill mentions respect for international labor standards, I worry that regulation would be lax in this area, due to the remoteness of many potential locations. While the stated aim of increasing opportunity for local people is a good one, and (I believe) has the potential to significantly decrease the number of potential insurgent/terrorist recruits, establishing the oppressive and frankly horrible conditions WILPF has denounced
in many Export Processing Zones (EPZs) around the world would do just the opposite. I see little to substantially differentiate ROZs from EPZs. Other aspects of this bill that are worrisome are stipulations that governments must "elimate...barriers to trade and national development, including by...providing national...measures to create an environment conducive to domestic and foreign investment." Sounds innocent enough, but phrases like these have in the past meant policies that benefit corporations and investors and do little for the citizens of the country in which they do business. "Capital repatriation" is a shining example of this sort of exploitation, and also one of the most thinly veiled colonial leftovers I can think of. Capital repatriation drains rather than stimulates the local economies from which the profits were made, which is antithetical to the stated aim of this legislation. Also, the fact that pages are devoted to the regulation and prevention of transshipment, while only a few lines address labor rights, is troublesome.
Lastly, I am concerned that the sourcing of materials is not mentioned. If the US government truly wishes to support the Afghan and Pakistani economies, from the bottom up (providing a living to as many people as possible), they should include requirements that certain percentages of source materials be bought locally. This way, even if the profits of the enterprise are "repatriated" (removed from Afghanistan/Pakistan completely), local businesses and suppliers will not be left empty handed and more frustrated with the United States than ever. This bill is endorsed by President Obama, and has bi-partisan support. It is better than it could be, but the idea may need some fine tuning - or perhaps a complete overhaul - before it comes truly in line with human rights.
Afghanistan and Pakistan Reconstruction Opportunity Zones Act of 2009 (Introduced in Senate)
SEC. 3. DESIGNATION OF RECONSTRUCTION OPPORTUNITY ZONES.
(b) Eligibility Criteria- Afghanistan or Pakistan, as the case may be, meets the eligibility criteria set forth in this subsection if that country--
(1) has established, or is making continual progress toward establishing--
(A) a market-based economy that protects private property rights, incorporates an open rules-based trading system, and minimizes government interference in the economy through measures such as price controls, subsidies, and government ownership of economic assets;
(B) the rule of law, political pluralism, and the right to due process, a fair trial, and equal protection under the law;
(C) economic policies to--
(i) reduce poverty;
(ii) increase the availability of health care and educational opportunities;
(iii) expand physical infrastructure;
(iv) promote the development of private enterprise; and
(v) encourage the formation of capital markets through microcredit or other programs;
(D) a system to combat corruption and bribery, such as ratifying and implementing the United Nations Convention Against Corruption; and
(E) protection of internationally recognized worker rights, as defined in section 507(4) of the Trade Act of 1974 (19 U.S.C. 2467(4));
(2) is eliminating or has eliminated barriers to trade and investment, including by--
(A) providing national treatment and measures to create an environment conducive to domestic and foreign investment;
(B) protecting intellectual property; and
(C) resolving bilateral trade and investment disputes
(3) does not engage in activities that undermine United States national security or foreign policy interests;
(4) does not engage in gross violations of internationally recognized human rights;
(5) does not provide support for acts of international terrorism; and
(6) cooperates in international efforts to eliminate human rights violations and terrorist activities.