Obama’s Trans-Pacific Partnership: Meet the ‘partners’

If fast track passes Congress, the first NAFTA-style pact up for approval would be the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a proposed agreement between the United States and 11 other Pacific Rim nations: Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam. The United States already has trade agreements with Mexico, Canada, Australia, Chile, Peru, and Singapore.  Japan and New Zealand are on par with the United States in workers’ rights and living standards. But the three others—Vietnam, Malaysia, and Brunei—are human rights violators where workers lack basic rights. The following is from the most recent annual human rights reports from the U.S. State Department.


Vietnam is an authoritarian one-party state ruled by the Communist Party of Vietnam. Citizens face severe government restrictions on their political rights. The government doesn’t permit human rights organizations to operate. All print, broadcast, and electronic media are controlled by the Communist Party and the government. Foreign journalists are limited in their movements and are sometimes harassed by security officials. Police arrest and detain people for political activities, and sometimes use contract thugs and citizen brigades to harass and beat political activists. The government doesn’t permit political demonstrations. There are restrictions on strikes, but they do sometimes occur, especially at foreign-invested enterprises. Official Communist Party unions do function as unions in some respects, but the law does not allow workers to organize and join independent unions of their choice.


Malaysia, ruled by a political coalition in continuous power since 1957, is classed by the U.S. State Department as one of the worst countries in the world for forced labor and human trafficking. Its government has failed to comply with the most basic international requirements to prevent trafficking and protect victims. There are also restrictions on freedoms of speech, assembly, association, and religion, and restrictions on freedom of the press, including book banning, censorship, and the denial of printing permits. Malaysia’s legal system punishes more than 60 offenses by caning, in which convicts are sentenced to be struck with a half-inch-thick wooden cane that may cause welts and scarring. In theory, Malaysian workers have the right to organize and bargain collectively, and strike. In practice, they face a multitude of legal restrictions that severely restrict union rights. Legal restrictions make it virtually impossible for workers to go on strike lawfully, and union leaders face up to a year in prison for striking unlawfully. Workers in whole industries, such as the electronics sector, are barred from forming independent unions. And foreign workers—who make up a quarter of the workforce—are barred from joining unions. Foreign workers—prevalent in plantation agriculture, the fishing industry, electronics factories, garment production, construction, restaurants, and domestic households—suffer widespread abuses indicative of forced labor, such as restrictions on movement, deceit and fraud in wages, passport confiscation, and imposition of significant debts by recruitment agents or employers. In many cases where those abuses are reported to the authorities, the foreign workers have been arrested and sent to a detention camp for not being in possession of a valid travel document.


Brunei, a tiny oil-producing nation on the island of Borneo, is ruled by a hereditary monarch, Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah, whose family has ruled for more than 600 years. In Brunei, it’s illegal to challenge the royal family’s authority, and the government’s internal security apparatus uses informants to monitor suspected dissidents. According to the U.S. State Department, Brunei limits freedom of speech, press, assembly, and religion. Public gatherings of 10 or more persons require a government permit, and police have the authority to stop an unofficial assembly of five or more persons. The government practices censorship of newspapers, and can close newspapers and seize printing presses, and the only TV station is government owned. There’s no freedom of association. Islam is the state religion. Caning is a mandatory punishment. Muslims are prohibited from joining Rotary, Kiwanis, and the Lions. Unions are allowed, but there’s only one union, in the petroleum sector, and strikes are illegal.

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