It's a well-established fact that neoliberal trade deals weaken labor safety standards, dispense with the right to unionize, evade and disregard minimum wage standards and exploit child labor.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership further demonstrates this idea.
NAFTA meant that we lost jobs to Canada and Mexico -- Canada to dodge paying U.S. taxes, Mexico to avoid anything close to decent wages. (This year, the minimum wage was raised
to $4.30 (in U.S. dollars) per day
; the average wage in the country is $5.06 per day).
In Vietnam, the minimum wage varies by region and can be less than four U.S. dollars a day. In 2012, Nike factories paid $0.27 an hour -- this has since been raised to $0.48 cents. With wages like these, customs barriers -- already low -- are no obstacle to outsourcing; the U.S. has trade deficits with Vietnam, Mexico, Malaysia, Canada and Japan already. (In fact, companies with Chinese factories keep re-outsourcing to Vietnam.) Clearly, we need to work on bringing these jobs back stateside, not sending more away.
In an attempt to deflect from the main issue, the Office of the United States Trade Representative
has released a lot of gobbledygook on the subject. It contends that the TPP will promote the following goals:
- Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining;
- Elimination of forced labor;
- Abolition of child labor and a prohibition on the worst forms of child labor; and
- The elimination of employment discrimination.
Of course, there are some obvious issues with these specious claims.
The right to join a union -- implied in the first statement -- is highly unlikely to actually be protected. For example, according to Human Rights Watch, "Vietnam bans all independent political parties, labor unions, and human rights organizations. Authorities require official approval for public gatherings and refuse to grant permission for meetings, marches, or protests they deem politically or otherwise unacceptable." In this country, workers often have difficulty exercising their rights when the NLRB and court system is supposed to defend them -- will a panel of corporate lawyers (per the ISDS system) really do better? No, so there goes your "freedom of association and right to collective bargaining."
Second, "forced labor" is not defined. Does it mean blatant slavery, or could it refer to the necessity to work at a job that puts one's life, health and well-being at risk, for paltry wages and (in some, "lucky" cases) accommodations in a huge, crowded, dirty company dormitory? The workers whose deaths caused Apple to put up its famous suicide nets certainly didn't seem to be employed there by their own volition. Wage slavery can be almost as repressive as the unadulterated article, but it's hardly probable that our governments -- or the ISDS courts -- will actually work to abolish the system.
The third provision contradicts itself. How can you promise the "Abolition of child labor and a prohibition on the worst forms of child labor." If you're really abolishing all
child labor, why would you need to specifically ban "the worst forms" of it? This is just a taste of the duplicity involved in this deal.
Finally, just exactly how does the Trade Representative define "the elimination of employment discrimination?" We don't have that here. When women make 77 cents for every dollar men are paid, that's employment discrimination. When U.S. jobs are outsourced overseas because American workers tried to form a union, that's employment discrimination. When companies like Smithfield and Holiday Inn preferentially hire illegal immigrants over American citizens -- then intimidate and selectively deport those who agitate for better working and living conditions -- that's employment discrimination on a lot of levels. Companies are getting away with all of this right here in the U.S.A. -- why in the world would we expect America-as-global-policeman to be better at controlling even more flagrant abuses worldwide?
Supposedly, the U.S. will implement "consistency plans" with some of the other TPP countries (notably, not with Mexico) to enforce compliance. This begs the question -- compliance with what
? The Atlantic
states that "The minimum wage" required by the deal "could be set at a penny an hour--which wouldn't do much to help workers." The Office of the Trade Representative promises to "Establish rules that wil ensure that TPP countries do not waive or derogate from fundamental labor laws in a manner that affects trade or investment" -- because having sanctions instated wouldn't be fun for fat cat stockholders. But we turn blind eyes on some of the most flagrant labor violations occurring today -- for example, no government has applied sanctions to Uzbekistan over their use of child slave labor to harvest cotton. While companies from Walmart to Fruit of the Loom to IKEA to Tesco have banned the use of Uzbek cotton in products they sell, the United States has refused to do anything, since much of Uzbekistan has functioned as a giant military base during our war in Afghanistan. When "national security" -- or profit margins -- enter the picture, labor is ignored.
In conclusion, the United States needs to implement a "consistency plan" with itself, not give lip-service to labor while exploiting all the workers of the world.