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The TPP: Another Tool to Exploit Women

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Rep. Louise Slaughter on how the Trans-Pacific Partnership is another tool to exploit women:

But something that has gone overlooked and under-discussed is the fact that the TPP will tie the United States to countries that do not value the rights of women.

One of those countries is Brunei Darussalam. Even while Brunei was participating in the TPP negotiations, that country was passing laws that harm women. Brunei’s new penal laws proscribe imprisonment for women who have an abortion or who have a child out of wedlock. The penalty for being found guilty of adultery or extramarital sex is flogging or death by stoning. Rather than condemn these repressive acts, the TPP would bring the United States in partnership with Brunei, a country that adopted Sharia law in 2014, causing condemnation from human rights groups.

The case of Malaysia is just as distressing. That country has a troubling and well-documented history of slave labor and serious human trafficking abuses. Every year, millions of people are forced into unpaid labor, with teenage girls forced to become domestic workers in unsafe and unsanitary conditions. Sadly, many also suffer sexual abuse or are driven into Malaysia’s sex trade, and mass graves were also recently discovered.

For years, Malaysia was on the list of worst countries for human trafficking but has shown no real progress in changing its ways. According to our own State Department’s 2014 trafficking report, Malaysia “made limited and inadequate efforts to improve its flawed victim protection regime,” and authorities there detained victims for over a year in some cases, all while decreasing trafficking enforcement.

In May 2015, authorities near the border with Thailand discovered 139 bodies in shallow graves, most likely the remains of trafficked migrants trying to escape persecution in Burma and Bangladesh. Yet, just a few short weeks later, the State Department actually upgraded Malaysia’s status. Questions have since been raised about whether this was done because the fast-track bill passed by Congress said the administration couldn’t rubber stamp any trade agreement with countries in the worst trafficking category.

Appallingly, just a month after the administration rewarded Malaysia with this upgraded trafficking status despite its abysmal record, authorities found dozens more bodies in the Malaysian jungle.

The Malaysia reclassification is one of the single worst foreign policy outrages of the Obama administration, really putting the lie to the idea that the TPP is about helping the world’s workers. When you give Malaysia all the benefits up front in exchange for vague promises about reform, you can’t actually expect that reform to happen. What Slaughter didn’t mention and should have is women working in the sweatshops and how the TPP will contribute to their exploitation through a globalized labor regime that gives corporations the opportunity to sue countries for raising their labor standards while not granting women any legal path to ending the routine unsafe working conditions, sexual assault, forced birth control, low wages, and physical punishment while making clothes or other products for Walmart, Nike, Gap, Target, etc.

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