Broken promises

Warren Hits Back Hard on ‘Broken Promises’ of Corporate Trade Pacts

Report concludes that, despite pledges, US has routinely failed to protect worker rights under so-called ‘free trade’ deals

Speaking at a labor rally last month, Sen. Elizabeth Warren said workers “have to fight back” against corporate-friendly deals like TPP. (Image: Screengrab/AFL-CIO)

Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) took decisive aim at President Barack Obama’s pending global trade pacts on Monday with the release of a new report, which argues that—despite pledges to the contrary—so-called “free trade” agreements have a record of undermining workers rights.

The 15-page staff report, Broken Promises: Decades of Failure to Enforce Labor Standards in Free Trade Agreements (pdf), contends that under previous agreements, the United States has repeatedly either failed to enforce or adopts unenforceable labor standards resulting in widespread labor-related human rights abuses.

“Supporters of past trade agreements have said again and again that these deals would include strong protections for workers, but assurances without strong enforcement are just empty promises,” Senator Warren said in a press statement. “The facts show that, despite all the promises, these trade deals were just another tool to tilt the playing field in further of multinational corporations and against working families.”

The report argues that statements made by Obama that the pending Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) will be “the most progressive trade agreement in history,” will likely follow other “broken promises.”

“From NAFTA and CAFTA to the recent deals with Peru, Colombia, Panama and South Korea, proponents of these trade agreements have—again, and again, and again—made nearly identical promises,” the report states. However, the analysis concludes that “rhetoric does not match reality.”

Citing analyses from the Government Accountability Office, the State Department, and the Department of Labor, that report charges that under Obama’s watch, trade pacts have ushered in a host of abuses, from child labor to intimidation and violence against union organizers.

In a much-publicized feud with the president, Warren has largely led the campaign against the 12-nation TPP, the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), and the Fast Track Trade Authority, which would restrict Congressional input on a global trade deal to an up or down vote. Obama has largely dismissed many of Warren’s criticisms of the deal as “dishonest,” “bunk” and “misinformation.”

In an interview with NPR last week, Warren explained her primary objections to the TPP, highlighting the role that the investor-state dispute mechanism (ISDS) plays in worsening labor violations.

“We know that corporations under this deal are going to get to sue countries for regulations they don’t like and that the decisions are not going to be made by courts, they’re going to be made by private lawyers,” Warren said.

She continued:

If there’s a labor violation, if somebody doesn’t stick with the human rights promises they made, the consequence of that is not that they get to go to a private group, and get special enforcement. Nope, they gotta go to their own government and try to get it enforced.

[T]he corporate lawyers figured out how to make [ISDS] very valuable for big corporations.

What really happens here is that big, multi-national corporations can look around and say “I don’t like those regulations. I could make more money if I could beat down new regulations.”

After back-tracking on an earlier decision and, as many charge, caving to pressure from the White House, Senate Democrats last Thursday voted to bring debate over the Fast Track authority to the floor.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said that he expects fast-track legislation to pass the Senate this week before Congress adjourns for a week-long holiday.

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