The United States is to investigate Swaziland's commitment to workers' rights and if it is found wanting it will withdraw favourable trading privileges from the kingdom.
The US State Department announced the move just before Christmas. In a media statement it said that Swaziland could lose its eligibility for trade benefits under the US African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA).
The US has been reviewing all African countries to see if they deserve to continue to be allowed to market in the US duty-free.
The State Department reported, 'As part of the review, the United States took special note of its continuing concerns about workers' rights issues in Swaziland and said it plans to conduct an AGOA-eligibility review of Swaziland in May 2014 to assess whether that nation has made measurable progress on the protection of internationally recognized worker rights.'
It added, 'The US government annually determines whether each country eligible for AGOA benefits has met or made "continual progress" during the year in meeting AGOA's eligibility criteria, which include establishment of a market-based economy, the rule of law, economic policies to reduce poverty, protection of internationally recognized worker rights, and efforts to combat corruption.'
Swaziland, which is ruled by King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarch, has a history of attacking workers' rights. It has banned the workers' federation, the Trades Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA), broken up its meeting and harassed and arrested its leaders.
The Swazi government had initially registered TUCOSWA, but later deregistered it after TUCOSWA announced it would campaign for a boycott of the Swaziland national election in September 2013. Deregistration violated the rules of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) that Swaziland has ratified.
In September 2013, Swazi state police arrested all members of an international panel of experts who were due to meet to debate the role of trade unions in Swaziland. The meeting due to take place in Manzini was to be chaired by Jay Naidoo, founding General Secretary of COSATU and former Minister of Communications for South Africa.
In December 2013, the American Federation of Labour and Congress of Industrial Organisations (AFL-CIO) supported workers in Swaziland and called for AGOA benefits to be withdrawn from the kingdom.
It said the Swazi Government, which is not elected, but handpicked by King Mswati, failed to observe the right of association, the right to organise and bargain collectively, and the right to acceptable conditions of service.
'The Government of Swaziland restricts internationally recognised worker rights in both law and practice. The country has been operating under a state of emergency for the last 40 years,' the AFL-CIO said.
US imports from Swaziland totalled E670 million (US$67 million in current foreign exchange) in 2012.