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How the TPP Trade Agreement Would Undermine Human Rights Across the Globe

Photo courtesy Sue Waters on Flickr

Human Rights Day is observed every year on Dec. 10. It commemorates the day that the U.N. General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, which was later supplemented by adoption of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Today, these global compacts form the backbone of international human rights norms, including the rights to freedom of expression, to self-determination, to peacefully assemble and to the freedom of association.

It is worth celebrating that half a century ago, the world agreed upon a set of universal rights for all human beings that all countries are bound to respect and fulfill. Yet, on this date, we are also reminded that these fundamental rights are threatened by the Tran-Pacific Partnership being forwarded by the United States and 11 other Pacific Rim countries and championed by corporate interests. Just last week, labor leaders on the Labor Advisory Committee for Trade Negotiations and Trade Policy—the official labor voice in the administration’s TPP negotiations—urged President Barack Obama not to send the deal to Congress, as the committee’s numerous recommendations that would have helped reduce our trade deficit, protect working families and promote inclusive global growth were essentially ignored.

In the wake of this missed opportunity, the AFL-CIO convened an expert discussion to explore the potential human rights impacts the TPP would have on working families, LGBT people, migrant workers, human and labor rights, food security and the environment. Here is how the TPP fails to meet the mark on human rights:

Jerame Davis, executive director, Pride At Work:

The TPP fails the test for important LGBT concerns. For one, it is deeply troubling that the United States would bring countries such as Brunei and Malaysia, with their state-sponsored persecution of LGBT individuals, into the fold of the TPP without insisting that they make improvements on ending LGBT persecution and discrimination. Secondly, the TPP poses a real threat to our continued progress in fighting the HIV/AIDS pandemic by restricting access to affordable, generic drugs and extending the patents on effective HIV/AIDS treatments. Our trade deals should put people before profits, but TPP would do just the opposite.

Celeste Drake, policy specialist for trade and international economics, AFL-CIO:

America’s working families and those in the other 11 TPP countries will certainly not benefit by a trade deal that permanently locks in increased corporate power and rights. The TPP provides corporations their own private justice system (ISDS) that they can use to attack our democracy, including national and local laws to protect our fundamental human, labor and environmental rights. Further, the TPP agreement rewards oppressive governments like those in Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei with enhanced trade benefits without requiring them to first respect the basic rights of their people.

Walker Grooms, program support officer, Witness for Peace:

Drastic expansion of the [North American Free Trade Agreement] model, via the TPP, would result in an explosive acceleration of maquiladoras and mega-projects (mining, monoculture agriculture, hydroelectric dams, etc.), of the kind we see in Mexico, Colombia and Central America. This model of "development" creates hubs for human rights abuses wherever these projects exist, such as: displacement of and environmental damage in communities; intensified exploitation of (often young and female) workers; violations of territorial rights of Indigenous and Afro-descendant populations; intimidation and murder of trade unionists and other human rights defenders raising concerns about the projects and; militarization (and often paramilitarization) of areas where this projects are located.

Karen Hansen-Kuhn, director of trade, technology and global governance at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy:

Intellectual property rights regarding an agreement on seeds forbids farmers from saving and storing seeds....New constraints [in the TPP] on farmers’ ability to get seeds, save money and increase biodiversity will be an increasing problem as climate change worsens.

Bill Waren, senior trade analyst at Friends of the Earth U.S.:

The Trans-Pacific Partnership includes several countries with records of persecuting environmental activists or ignoring their persecution. Moreover, the TPP will facilitate exports of environmentally-destructive goods and services produced by firms that violate or ignore basic human rights.

To sum up: The TPP will only repeat the mistakes of past trade deals while undermining our most basics rights and giving outsized power to corporations and oppressive governments. It is clear that the threats of this expansive new agreement outweigh its benefits—for good jobs, for democracy, for affordable medicines, for consumer safety and for the environment. The AFL-CIO is committed to mobilizing working families and joining with our allies to defeat the TPP.  

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