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Slaughter: Supporting women includes opposing TPP

Hillary Clinton stood before the United Nations in 1995 and proclaimed that “human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights.” More than 20 years later, our nation is leading the way in helping live up to that ideal by strengthening the rights of women in countries around the world. As we mark International Women’s Day on March 8, we should take this opportunity to reflect on the extraordinary achievements women are making. This year’s theme, Pledge for Parity, is a call that we should all rally around. Our pledge to support women across the world should include the promise to oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

There are hundreds of reasons why the TPP is a mistake. As the representative for Rochester, New York, I have never seen a trade agreement that benefited the American manufacturer or American worker. We were decimated by NAFTA and have lost tens of thousands of manufacturing jobs in my area since it went into effect, culminating in one of the highest poverty rates in the country. For that reason alone, we cannot afford another NAFTA-style trade agreement like the TPP. It’s a bad deal for jobs, wages and environmental protections.

{mosads}But something that has gone overlooked and under-discussed is the fact that the TPP will tie the United States to countries that do not value the rights of women.

One of those countries is Brunei Darussalam. Even while Brunei was participating in the TPP negotiations, that country was passing laws that harm women. Brunei’s new penal laws proscribe imprisonment for women who have an abortion or who have a child out of wedlock. The penalty for being found guilty of adultery or extramarital sex is flogging or death by stoning. Rather than condemn these repressive acts, the TPP would bring the United States in partnership with Brunei, a country that adopted Sharia law in 2014, causing condemnation from human rights groups.

The case of Malaysia is just as distressing. That country has a troubling and well-documented history of slave labor and serious human trafficking abuses. Every year, millions of people are forced into unpaid labor, with teenage girls forced to become domestic workers in unsafe and unsanitary conditions. Sadly, many also suffer sexual abuse or are driven into Malaysia’s sex trade, and mass graves were also recently discovered. 

For years, Malaysia was on the list of worst countries for human trafficking but has shown no real progress in changing its ways. According to our own State Department’s 2014 trafficking report, Malaysia “made limited and inadequate efforts to improve its flawed victim protection regime,” and authorities there detained victims for over a year in some cases, all while decreasing trafficking enforcement.

In May 2015, authorities near the border with Thailand discovered 139 bodies in shallow graves, most likely the remains of trafficked migrants trying to escape persecution in Burma and Bangladesh. Yet, just a few short weeks later, the State Department actually upgraded Malaysia’s status. Questions have since been raised about whether this was done because the fast-track bill passed by Congress said the administration couldn’t rubber stamp any trade agreement with countries in the worst trafficking category.

Appallingly, just a month after the administration rewarded Malaysia with this upgraded trafficking status despite its abysmal record, authorities found dozens more bodies in the Malaysian jungle.

Malaysia is also in the midst of a serious corruption scandal. Investigators have found that $700 million from the country’s sovereign wealth fund was transferred into the prime minister’s bank account. The New York Times recently reported that a Swiss government investigation found $4 billion has been misappropriated as well, with much of it transferred into Swiss bank accounts held by former Malaysian public officials.

The TPP presented an opportunity for the United States to encourage our trading partners to bring their standards up to meet the rest of the international community. Instead, we have given countries like Malaysia and Brunei preferential access to the world’s greatest economy with no assurances that they will address these fundamental problems.

International Women’s Day should be marked by celebrations of women’s progress, not by entering into agreements with countries hostile to their basic human rights. The Trans-Pacific Partnership isn’t just a bad deal for our workers and our environment; it’s a threat to women and a compromise of our American values.


Slaughter represents New York’s 25th Congressional District and has served in the House since 1987. She sits on the Rules Committee.

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