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University of Kansas Law Review




This article reframes the outward-looking perspective on workers’ rights provisions in free trade agreements. It argues that those provisions provide an opportunity to reinforce the workplace rights of noncitizen workers in the United States. Scholars and worker advocates have criticized recent free trade agreements for their lack of enforcement mechanisms and protections for workers in developing countries. They argue that this has encouraged a race to the bottom on the part of multi-national corporations who relocate to developing countries to take advantage of cheap labor costs, thereby costing U.S. workers’ jobs.

This article shifts the focus. Instead, it argues that the anti-discrimination provisions and regulatory cohesion requirements in trade agreements can be employed to protect the rights of vulnerable, and, in particular, noncitizen workers in the United States. The provisions in the most recent iteration of trade promotion authority reinforce the rights of noncitizen workers in the United States in three ways. First, they have the potential to fill in gaps in U.S. agency enforcement of workplace rights; second, they provide additional incentives for the United States to enforce existing worker protections; and third, they provide a legal hook for workers’ advocates to exert political pressure on U.S. agencies to enforce anti-discrimination laws and multi-national corporations to change discriminatory practices.

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University of Kansas School of Law

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