A number of US and Peruvian human rights and union groups have filed a complaint alleging Peru's government failed to enforce basic garment sector labour laws under the terms of a free trade pact.

The complaint, filed with the US Department of Labor yesterday (23 July), was made by several groups including the International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF), Peru Equidad, and Peruvian unions, alleging failure to adhere to labour provisions in the US-Peru Trade Promotion Agreement (PTPA).

The agreement, for the garment, textile and agricultural export sectors, became effective in February 2009.

The export law exempts employers from key parts of the general labour code by allowing them to hire virtually their entire workforce for an unlimited duration on a series of renewable, temporary contracts, some as short as 15 days, the groups say. Additionally, they claim garment and textile employers have taken advantage of the law by systematically declining to renew the contracts of thousands of workers who joined unions in an effort to improve wages and working conditions.

The complaint presents a number of case studies showing how the Government of Peru is failing to enforce its own labour laws in the textile and garment sector.

"Major Peruvian companies in these export sectors violate Peruvian labour laws with virtual impunity, dismissing workers for union activity, employing workers on fraudulent contracts, and failing to pay legally mandated bonuses," the complaint states. "Even in cases where labour inspectors have found violations, fines are too low to deter employer misconduct and often go unpaid."

This is not the first-time Peru’s Non-Traditional Export Promotion Law has been in the spotlight. The ILO has previously expressed concerns about the law, and in 2013, five US-based multi-nationals (including Nike, New Balance, and PVH Corp) wrote a public letter to President Ollanta Humala stating their concern that it may violate their corporate codes of conduct which require respect for workers’ fundamental labour rights.

This recent complaint raises new questions regarding the labour rights record of a key member of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Peru is a partner country involved in the 12-nation TPP negotiations, and the groups assert that the labour issues being raised in the complaint should be addressed within the context of the TPP negotiations.