Release of Warren Report on U.S. Labor Protection Failures Aims to Counter Obama Fast Track Authority for TPP Passage

Friday, May 22, 2015
Elizabeth Warren (photo: J. Scott Applewhite, AP)

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement being negotiated by the Obama administration won’t protect workers’ rights in signatory countries, according to a report by Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts).


The report (pdf) is an attempt to convince members of Congress not to grant President Barack Obama’s request for fast-track authority to help speed the TPP’s ratification in the U.S.

Warren points out that language promising fair labor practices in previous free trade agreements (FTAs), like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), has turned out to be empty promises.


Warren claims the Government Accountability Office, the Department of Labor (DOL) and the State Department have documented “significant and persistent problems with labor abuses in countries with which we have FTAs.” However, the report notes that the United States seldom tries to enforce fair labor provisions. “Prior to 2008, the Department of Labor had not accepted a single formal complaint about labor abuses in free trade agreements.”


Things have improved only marginally under Obama, Warren says. “The Obama administration has conducted in-depth investigations into complaints and issued fact-finding reports and recommendations. However, DOL has accepted only five claims against countries for violating their labor commitments, and it only agreed to restart the first ever labor enforcement case under any free trade agreement in 2014, six years after the initial claim was filed. “This reveals both the cumbersome nature of complaint process and the overall enforcement problems with these agreements,” the report states.


FTAs also haven’t done much for human rights. “U.S. agencies or other investigators have identified significant problems with use of child labor or other labor-related human rights abuses in 11 of the 20 countries” that are party to 14 FTAs signed by the U.S.,” the report said.


Warren has also objected to the lack of transparency about the exact provisions of the TPP. “We’re being asked to grease the skids for a deal that’s basically done but is being held in secret until after this vote,” she told Bloomberg Television earlier this week.

-Noel Brinkerhoff, Steve Straehley


To Learn More:

Broken Promises: Decades of Failure to Enforce Labor Standards in Free Trade Agreements (by Staff of Elizabeth Warren, U.S. Senate) (pdf)

Elizabeth Warren Says Fast-Track Greases Skids for Hidden Trade Deal (by Peter Cook and Mike Dorning, Bloomberg)

Warren Disputes Obama’s Promises on Trade Deal (by Peter Schroeder and Vicki Needham, The Hill)

Fast Track Trade Bill: When Obama and Republicans Agree…Watch Out (by Noel Brinkerhoff and Danny Biederman, AllGov)


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