Anthony Johnson

Obama Shrugs Off Global Slavery To Protect Trade Deal

by Zach Carter, Huffington Post

7/27/2015 04:38 PM EDT

The Obama administration outraged human rights advocates on Monday by removing Malaysia from its list of the world’s worst human trafficking offenders — a move that the activists said damages U.S. credibility — simply to boost the president’s trade agenda.

“The Administration has turned its back on the victims of trafficking,” Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) said in a written statement. “They have elevated politics over the most basic principles of human rights.”

For years, the Malaysian government has largely turned a blind eye to sex slavery involving men, women and children. Forced labor is rampant in several sectors of the country’s economy, particularly the electronics industry. In April, mass graves holding more than 130 human trafficking victims were discovered near the country’s northern border with Thailand. That same month, the U.S. ambassador to Malaysia said the government needed to take human trafficking prosecution more seriously.

“Malaysia’s record on curbing human trafficking is just not sufficient to justify an upgrade,” said Sarah Margon, Washington director at Human Rights Watch. “And I think it’s damaging to the integrity of the report.”

The country’s new status effectively makes it eligible for inclusion in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a major trade deal between the U.S. and 11 other nations. Obama considers the pact a top priority for his second term. But a law that Obama signed in June bars Congress from voting on trade pacts with Tier 3 countries using fast-track procedures, which prevent lawmakers from amending or filibustering the deal. The TPP almost certainly cannot pass Congress without fast-track aid.

“It is easier to lower the standard than to insist that Malaysia protect trafficking victims,” Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) said of Malaysia’s upgraded status. “This report is another indication that the Trans-Pacific Partnership is not being used to bring about meaningful change on critical issues.”

Several Democrats noted that the upgrade appears to conflict with years of promises from the administration that the TPP will include tough, meaningful labor and human rights protections. If the U.S. needs to fudge its policies on modern-day slavery to let Malaysia into the deal, they said, it’s hard to see the pact improving the plight of workers abroad.

“Instead of paving the way for Malaysia’s participation in TPP, we should be working on actions that Malaysia should be taking to come into compliance with these standards,” said Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich.), the top Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee, which oversees international trade issues. Levin called the upgrade “extremely concerning.”

Extremely concerning indeed.


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