On May 19, 2014, I traveled to the Dominican Republic to embark on a wonderful mission. Through the assistance of Dr. David Addison and his organization, Seven Elements, I was able to explore the topic of Free Trade Zones. More specifically, I explored the connection in the Dominican government's ability to enforce labor laws within Free Trade Zones. Seven Elements, or 7e, is an organization in which individuals travel to the Dominican Republic to focus on specific research topics and projects pertaining to issues that are prevalent in the Dominican Republic.
Upon my arrival, I delved into the topic of Free Trade Zones and Dominican labor law. I started with researching the history of Free Trade Zones and their prevalence internationally. This was great background for analyzing the Free Trade Zones, especially in further scrutinizing the adherence to the labor laws by private companies conducting business within Free Trade Zones in the Dominican Republic. I gathered data from the National Free Trade Zone Council to further investigate the economic presence of Free Trade Zones in the Dominican Republic and reported my findings to Dr. Addison in our weekly meetings.
The highlights of my trip were my two interviews with lawyers that are friends of Dr. Addison. One of my interviewees was Marta, a retired lawyer who practiced law in the Dominican Republic for over 30 years. Her wealth of experience with politics and social activism has shaped her perspective of the Dominican law and inspired her passion for recognizing the rights of employees. She is a strong opponent of Free Trade Zones because of the negative socioeconomic and sociopolitical effects that she believes have resulted out of their presence. When I asked her about the Dominican labor laws and how they apply in the Free Trade Zones, she noted that the laws are in place and are enforced to some extent, but corruption prevents the system from ever developing. She believes that the most work needs to be done in regards to unionization, worker's rights, and setting national labor standards.
My interview with Marta made me think to a class discussion in my labor law class. In Professor Lieberwitz's class, we discussed the National Labor Relations Act and how private corporations are obligated to treat employees fairly in respect to the law. The key difference is that in the U.S., if there is a dispute, the workers can take legal action. In the Dominican Republic, when workers begin to unionize and request collective bargaining agreements, it often ends violently, which discourages workers from voicing their complaints. Through my studies in the Dominican Republic as well as Cornell, it is easy to see that the culture of a country deeply affects the law and how the law is interpreted and applied.
Overall, my experience researching with 7e was unforgettable. I learned so much more about Free Trade Zones, international politics, economics, labor and I even got some language immersion as well. Most importantly, I learned more about the different life experiences that people have and how our perception of equality and justice is so different in America compared to that of other countries. I strongly believe that international experiences are imperative for Americans because they provide perspective, which is something that extends much deeper than academics. I am forever grateful for the ILR Travel Grant, because without it, I wouldn't have been able to capitalize on an opportunity such as this.