U.S. Workers Should Not Be Pitted against Child Labor in Vietnam
by Global Trade Watch intern Allie Gardner
You’ve likely heard about the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a sweeping deal under negotiation that would expand the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) model of trade across the Pacific. And you probably know of the damaging effects the TPP would have on American jobs, public health, food safety, and Internet freedom. But have you heard what the TPP would mean for labor rights?
Vietnam, one of the countries negotiating the TPP, is notorious for its labor rights abuses. Today, the Department of Labor issued a report declaring Vietnam as one of just four countries in the world that uses both child labor and forced labor in the apparel sector.
Through the use of such unethical labor practices, in addition to union repression and abysmal wages, Vietnam has been able to keep its production costs low. Under the TPP, U.S. businesses and workers would be forced to directly compete with Vietnamese firms on this uneven playing field.
A report last year by the Worker Rights Consortium found the Vietnamese apparel industry guilty of “the trafficking of persons as young as twelve years old from rural areas to work in ‘slave labor factories’… in Ho Chi Minh City.” In another recent report on Vietnam, the International Labour Organization revealed that more than nine out of ten Vietnamese factories it audited were violating the legal overtime limit for workers, who still did not earn a living wage. The average minimum wage in Vietnam is 52 cents per hour, half of the average minimum wage in China
Given Vietnam’s labor abuses, in addition to human rights violations such as an increased crackdown on political dissidents, voices ranging from the Washington Post editorial board to Human Rights Watch have lambasted the Obama administration’s plan to sign the TPP with Vietnam.
You can add your voice to this chorus of support for labor and human rights: ask your congressional representatives to say no to Fast Tracking the TPP. Tell them that U.S. workers should not be pitted against workers in Vietnam whose basic rights are being violated.
While telling Congress to say no to unfair trade, you can also say yes to fair trade. Tomorrow is “Fair Tuesday,” an opportunity to support workers by buying fairly traded products that respect their rights. Because the apparel and textile industries are part of buyer-driven commodity chains, consumers have the power to influence production practices by selectively buying from only those brands and companies that choose to treat their workers well.
Just as consumer activism means telling companies we do not support unethical labor practices, political activism means telling Congress that we do not support trade deals with countries in which such labor abuses are rampant. As this year’s holiday shopping season gets underway, say yes to workers’ rights by saying no to the TPP.