By JoAnne Powers, March 24, 2016
The AFL-CIO is looking to put women front-and-center in the discussion of the controversial Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement. Recent publications from the union highlight the negative effects that the TPP and similar trade policies have on women in the U.S. and around the world, saying it would depress women’s wages and does little to combat discrimination and human trafficking. AFL-CIO Secretary Treasurer Liz Shuler:
[Liz Shuler]: “People don’t realize that the labor movement is actually the largest women’s organization in the country. We represent six-and-a-half million working women with a voice on the job, so we have an opinion when it comes to women’s issues and especially when it comes to trade and trade policy and how women are impacted.”
Thea Lee, Policy Director and Chief International Economist at the union, serves on the State Department Advisory Committee on International Economic Policy.
[Thea Lee]: “Sometimes they see trade as kind of ‘is the U.S. going to be the winner or the loser, or is Mexico…or is Brunei or Vietnam?’ We don’t see it that way. Countries don’t win and lose. People within countries are impacted very differently and workers, and women workers. The vulnerability of women in the global economy does necessitate that we look at them somewhat differently. Working women are vulnerable in terms of their role in the family, they’re vulnerable in terms of their role in the workplace, in terms of discrimination and so on.”
While President Obama has said the TPP is the most progressive trade agreement ever negotiated, the AFL-CIO and other worker organizations say that it does little to protect the rights of workers. The International Labor Organization has specifically said that countries should have laws in place to protect against gender discrimination in employment.
[Thea Lee]: “And yet some of the TPP partner countries, Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam have laws that are inadequate. The consistency plan that was negotiated does not address all the concerns that we have to bring those laws completely into compliance with international standards and we question whether the enforcement mechanism is going to do the job.”
The basic mechanism through which trade agreements impact workers is to accelerate and facilitate outsourcing. Among the majority-women industries most affected by these trade agreements is the garment industry. Another is call centers:
[Liz Shuler]: “That’s something where a lot of women have found jobs, and through trade agreements and changes in communications technology, it’s become more feasible to move a lot of those jobs offshore…even jobs that are funded by government tax dollars. Let’s say you’re running a call center to support provision of government services, and those jobs are in Wisconsin and they move somewhere else, you’re going to have more people needing government services because you’ve taken away some of those good jobs. Other jobs where there’s been more women, food processing, consumer electronics. So, there are a lot of sectors, I think, where women have been impacted by this increased mobility and outsourcing.”