As the candidates for the next president of the United States head to the Northeast for the New York State primary on April 19th, the topic of human rights has not been a focal point in the presidential conversation.
President Obama’s signing of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) deal on February 4th this year made few headlines, despite its massive implications on millions of U.S. and foreign workers.
Yet fair trade, labor, and human rights are issues critical to everyone in America – Republicans, Democrats, and independents alike – and are fundamentally rooted in American values.
To quote U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), the TPP is “a trade agreement that affects jobs, environmental regulations, and whether workers around the globe are treated humanely …This trade agreement doesn’t matter to just the biggest corporations – it matters to all of us.”
In Malaysia, one of the TPP signatories, modern-day slave labor practices were uncovered in its electronic factories as recently as 2014. In Brunei, another signatory, being homosexual is punishable by death.
Some of America’s trade partners in the Middle East have faced international criticism for a wide range of high-profile human rights abuses.
Reputable media outlets have reported that every week in the State of Qatar, approximately 29 migrant workers die – total deaths are estimated to ultimately total around 4,000 – building the 2022 FIFA World Cup soccer facilities in Doha as a result of deplorable working conditions.
[ Also Read: How India Abuses Children’s Right to Education ]
Thousands more across Asia and the Middle East will suffer other horrifying abuses, as workers across business sectors have no protections, and can be legally held in indentured servitude.
All of these abuses bring into serious question how much trade the U.S. should have with nations that oppress human rights, and what sort of protections should be in agreements for the U.S. to enforce.
The mistreatment of international labor workers and human rights issues haven’t been discussed much during this election cycle, in spite of the fact that American companies and American workers are competing every day against slave labor.
The Alliance for Workers Against Repression Everywhere (AWARE), a multi-constituency effort working to bring national attention to human rights and American policies that can defend or destroy them, calls on Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump, John Kasich, and Ted Cruz to consider labor and human rights abuses when working with America’s trade partners.
They should each ask themselves: “Does the United States want to do business with a company or a nation that oppresses labor and human rights? Do we want our businesses and workers competing against slave labor?”
Headed by progressive veteran Mike Lux (pictured above), AWARE has a specific focus on the rights of oppressed workers. “Consumers are beginning to speak with their wallets and not do business with foreign nations and companies that offer absolutely no worker protections,” said Lux.
“Many are choosing not to buy products and goods from nations and companies with blood on their hands. The U.S. government is in a position to do a tremendous amount for work by employing the same tactic – let’s not engage in trade unless protections for workers are both firmly in place and actually enforced.”
The best American business strategies are those that treat their workers with dignity and give them high enough wages so that they have money in their wallets. What’s good for American workers is good for workers everywhere, which is why it’s crucial we hear from our future leaders on these topics.
AWARE is calling for the conversation around labor and human rights to happen now on the public stage of the presidential election.
Photo courtesy: AWARE