In 1954, banana workers kicked off a general strike that galvanized the Honduran labor movement. Since then, workers and unions have been at the forefront of social change and struggles for social justice in Honduras. Yet, Honduras remains a highly dangerous country for union activists and politically tumultuous after a succession of coups since the 1960s, the most recent of which occurred in 2009.

Honduran trade unionists are routinely threatened, intimidated, harassed and even murdered for attempting to form unions, and criminals are rarely brought to justice. Since the 2009 coup, 31 trade unionists have been assassinated and more than 200 injured in violent attacks. Some 52 rural workers have been killed in confrontations with landowners and the government. As home to the most deadly city in the world, San Pedro Sula, Honduras is crippled by violent crime and citizen insecurity, and the World Bank estimates the economic cost of violent crime to total 10 percent of GDP.

Agriculture is the largest formal sector employer in Honduras, and a majority of the poor are rural workers, the vast majority of whom have limited literacy and little knowledge of their human rights and labor rights. Most child labor— nearly 60 percent—is concentrated in the agriculture sector. Banana and coffee represent approximately 50 percent of agricultural production, and daily wages on banana plantations are as low as $4 per day on nonunion plantations. Workers with unions are paid $7 per day.

Honduras is the third largest exporter of apparel and textiles to the United States worldwide and the largest exporting country in Central America. Honduran labor laws do not protect workers from the health and safety risks posed by textile factory work, and there is a severe shortage of factory inspectors who can investigate the working conditions of the hundreds of maquilas—many of them sweatshops. The majority of clothing and textile workers are women who face particular challenges in the workplace, including sexual harassment, denial of maternity leave and forced pregnancy tests during the job application process.

Half of the total manufacturing sector labor force in Honduras works in one of dozens of export processing zones (EPZs), where workers suffer from poorer health and less leisure time than other factory workers and face more opposition and intimidation when they try to form unions. Further, the length of the working day in the EPZs is often determined by prohibitively high production quotas, which must be met before workers can leave.

On March 26, 2012, the AFL-CIO and 26 Honduran unions and civil society organizations filed a complaint under the labor chapter of the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Trade and Labor Affairs. The complaint alleges the Honduran government failed to enforce labor rights under its labor laws. The trade and labor affairs office accepted the complaint in February 2014, and the United States is waiting for the Honduran government to present its corrective plan of action. In a February 2015 report, the U.S. Trade and Labor Affairs office says Honduras has made virtually no progress since 2012.