WASHINGTON, April 23 – Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said today that “it makes no sense at all” for Congress to approve a trade agreement that would throw Americans out of work and let multi-national corporations exploit cheap labor in Malaysia, Vietnam and other low-wage nations.
In a Senate speech detailing serious defects in the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership, Sanders said workers in Vietnam – one of the 12 nations that would be part of the trade pact – are paid as little as 56-cents an hour. Vietnam also bans labor unions and human rights organizations. “American workers should not be forced to compete with workers in Vietnam who are paid pennies an hour,” Sanders said.
One American company with a huge presence already in Vietnam is Nike. Some 330,000 workers toiled last year in 67 factories across the Southeast Asian nation. The shoe maker also has plants in 43 other countries around the world, but none of Nike’s sneakers are made in the United States. The trade agreement that supporters are trying to rush through Congress would reduce duties on footwear and apparel made in Vietnam for sale in the United States. “Allowing the Trans-Pacific Partnership to be passed will make it easier for more companies to shut down operations in the United States and move to Vietnam, and that is wrong,” Sanders said.
Sanders also described “sub-human” labor conditions in Malaysia, where almost one-third of the nearly 200,000 migrant workers employed in the lucrative electronics industry work under forced labor conditions. They are trapped in jobs because their passports have been taken away from them or because they are struggling to repay exorbitant recruitment fees, according to an investigation commissioned by the United States Department of Labor. “The idea of passing a pact that makes it easier for these companies to exploit foreign workers and send the products they make to the United States makes no sense at all,” Sanders said.
The agreement is being promoted by the largest corporations in America, Wall Street and the pharmaceutical industry. “They love unfettered free trade because it enables them to close operations in America and move to low-wage nations,” Sanders said. The deal is opposed by organized labor in the United States and by leading environmental and human rights organizations.
Sanders urged Congress to reject the agreement and develop trade policies that work for the American middle class, not just large multi-national corporations.