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Warren writes: "Again and again, proponents of free trade agreements claim that this time, a new trade agreement has strong and meaningful protections; again and again, those protections prove unable to stop the worst abuses."

Senator Elizabeth Warren puts herself firmly in the labor camp Wednesday at a Capitol Hill rally against the trade legislation. (photo: John Shinkle/Politico)
Senator Elizabeth Warren puts herself firmly in the labor camp Wednesday at a Capitol Hill rally against the trade legislation. (photo: John Shinkle/Politico)


Elizabeth Warren Report: Decades of Failure to Enforce Labor Standards in Free Trade Agreements

By Elizabeth Warren, Reader Supported News

18 May 15

 

Decades of Failure to Enforce Labor Standards in Free Trade Agreements

he Senate will soon vote on the Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities and Accountability Act of 2015 – also known as “Fast Track.” President Obama has requested Fast Track authority from Congress to ease the passage of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a massive trade agreement with 12 countries that account for nearly 40% of the global economy. President Obama has repeatedly stated that the TPP is “the most progressive trade bill in history” because it has high labor, environmental, and human rights standards. The President claims the TPP will have “higher labor standards, higher environmental standards,” and “new tools to hold countries accountable.”

But proponents of almost every free trade agreement (FTA) in the last 20 years have made virtually identical claims:

  • In 1993, President Clinton claimed that “the North American Free Trade Agreement [NAFTA] is the first agreement that ever really got any teeth in environmental standards, any teeth in what another country had to do with its own workers and its own labor standards... There’s never been anything like this before.”

  • In 2005, U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman claimed, “[t]he [Central American Free Trade Agreement] has the strongest labor and environmental provisions of any trade agreement ever negotiated by the United States.”

  • In 2007, U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab claimed that the Peru, Colombia, and Panama trade agreements contained “unprecedented protections for labor rights and environmental standards.”

  • In 2010, President Obama said that the South Korea agreement included “groundbreaking protections for workers’ rights.”

  • In 2011, the White House insisted that the Colombia trade agreement “include[d] strong protections for workers’ rights, based on the May 10, 2007, bipartisan Congressional- Executive agreement to incorporate high labor standards into America’s trade agreements.” President Obama said in 2012 that “this agreement is a win for our workers and the environment because of the strong protections it has for both – commitments we are going to fulfill.”

  • A few months later, the White House made nearly identical claims about the Panama Free Trade Agreements.

However, the history of these agreements betrays a harsh truth: that the actual enforcement of labor provisions of past U.S. FTAs lags far behind the promises. This analysis by the staff of Sen. Warren reveals that despite decades of nearly identical promises, the United States repeatedly fails to enforce or adopts unenforceable labor standards in free trade agreements.

Again and again, proponents of free trade agreements claim that this time, a new trade agreement has strong and meaningful protections; again and again, those protections prove unable to stop the worst abuses. Lack of enforcement by both Democratic and Republican presidents and other flaws with the treaties have allowed countries with weaker laws and standards and widespread labor and environment abuses to undermine treaty provisions, leaving U.S. workers and other interested parties with no recourse. This analysis finds:

  • The United States does not enforce the labor protections in its trade agreements. A series of reports by the non-partisan Government Accountability Office (GAO), as well as reports by the Department of Labor (DOL) and the Department of State, document significant and persistent problems with labor abuses in countries with which we have FTAs. While GAO acknowledged progress by partners in implementing commitments and by agencies in tracking progress and engaging on problems, their analysis concluded that the USTR and DOL “do not systemically monitor and enforce compliance with FTA labor provisions,” and that the U.S. agencies generally have not been “identifying compliance problems, developing and implementing responses, and taking enforcement actions.”

  • The U.S. pursues very few enforcement actions. Prior to 2008, the Department of Labor had not accepted a single formal complaint about labor abuses in free trade agreements. Since then, the Obama administration has conducted in-depth investigations into complaints and issued fact-finding reports and recommendations. However, DOL has accepted only five claims against countries for violating their labor commitments, and it only agreed to restart the first ever labor enforcement case under any free trade agreement in 2014, six years after the initial claim was filed. This reveals both the cumbersome nature of complaint process and the overall enforcement problems with these agreements.

  • Widespread labor-related human rights violations. The United States has 14 free trade agreements with 20 countries. While some of these countries have made progress in improving labor conditions, problems with labor rights and other abuses are widespread. U.S. agencies or other investigators have identified significant problems with use of child labor or other labor-related human rights abuses in 11 of the 20 countries.

  • Failure to curb even the worst abuses . Case studies of several countries that have signed U.S. free trade agreements reveal continuing horrific labor abuses. Guatemala was named “the most dangerous country in the world for trade unionists” five years after entering a trade agreement with the U.S. In Colombia, despite the existence of a special “Labor Action Plan” put in place to address long-standing problems and secure passage of the Colombia FTA, 105 union activists have been murdered and 1,337 death threats have been issued since the Labor Action Plan was finalized four years ago.

View the full text Here.


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+42 # Art947 2015-05-18 17:39
Isn't it amazing -- Barack Obama turns out to be the same type of lawyer that 99% of all lawyer-politici ans become (or are to start) -- liars and damn liars! If the middle or lower economic classes were to depend on his backbone for protecting our interests, than we might as well depend on the snake in the Garden of Eden who sold Eve a "bill of goods" on taking a bite out of the apple.

As the saying goes, fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me!
 
 
+10 # RLF 2015-05-19 05:48
He's looking at that $25 million the Clintons made last year and thinking about the future!
 
 
+5 # John Escher 2015-05-19 06:08
Quoting Art947:
Isn't it amazing -- Barack Obama turns out to be the same type of lawyer that 99% of all lawyer-politicians become (or are to start) -- liars and damn liars! If the middle or lower economic classes were to depend on his backbone for protecting our interests, than we might as well depend on the snake in the Garden of Eden who sold Eve a "bill of goods" on taking a bite out of the apple.

As the saying goes, fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me!


And then President Obama declares that people like Senator Warren are whupping up on him. Does it ever occur to him that maybe he is vulnerable to the charges she brings up. I think it does. He certainly is not quick to embrace Ralph Nader's idea that they (Obama and Warren) have an immediate debate.

Too bad that MAD MEN is going off the air. An ad man like Obama could find a good position there. In fact, almost every military man in the news in an ad man too. And ad men in politics and business and everywhere are the scourge of this country.

Bring us more people of substance. Thanks, God.
 
 
+62 # Farafalla 2015-05-18 17:40
Thank you Elizabeth Warren for this piece. We were sold that package with NAFTA and later the WTO. There are more rules protecting the intellectual property of an iPad than there are for the workers who made it. In fact these agreements are a race to the bottom. Past failure hardly ever comes up in the rosy images we get from our government. Thank you for providing hard data here and a good memory.
 
 
+14 # wrknight 2015-05-18 18:07
The problem with all these politicians is they are great when it comes to talking but they aren't worth a shit when it comes to ensuring that what they said or the laws they pass are enforced (and they are totally unaware of the law of unintended consequences).

So the politicians pass trade laws that, in theory, might actually be beneficial to Americans, but in practice are devastating because nobody enforces the rules. So what happens? We enforce the rules on our side and the other side ignores them - and we don't do anything about it. And the Democrats are so damned dumb they don't even know what's happening. Republicans, on the other hand, aren't that dumb. They know what's happening and they know which side their bread is buttered on.

So the average American is caught between Republicans who are out to rob every one of us and Democrats that are so dumb they can't grab their asses with both hands.

And American voters are so dumb they buy into the bullshit that they have to chose one or the other. No third party or independent is allowed!
 
 
+35 # jon 2015-05-18 18:27
Senator Warren is an example of the people we now call our "Founding Fathers". We were blessed with a large assortment of "Founding Fathers" who were willing to fight for the common man back then.

In this day and age, far removed from the energy and spirit of '76, we only have the likes of Warren, Sanders, and Grayson, and a very few others.
 
 
+19 # wrknight 2015-05-18 18:48
Then make sure you show up at the primary elections and vote for the good guys.
 
 
+6 # jon 2015-05-18 19:01
I thought that was implicit in my statement.
 
 
+4 # jon 2015-05-18 19:02
Oh, and I didn't give you the red thumb down.
 
 
+9 # wrknight 2015-05-18 19:46
That's OK, Jon. I react every time I hear that because I know that only about 20% of eligible voters will vote in primary elections. And that's why we get the two dumb shits we have to vote for in November.
 
 
+4 # tedrey 2015-05-18 20:39
And make sure there is someone in that primary to effectively vote for . . . that's the hard part.
 
 
+18 # motamanx 2015-05-18 18:49
Too few voters, due to Gerrymandering, defunct ballot counters, and a serial insistence of implausible "voter fraud" claims which results in disenfranchisin g thousands of qualified voters. And then, of course, there are the millions who don't bother to vote. Get with it, people!
 
 
+15 # reiverpacific 2015-05-18 19:01
Quoting jon:
Senator Warren is an example of the people we now call our "Founding Fathers". We were blessed with a large assortment of "Founding Fathers" who were willing to fight for the common man back then.

In this day and age, far removed from the energy and spirit of '76, we only have the likes of Warren, Sanders, and Grayson, and a very few others.


Not to piss on y'r eulogy but the sainted "Founding Fathers" were simply conducting an experiment in representative Republicanism, the "representative s" being THEM and their property/slave owning white elite male peers.
It's been an uphill battle for all other demographics who managed to emigrate and scrape a living from the dirt or "Dark Satanic Mills" of the major cities ever since, especially the once long-lived, healthy, sustainably living and earth-stewardin g original inhabitants of this continent.
Any gains have been from below and the few names you mention are -as you write- lonely voices in what seems to be a backward-marchi ng descent into Feudalism, where the Oligarchs would probably prefer to become a hereditary elite-or noveau-monarchy if you like.
I DO remember the "Spirit of '76", Jimmy Carter running for office, as it was the year I came on a distinguished traveling scholarship to live and work here for a while, and the overwhelming sense of "can-do" which declined rapidly on the elevation of Reagan to the White House in 1980 (and Thatcher to Downing Street the year before).
 
 
+5 # jon 2015-05-18 19:11
"Not to piss on y'r eulogy but the sainted "Founding Fathers" were simply conducting an experiment in representative Republicanism, the "representative s" being THEM and their property/slave owning white elite male peers."

It was still a hanging offense. They stuck their collective necks out. It was lucky for them we won!
 
 
+13 # reiverpacific 2015-05-18 19:50
Quoting jon:
"Not to piss on y'r eulogy but the sainted "Founding Fathers" were simply conducting an experiment in representative Republicanism, the "representative s" being THEM and their property/slave owning white elite male peers."

It was still a hanging offense. They stuck their collective necks out. It was lucky for them we won!


"We"??
They were pretty secure in their properties and positions by then with a "Well regulated militia" at their call.
The "framers" Great Iroquois Six-Nations all-inclusive, Democratic Confederacy they plagiarized to mold and nudge into their constitution didn't fare so well, did they?
BTW, I'm not putting you down nor totally disagreeing with you but I get a bit weary of both (1.25) major parties in the US looking on these guys as almost a Deity -especially when they're in a flag-waving "Democracy -rah-rah-rah!" mode, backs against the wall, without seeing what really provided their model and inspiration, what happened to those they usurped and robbed relentlessly -and have reduced to the most impoverished and neglected people on two continents, as if they never existed.
I especially relate to the original inhabitants of this country (I'm an honorary-induct ed member of A.I.M.) as I'm Scottish and from a similarly oppressed but determinedly progressive people who have as little reason to love the Tudors and their lackeys as the settlers had to love their predecessors and hope to be shet of the lot of 'em in my lifetime.
 
 
+10 # moonrigger 2015-05-18 20:31
Absolutely right, Reive. Those who weren't slaveowners caved in to the primarily Southern slave economy states' representatives in order to get them to sign off on the Constitution, resulting in the states rights mess which is our original sin. Commerce clause, indeed...a monkey on our back ever since the beginning that'll be as difficult to get rid of as the electoral college--or our tax system. Probably not fixable unless or until we undergo a revolution...wh ich, come to think of it, is probably why municipalities and state militias are arming to the teeth with tanks, bayonets and grenade launchers--anti cipating the inevitable shit storm we know is on the horizon. If only intelligent cooler heads could prevail...but I don't see it happening.
 
 
+24 # wrknight 2015-05-18 18:45
We, as American voters, have two major problems. First we allow anyone to spend as much money as they possibly can on any political campaign. Second, more than half of American voters don't bother to vote except once every 4 years (and then we're lucky if 60% bother to vote. If I were king (instead of a mere knight) I would impose three rules.

1. Only citizens represented by the office sought by a political candidate can spend money in support of that candidate. (e.g., Californians can't contribute to Virginia elections, Israelis can't contribute to American elections.)

2. Only citizens can spend money on any political campaign and the limit is $1000.00 per citizen per election. (Corporations and other group organizations are not citizens.)

3. 50+% of all eligible voters must vote for a political candidate in order to be elected for public office. (This compares with 50+% of voters who bother to vote which enables a candidate to win with 2 votes when only 3 people show up to vote.)

The penalty for any violation of either of the first two rules is to disqualify the candidate for holding any public office until the next election.

And I would damned well enforce those rules.


PS Don't bother to tell me I'm smoking bad shit - I already know that.
 
 
+15 # jon 2015-05-18 19:05
All 3.5 points should be the law. An
excellent basic fence against election corruption.

And, I hope you bump into some better stuff, soon.
 
 
+8 # moonrigger 2015-05-18 20:34
I'd add limiting the campaign season to 6 months, not 18. I'm sick already of all the mud slinging.
 
 
0 # RLF 2015-05-19 05:54
I'd like to give you $25 million a year when you're out of the presidency for giving little talks when you feel like it. Recognize THAT problem? I think part of the solution is going to have to be taking the money away from the abusive oligarchs. We have to have a more level playing field all around.
 
 
+13 # Working Class 2015-05-18 19:32
When it comes to trade agreements we are like Charlie Brown when Lucy is holding the football. We just keep putting the same Lucy in office and wonder why the football is never there when we need to kick it. Wake up - we don't have a democracy. We have a bought and paid for bunch of corporate paid flunkies making our laws and treaties for the sole benefit of those who pay to control the agenda.
 
 
+24 # RY25L 2015-05-18 19:36
Amazing...total ly amazing that corporate shill Hillary Clinton continues to hide in the bushes during this most important moment in the shaping of U.S. trade policy.

But thankfully there is U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren continuing to speak truth to power with facts despite Obama the Magnificent, Community Organizer and World Wide War Lord trashing Warren by name a few days ago for not falling in line by shutting up.

Warren at the barricades.

Senator Warren continues to do her job not just as a DEM but as an American.

Hats off to the citizens of MA for giving us this full throated voice of reason and conscience. Obama continues to soil his reputation and the DEM party with his rightie agenda that continues unabated now to the extent of throwing under the bus members of his own party that put him into power two times.

Hillary watches unseen from a safe distance as she sees the bravest person in the DEM Party...HER PARTY....gettin g beat to hell by Obama who is joined by corporate fascists like Boehner and McConnell in the rock throwing at Sen. Warren.

18 more months of Obama and it's getting worse as he sprints towards the open arms of twisted corporate interests at the finish line in January of 2017.

Why there's gonna be lots of sunny days on those links in La Quinta so might as well cement the connection with his handlers and what better way to show that commitment and loyalty to that 1% than by shoving Warren backwards to the pavement (again).
 
 
+3 # beardog 2015-05-18 21:02
"How's all that hopey changey stuff working out for ya?" The remark rings in my ears.
 
 
+2 # beardog 2015-05-18 21:04
...painfully I might add.
 
 
+3 # MidwestTom 2015-05-18 21:06
If Elizabeth does not run for President, I am afraid that she will lose her national voice because the press will ignore her once the possibility of her running is gone. The3 country needs her to run.
 
 
+7 # cymricmorty 2015-05-19 08:41
I don't think she'll lose her voice at all. She's opened too many doors.
 
 
+2 # walt 2015-05-19 06:47
Trade agreements are like everything else driving governments- corporate powers seeking control of people and their lives. Profit trumps people every time, as Sen. Warren shows here.
 
 
+3 # torch and pitchfork 2015-05-19 11:36
"Fast Track" is the GOP's version of job creation. As soon as the playing field is leveled so that workers in America will work for the same low wages as overseas workers, then we'll bring the jobs home. It's time to level the playing field in the opposite direction--retu rn to collected progressive taxation.
 
 
+1 # Sweet Pea 2015-05-20 06:10
Quoting torch and pitchfork:
"Fast Track" is the GOP's version of job creation. As soon as the playing field is leveled so that workers in America will work for the same low wages as overseas workers, then we'll bring the jobs home. It's time to level the playing field in the opposite direction--return to collected progressive taxation.

They say that water always finds its level. Eventually we will be a 2-class system - - The wealthy investors in foreign corporations --- and the poverty-stricke n laborers that are their servants.
 
 
+6 # RnR 2015-05-19 12:39
Check Democracy Now website. On today's show they revealed that Canada and Mexico sued the US over the labeling of the origins of the meat we eat. They won. No labeling as to the country the meat is from.

Got anything to say Barry? Hilary? Bill?
 

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