NAFTA targets specific sectors for tariff reduction (e.g., automobiles, agricultural products, and energy) between the United States, Canada, and Mexico. It prohibits preferential treatment of local companies over ones based in foreign countries, and it limits member governments from influencing any investment or financial service related to trade. Supplemental accords related to NAFTA address environmental concerns, labor, and the subject of import surges (North American Free Trade Agreement, 1994).
Liberalization of trade through global and regional agreements has created a broader context for business decision making. It provides global businesses the opportunity to optimize business performance across the entire enterprise with fewer country-specific restrictions. It does this by enabling greater mobility of plants, equipment, supplies, subassemblies, finished goods, and investment. The impact of enhanced global trade on work organization can be substantial, ranging from wholesale translocation of processes or plants (e.g., maquilas in Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean Basin) to competition-driven changes in performance and efficiency (e.g., automation, changed work processes, new skills, new employment arrangements, and new compensation systems).
Globalization has implications for the training of occupational health and safety personnel. Frumpkin (1998) presented seven issues. First, globalization and free-trade agreements may result in the relocation or displacement of employees by industries or firms. “Unemployment, fear of unemployment, migration, and the accompanying stress and social disruption have a profound impact on the health of workers and their families” (Frumpkin, 1998, p. 237). Second, countries differ in their health and safety standards, and third, they may differ in the degree to which they enforce health and safety regulations. Fourth, hazard communication requires multilingual information and training materials. The fifth issue that Frumpkin raised is the need for trained occupational health and safety personnel. He suggested that less affluent countries have a shortage of trained health and safety professionals. Therefore, organizations with multinational locations may need to provide trained professionals at least to train local personnel. The last two issues dealt with the need to have standardized surveillance data across country borders and the need to disseminate preventive practices and technologies, although not without attention to cultural differences among countries.