TPP: Global nightmare for democracy, workers rights and the 99%?

June 19, 2013

Knowledgeable sources are outraged over the lack of transparency around the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations. The world’s 99% have a lot to be concerned about, they say. The TPP is described as a free trade agreement in the making that presently involves 11 nations: Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, United States and Vietnam. If Japan joins the talks on the TPP, “it would boost the proposed agreement to one covering nearly 40% of the world economic output” according to the Wall Street Journal (6/2/13).

The very fabric of society has been torn apart by the greed, corruption, scorched earth policies and lack of accountability of transnational corporations. Workers rights, safety and health protections and the existence of labor unions are being eroded due to the unbridled power that the transnationals already have over every sector of society. Now, according to Arthur Stamoulis, Executive Director of the Citizens Trade Campaign (CTC), the TPP will give special rights to these transnationals “that go far beyond those possessed by domestic businesses and American citizens.”

In fact, according to CTC, a process of dispute resolutions is being discussed that would grant transnational corporations special authority to challenge countries’ laws, regulations and court decisions in international tribunals that circumvent domestic judicial systems.

Jim Shultz, Executive Director of the Democracy Center in Bolivia, noted on Democracy Now! (6/6/13) that under the TPP companies will become more powerful than sovereign states and the power of citizens’ movements to protect the public’s interest will be overridden.

Shultz reported that Philip Morris is suing Uruguay for hundreds of millions of dollars for putting health warnings on cigarette packages; a Canadian mining company is suing El Salvador for $315 million because the government halted mining in response to a citizens’ movement to stop the company from pouring poisonous chemicals into the ground to extract gold, and a Swedish company is suing Germany for more than 700 million euros after citizens’ movements won a moratorium on nuclear power. Allowing these transnational corporations to win huge awards of money will have a chilling effect on the willingness and ability of governments to protect their people and will undermine democracy worldwide.

As for workers and communities, transnational corporations are seeking a trade pact that will serve as a legal vehicle that will lead to a race to the bottom for workers and their communities. According to Celeste Drake, the AFL-CIO’s Trade Policy Specialist, trade pacts like NAFTA and TPP are created to benefit the 1% and it is only by accident and not design when and if these pacts benefit the 99%.

With respect to workers rights and protecting the public interest, DS Wright on FDL News Desk (4/1/13) warned: “If the TPP is approved, the sovereignty of the United States and other member nations will be dissipated by trade tribunals that favor corporate power and force national laws to be subservient to corporate interests.”

These trade pacts must clearly protect the right of workers to organize and form unions to protect their jobs, health and safety and communities in which transnational corporations operate. It is only strong worker protections that can prevent such tragic situations from occurring that we have seen in the Union Carbide factory explosion in Bhopal, India that killed thousands in 1984; the recent tragedies in Bangladesh — the building collapse in April and the fire that killed more than a thousand workers in November, and the untold numbers in the U.S. and worldwide who have been victims of cancer alleys created by the oil, chemical, energy and agribusiness industries.

Only through strong, enforceable worker protections and labor rights in these trade pacts will workers on all worksites be able to speak up to protect their lives, livelihoods and communities. These trade pacts must also be written to assure strong sanctions against the use of child labor, forced labor and slave labor.

Unfortunately, other such pacts have nullified the efforts of political leaders like Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) who introduced legislation in 1994 to ban the imports of products produced by brutalized child labor. President Clinton’s U.S. Trade Representative informed him that his bill would violate the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), which the United States is obliged to obey.

The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) wrote:

“Any future trade agreement must include both a stronger and broader commitment on Labour rights…The agreement must also ensure that workers throughout supply chains are covered fully by these protections, and that they apply equally to migrant workers. And, goods produced by forced or compulsory Labour must never enter international commerce.”

Any sane trade pact must also include humane treatment of animals in all industries including food production and scientific research.

~ Ray Rogers serves as International Labor Rights Advisor in the Economy Branch of the Green Shadow Cabinet.  This statement is one of over a dozen issued in support of the Green Shadow Cabinet's June 17th call for action against the TPP.