Obama Moves to Include Countries Still Practicing Slavery in Corporate Trade Deal

Claire Bernish
July 15, 2015 

(ANTIMEDIA) As if the corporate power grab—er, the Trans-Pacific Partnership—weren’t reason enough to be outraged, the latest move by the government will make the U.S. complicit in human trafficking and slavery. After extensive toying with language failed to ensure a spot for one of the planet’s worst human rights abusers in the TPP, Obama has decided to artificially remove Malaysia from the Trafficking In Persons Report (TIP) Tier 3 blacklist—despite the country’s utter failure to improve conditions.

An unnamed congressional source “with knowledge of the decision” and a second anonymous source with inside information confirmed to Reuters that the Obama administration has approved the appallingly unjustified choice to move Malaysia up from its rightful designation as a Tier 3 worst offender. It will leave behind Saudi Arabia, Iran, Venezuela, Congo, Syria, and North Korea, among others—amounting to a stunning exculpation thoroughly void of legitimacy.

“If Malaysia is upgraded from Tier 3, the United States will have sold out victims of human trafficking,” warned Melysa Sperber, Director of the Alliance to End Slavery and Trafficking (ATEST) in a statement. Any decision to upgrade Malaysia in the Trafficking in Persons Report is purely political and incredibly detrimental to combating human trafficking in that country. An upgrade lacks all credibility and fails the basic laugh test. Thousands of trafficked men, women, and children are in dire jeopardy each day in Malaysia: ignoring their plight in favor of trade relations is a slap in the face by the United States. It shows how little the U.S. government cares about honesty and integrity in its reporting on human trafficking.”

A provision in the Trade Promotion Authority (Fast Track)—which forces Congress to vote yes or no without amending any future trade deals—was designed specifically to exclude countries designated “Tier 3” from inclusion in the secrecy-laden treaty. Without the de facto corporate coup and the possibility of losing favor with the militarily and economically strategic country at stake, there would be no possibility for Malaysia to be upgraded to the Tier 2 watchlist.

“Malaysia has forced labor in agriculture, construction, electronics, textiles and domestic service in homes, and was rightly given a Tier 3 ranking last year […] Now, in upgrading Malaysia, the State Department will show that it values trade over human rights, its own credibility, and the suffering of trafficked men, women, and children around the world,” Sperber explained.

After two years of written promises, Malaysia failed to improve its record as a “destination and, to a lesser extent, a source and transit country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and women and children subjected to sex trafficking,” and was thus automatically downgraded in the 2014 TIP. Specific continuing abuses include passport confiscation, withholding wages for months at a time, and forced prostitution of women and children—to which the government turns a blind eye.

In May, Malaysian police discovered 16 abandoned prison camps in the jungle near the border of Thailand. The Malaysian government was quick to respond, indeed. “Let tourists see where it all happened,” said Datuk Seri Shahidan Kassim, an official from the Prime Minister’s Department, about the decision to turn one camp into a tourist attraction.

That was before at least 139 graves were discovered near the camps, sparking international outcry demanding Malaysia comply with human rights standards—with a notable exception. Any outrage offered by the U.S. could hardly be taken seriously. With its callous decision to artificially inflate Malaysia’s standing, the Obama administration is essentially saying to the world: Fuck the victims.

Senator Robert Menendez, who authored the Tier 3 exclusion in the TPA, said in a press release at the time, “Before any country gains access to U.S. markets, they must show that they have taken meaningful steps to eliminate human trafficking—[or there will be no deal]—not for Tier 3 nations at the bottom of the State Department list.” Apparently, that designation will no longer be an obstacle.

Menendez issued a statement after Malaysia’s magical move up the list, saying, “The deplorable human trafficking crisis in Malaysia merits a global cry for action and justicenot an attempt to sweep them under the rug for global expediency.”

I would be stunned if they are upgraded,” said Phil Robertson, deputy director of the Asia Division of Human Rights Watch. “They have done very little to improve the protection from abuse that migrant workers face. This would seem to be some sort of political reward from the United States and I would urge the U.S. Congress to look long and hard at who is making the decisions on such an upgrade.”

Forced labor and human and sex trafficking join murder on the list of perfectly acceptable behaviors for the Obama administration as it attempts to ram what it claims is a good deal down our throats.

In an April testimony in front of the Senate Finance Committee prior to passage of TPA, AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka revealed an exceedingly alarming and not-at-all-minor piece of information. “When you say ‘oh, these are some standards, they’re better than no standards,’ we were told by the [U.S. Trade Representative] general counsel that murdering a trade unionist doesn’t violate these standards, that perpetuating violence against a trade unionist doesn’t violate these agreements,” he explained to Senator Mark Warner, who backs the TPP and the other massive trade deals being planned.

Thea Lee, deputy chief of staff for the AFL-CIO, confirmed the claim to Huffington Post, as its article states: “USTR officials said in at least two meetings where she was present that killing and brutalizing organizers would not be considered interfering with labor rights under the terms of the trade measures.”

It is certainly technically true that murder, forced labor, and human trafficking are not legal practices anywhere on the planet. But the lack of penalty or sufficient punishment of the corrupted government officials, who willfully ignore astonishing human rights abuses, simply perpetuates the continuance of the massive problem.

Though the U.S. had a brilliant opportunity to spare future—and perhaps current—victims from untold horrors in Malaysia, the Obama government arrogantly and impenitently—but so predictably—chose greed over human life.

This article (Obama Moves to Include Countries Still Practicing Slavery in Corporate Trade Deal) is free and open source. You have permission to republish this article under a Creative Commons license with attribution to the author and theAntiMedia.org. Tune in! Anti-Media Radio airs Monday through Friday @ 11pm Eastern/8pm Pacific. Help us fix our typos:edits@theantimedia.org.