Trade agreements and modern-day slavery

The media have been preoccupied with the Confederate battle flag as a symbol of slavery that cannot be tolerated. Politicians of both parties jump on the bandwagon to stuff the offending piece of cloth down the memory hole.

Once again, image triumphs over substance: Elected officials pose as Great Emancipators for purging the Confederate battle flag from TV reruns, but turn their back as slavery thrives in the real world.

The Southeast Asian nation of Malaysia is notorious for its slave trade. It’s estimated that Malaysia has 2 million illegal migrant workers. These workers are routinely kidnapped, held against their will and sold and used as slaves on plantations and in garment and electronics factories. Women are turned into sex slaves.

{mosads}Just two months ago, police found mass graves in Malaysia containing the bodies of 139 migrant workers who had been trafficked or held for ransom.

The State Department’s annual human rights reports ranks Malaysia as one of the worst places on earth for slavery, a so-called “Tier 3” country, in the same category as Zimbabwe and North Korea.

According to the State Department, the situation in Malaysia is getting worse. It reported 89 human trafficking investigations in the year ending March 2014 — fewer than half the number of investigations done the previous year. Convictions dropped from 21 to nine.

The U.S. ambassador to Malaysia has publicly criticized the government for not doing more to combat human trafficking.

Malaysia poses a problem for President Obama and his corporatist allies. Fast-track trade authority legislation approved by Congress to expedite the Trans-Pacific Partnership says the U.S. cannot conclude a trade deal with slave states.

So does the president obey the law he signed by tossing Malaysia from the list of most favored nations? Does he somehow make Malaysian leaders crack down on slavery? No.

Instead, Obama plays golf with the Malaysian prime minister in Hawaii and, Reuters reports, has his State Department rewrite the record to say Malaysia doesn’t really have such a bad slavery problem after all. A bipartisan group of 160 House lawmakers have objected to a whitewash of Malaysia slave trade.

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), who pushed the ban on slave states, calls manipulation of the report a “perversion” and an “incredibly dangerous proposition as it relates to our ability to promote our efforts globally against human trafficking.”

The shenanigans began in June, when the State Department was expected to release its report. But that didn’t happen while Congress debated fast-track. It’s revealing that an interim report delivered to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in March did not include Malaysia on the list of countries that had improved.

While the administration distorts an official report to suit political goals, the country club Republicans running the GOP are so desperate to please the donor class of Wall Street and K Street that they abandon their heritage of promoting free labor over slave labor.

The stark reality is “Obamatrade” condones using slaves to put free Americans out of work.

While President Obama calls the removal of the Confederate flag “a meaningful step toward a better future,” it’s shocking the first African-American president would trade in the sweat of slaves. It’s just as shocking that he does it with the active connivance of the Party of Lincoln.

Ellis is executive director of the American Jobs Alliance.

Tags fast-track fast-track trade authority Human trafficking Malaysia Robert Menendez Slavery TPP Trade trade agreement Trans-Pacific Partnership
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