The Trans-Pacific Partnership: Another assault on human rights that must be opposed

June 18, 2013

The right to have the means to sustain one’s physical life is a foundational principle of human rights.  The right to work and earn a livable wage in conditions commensurate with human dignity that allow for securing adequate food, clothing, housing, medical care and necessary social services is the basis for material sustainability and a dignified life.  The right to join or form unions, engage in collective bargaining and live in a clean and healthy environment, free of pollutants in the air and land, are also fundamental for securing material sustainability and dignity for the individual, peoples and States.  And in order to secure these rights, the right to information, participation, popular sovereignty and national self-determination must be recognized and protected.

All states have an obligation, under the current regime of state-centered international human rights, to respect, protect and fulfill the full range of human rights. However, under the terms of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a so-called free trade agreement negotiated in secret by the Obama Administration and now scheduled to be fast-tracked into law this fall, it appears that the fundamental human rights of the laboring classes in the U.S. and all of the countries involved in this free trade agreement would be violated.

It is difficult to determine the full extent to which the agreement poses a threat to human rights because of the wall of secrecy with which the Obama Administration has excluded the public during the negotiations. The secrecy surrounding the agreement also extended to members of Congress, who have been denied access to the draft agreement by the Obama Administration.  Incredibly, even US Senator Ron Wyden, who chairs the Congressional Committee with jurisdiction over the TPP agreement, was denied access to the negotiation texts.

On the other hand, more than 600 private sector “advisors” have had access to the draft—a fact that is consistent with the Administration’s commitment to the private corporate sector over the public’s right to know.

Judging by the provisions of the agreement that have been leaked, it is quite understandable why the Administration would not want the terms and the scope of this agreement made available to the public.

The TPP goes well beyond what is commonly understood to come under the purview of free trade. Not only will the TPP be the largest and most ambitious trade agreement in U.S. history, it will set rules on non-trade matters such as food safety, internet freedom, medicine costs, financial regulation and the environment, in favor of U.S. financial and corporate interests and to the detriment of workers and the general public in the U.S. and in the countries that become part of the agreement.

Also, as a legally-binding international governance system, it will require all states involved - the United States, Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Vietnam, Japan, and any other country that signs the agreement, to reconcile their domestic laws and policies with the rules of the agreement or risk legal action and/or sanctions.  

Members of the Green Shadow Cabinet believe that a human rights approach to trade agreements demands popular participation and consultation of those affected by the agreements. Human rights principles oblige states to provide mechanisms through which people can hold their government accountable, participate in policy-making and have access to the information necessary to do so. Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights refers to the right to receive and impart information. This is further elaborated in Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), one of the few human rights treaties that the U.S. has signed and ratified. And Article 25 of the ICCPR upholds citizens’ rights to participate in the conduct of public affairs. The United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights also affirmed the significance of the right to information as fundamental for economic and social rights.

From what we have been able to determine, the TPP agenda continues the “pro-growth” logic of international capital that is often in contradiction to the human rights of workers, the well-being of the environment and general social justice. The fact that the TPP has been negotiated in secret means that there has been no transparency, participation or democratic accountability. This fact and the likely consequences of the agreement for poor and working class people means that the entire process is illegitimate, violates fundamental human rights and, therefore, should be opposed for these reasons.

~ Ajamu Baraka is Public Intervenor for Human Rights in the Democracy 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.