Women who become pregnant are routinely fired from jobs and shut out of employment in the Dominican Republic’s export-processing sector, Human Rights Watch said in a briefing paper released today. The proposed U.S.-Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), which ignores workplace discrimination, will allow these abuses to persist.

Women working in the massive export-processing sector told Human Rights Watch that they are regularly subjected to mandatory pregnancy testing when they apply for work and often must submit to periodic testing to keep their jobs. Though illegal, the Dominican government has done virtually nothing to end this practice.

CAFTA also fails to protect women workers against discrimination. Its only enforceable labor rights provision requires countries to effectively implement existing labor laws. The regional trade pact’s definition of “labor laws” excludes laws related to workplace discrimination, leaving the Dominican Republic free to ignore its own anti-discrimination labor laws while reaping the trade benefits of CAFTA.

“It’s a scandal that pregnancy alone shuts many Dominican women out of jobs,” said LaShawn R. Jefferson, executive director of Human Rights Watch’s Women’s Rights Division. “CAFTA could have incorporated protections against sex discrimination, but instead the negotiators failed women miserably.”

On March 25, U.S. President George W. Bush notified the U.S. Congress of his intent to include the Dominican Republic in CAFTA, 10 days after the administration concluded trade negotiations with the country. Bush is free to sign the trade pact 90 days after the notification and can send it to the U.S. Congress for a vote any time thereafter.

Export processing in free trade zones generates more exports from the Dominican Republic than any other sector, and the industry is one of the largest employer of women in the country. The United States, which is the main destination for Dominican exports, imports over 80 percent of all goods produced in the free trade zones. Dominican exports to the United States are likely to grow significantly if CAFTA enters into force with the Dominican Republic as a party.

“CAFTA trade negotiators have willingly sacrificed equality on the altar of free trade,” said Jefferson. “If Bush sends this version of CAFTA to Congress, lawmakers should reject the pact and insist that the text be renegotiated to protect women’s rights. No country should be allowed to enjoy free trade with the United States while flouting women worker’s rights.”