The Trans-Pacific Partnership Would Threaten Workers' Rights - Affecting Good American Jobs
By making it easier for U.S. corporations to offshore decent jobs to low-wage countries, the TPP would accelerate the "race to the bottom" spurred by other free trade agreements, such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), putting downward wage pressure on U.S. workers while facilitating corporate exploitation of foreign workers. TPP includes the same incentives and protections for off-shoring as NAFTA, such as special investor rights that eliminate many of the risks and costs associated with relocating jobs to low-wage countries.
After NAFTA, thousands of U.S. manufacturing firms closed their doors, fired hundreds of thousands of U.S. workers, and relocated just across the Mexican border so as to take advantage of the low wages in Mexico's maquiladora zone.
While this shift initially created hundreds of thousands of jobs in Mexico, many of those jobs soon evaporated when China joined the World Trade Organization (WTO), inviting the corporations that had off-shored to Mexico to shutter their factories and relocate again to China, where wages and labor protections were even lower.
Vietnam, one the TPP negotiating countries, is considered the low-cost labor alternative to even China. Independent labor unions are illegal in Vietnam and workers are paid about one-third to one-half of what Chinese workers are paid. The TPP would pit U.S. workers against Vietnam's underpaid and repressed workforce, perpetuating the race to the bottom.
The Obama administration has demanded that the TPP include enforceable labor standards, but their proposal would not require adherence to the International Labor Organization's Conventions, which set binding international labor rights. Rather, the U.S. proposal is for the TPP to require countries to enforce the more vague terms of the ILO's Declaration on Rights at Work. Even so, many of the other TPP countries oppose enforceability of such labor terms.
As the infuriating outcomes of the U.S.-Colombia FTA show, proposals to later add side agreements on labor issues are not effective. During the first year of the FTA number of Colombian union members violently displaced from their homes has increased and death threats against unionists have remained, according to Escuela Nacional Sindical (ENS), the institution recognized as an authoritative source of monitoring data. The number of unionists violently forced to flee their homes jumped 76 percent in 2012 compared to 2011, before the FTA took effect. Death threats against unionists have remained rampant, with 471 unionists receiving death threats in the year after the U.S.-Colombia FTA Labor Action Plan was launched, according to ENS. At least 20 Colombian unionists were assassinated in 2012 according to ENS data, while the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) reported 35 assassinations last year. Colombia remains the world's deadliest place to be a union member.