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Our Allies in Global Trade

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growing-pain-of-child-labor-in-vietnam

Sure the Department of Labor has placed the Vietnamese textile industry on its list of those industries using child and forced labor. But why let that stop us from implementing the Trans Pacific Partnership! Meanwhile, the U.S. will do absolutely nothing to actually stop this from happening. And let’s be clear–it very well could. The new law closing the Smoot-Hawley Tariff slave labor loophole is just one of many examples of how the U.S. govenrment actually does control the conditions of labor overseas for products imported into the United States. It could do a lot to ensure that kids aren’t making our clothes, including punishing American companies who are relying on this labor. But they don’t do that. Instead, they press through trade agreements that could allow Nike to sue Vietnam for lost profits if that country banned child labor. Free trade is everyone’s friend!

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  • cleek

    But why let that stop us from implementing the Trans Pacific Partnership! Meanwhile, the U.S. will do absolutely nothing to actually stop this from happening.

    the US-Vietnam TPP Consistency Plan addresses this, no?

    • Brett

      It relies on the US government itself pushing to slow down implementation of the treaty, which is not going to happen unless they’re totally embarrassed into it (Vietnam is a potential strategic partner in the US’ attempt to encircle China and contain it, so they’re going to be reluctant to jeopardize that because of a trade treaty violation).

    • Rob in CT

      Just for others info, here is the first link I found on that:

      http://www.bilaterals.org/?tentative-u-s-vietnam-consistency

      Here’s the second:

      https://onlabor.org/2016/02/29/enforcing-labor-standards-under-the-trans-pacific-partnership/

      From link #2:

      Notably, the possible avenues of enforcing labor rights under the TPP – both the TPP itself and the consistency plans – hinge on the political will of the parties’ governments. Consequently, the AFL-CIO has denounced the labor provisions in the TPP as insufficient and merely cosmetic. The United States’ track record on taking action against labor rights abuses by its trading partners dashes hope that the TPP will actually protect its party states’ workers. Despite the NAALC allowing the United States to sue Mexico for violating minimum wage standards, occupational health and safety standards, and child labor laws, the United States never brought a labor rights suit against Mexico.

      Prospects of U.S. action on labor violations under the TPP are not nil, however. The United States brought its first ever labor complaint against a trade partner in 2014, suing Guatemala under CAFTA. U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman did not state specifically why the United States singled out Guatemala for suit. One possible reason is domestic political pressure. In 2008, the AFL-CIO and several Guatemalan labor organizations publicly submitted documentation of widespread failure by Guatemala to abide by CAFTA’s labor provisions. Guatemala is also quite uniquely hostile to labor interests. The International Trade Union Confederation named Guatemala as the most dangerous place in the world for the exercise of trade union activities, and claims that at least 73 trade unionists were murdered 2007-2014.

      • Aaron Morrow

        From the second link, an important point of comparison:

        Only a government can invoke a dispute settlement proceeding against another government for violating FTA labor protections… private entities may bring a commercial dispute under the TPP under the now-famed investor-state dispute settlement provisions in the TPP. This suggests that the TPP does not take its labor provisions as seriously as its commercial provisions.

        Bold is mine.

    • cleek
      • Linnaeus

        Thing is, as Brett and Rob in CT point out, it all comes down to enforcement, and this is where I remain somewhat skeptical that the TPP will do what its advocates say it will do. Enforcement is left to the parties to the treaty (there’s no ISDS-like mechanism, for example, for labor standards enforcement) and my concern is that the US will not enforce the standards when such enforcement is warranted due to other political considerations and/or political pressure not to.

        • Rob in CT

          I’m inclined to think that a Democratic administration would produce spotty enforcement, depending on how much pressure labor groups can bring to bear, and a Republican administration would just ignore violations.

        • cleek

          it all comes down to enforcement

          sure.

          but is there anything that doesn’t?

          • sonamib

            The thing is, the US could leverage is position to negotiate for enforcement mecanisms with actual teeth, like allowing unions to sue in ISDS courts.

            Also, it would be nice if no child-labor countries were allowed into trade agreements with the US. Kind of like the EU refuses the membership applications of any country who still uses the death penalty.

          • Linnaeus

            A fair point, but as sonamib suggests, the mechanism of enforcement can make a big difference. If the ISDS process is necessary – as it is claimed to be – because local court systems are sometimes too dysfunctional or compromised to rely upon for fair treatment of investors, then I don’t see why similar reasoning wouldn’t hold for labor standards. A corrupt court system could be just as willing to allow violations of labor standards to stand as it would arbitrary seizures of investors’ property.

          • This is why I also call for opening avenues for affected people to sue companies for violations of these agreements. Regulation is not enough because of regulatory capture. The courts make that harder, albeit not impossible of course.

  • DrDick

    TPP protects the God given rights of corporations to gouge their customers, abuse their workers, and despoil the environment.

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