The United States is to investigate Swaziland's record on human rights and if it finds the kingdom is not respecting them, it will cancel a vital trade agreement.
The Office of the US Trade Representative (USTR) reported, 'The United States remains deeply concerned about the Government of Swaziland's lack of measurable progress on workers' rights issues, particularly protection of freedom of association and the right to organize, its use of security forces and arbitrary arrests to intimidate peaceful demonstrations, and the lack of legal recognition for union federations.'
Now, it is launching a full-scale inquiry into Swaziland, which is ruled by King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarch.
The first part of the inquiry should be completed in May 2014 and if Swaziland fails the human rights test the United States will withdraw the preferential trading rights which give the kingdom benefits under the African Growth and Opportunities Act (AGOA).
In a media statement USTR said, 'In May 2014, the US Government will conduct an interim AGOA eligibility review of Swaziland to assess whether it has made measurable progress on the protection of internationally recognized worker rights. The results of this review will be reflected in a recommendation to the President regarding Swaziland's continued AGOA eligibility.'
Under the AGOA, the US grants duty-free access of specific products, including textiles and clothing, from African countries to its market. AGOA contains specific criteria that countries must meet to enjoy the benefits of AGOA, including criteria related to internationally recognized workers' rights.
In 2013, Swaziland exported US$ 49.749 million worth of apparel to the US, showing a decline of 16.88 percent over exports of $59.855 million made in 2012, according to the Major Shippers Report released by the U.S. Department of Commerce.
Swaziland 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.
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.