Falling Short for Labor: Why the Trans-Pacific Partnership Does Not Do Enough for Worker's Rights, and Evaluating Better Options

By Cohen, Judd | Case Western Reserve Journal of International Law, Spring 2017 | Go to article overview

Falling Short for Labor: Why the Trans-Pacific Partnership Does Not Do Enough for Worker's Rights, and Evaluating Better Options


Cohen, Judd, Case Western Reserve Journal of International Law


Using free trade agreements to increase labor standards in developing countries has not worked. Although most critics focus on lack of enforcement by the U.S., the real problem is the inherent tension between using free trade to make money, and spending money to improve labor standards. If the U.S. were to enforce labor standards, it would destroy the gains from free trade, which is why there is no incentive for developed countries to enforce the agreements. The Trans-Pacific Partnership is the latest example of a U.S. free trade agreement that does not address the tension between trade and labor. This Note proposes that the only way to simultaneously continue free trade and improve labor rights is through a redistribution of wealth. By redistributing the gains of free trade, developing countries will have the means and the incentive to improve their labor standards. Developing countries will be incentivized to improve working conditions and build new manufacturing locations, because as improvements are made more money will flow in to continue the growth. Rich countries will be incentivized to enter into these agreements, because although they will be giving up portions of the gains of free trade at first, the redistribution will create wealth for all countries. Even though the rich countries will have to swallow a smaller percentage of wealth generation, the total amount of monetary gain will increase when there are more middleclass countries to buy from rich countries. Only through redistribution of wealth can the incentives of free trade be aligned to improve labor standards across the globe.

Contents

I.   THE TPP DOES NOT SOLVE THE INHERENT TENSION BETWEEN
       FREE TRADE AND LABOR RIGHTS, AND, THEREFORE, WILL NOT
       BE SUCCESSFUL IN TRANSFORMING LABOR STANDARDS.
II.  PAST LABOR AGREEMENTS ARE INADEQUATE BECAUSE THE
       REQUIREMENTS IN THE AGREEMENTS ARE NOT ENFORCED, AND
       BECAUSE ENFORCEMENT MAKES IT HARDER TO CREATE
       WEALTH.
III. THE TPP SOLUTION TO LABOR AGREEMENTS IS AN
       IMPROVEMENT, BUT IS STILL LACKING TEETH
       A. Vietnam Labor History and Side Agreement.
       B. Brunei Labor History and Side Agreement
       C. Malaysia Labor History and Side Agreement.
IV.  EVALUATION OF TPP SOLUTION: IMPROVEMENTS BUT NOT
       ENOUGH.
       A. An Overview of the Shortcomings
       B. The Current ILO Standards May Not Be Focusing on the Right
          Standards
V.   REDISTRIBUTIVE SOLUTIONS THAT CAN FIX THE BROKEN
      INCENTIVES BETWEEN FREE TRADE AND LABOR STANDARDS
      A. Create an Inspection Agency to Determine if Manufacturing
         Facilities Meet Labor Standards
      B. Redistributive Solutions can be Made on Three Different
         Levels Governmental, Company, or Consumer
      C. Governmental Level Redistributive Solution
      D. Company Level Redistributive Solutions.
         1. Solution #1: all companies based in TPP countries can
            only buy from suppliers that meet ILO standards.
         2. Solution #2: all suppliers meeting ILO standards receive a
            guaranteed level of production from companies
         3. Solution #3: companies must provide a list of their
            suppliers and receive a rating based on how many meet ILO
            standards.
         4. Solution #4: companies receive tax breaks for buying
            exclusively from suppliers that meet ILO standards.
      E. Consumer Level Redistributive Solutions
         1. Solution #1: tax on goods made under inadequate labor
            standards.
         2. Solution #2: labeling products to show labor conditions
            where a product was manufactured.
      F. Other Considerations: Revenue Sharing Example.
VI.  CONCLUSION

"The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little." (1)

I. THE TPP DOES NOT SOLVE THE INHERENT TENSION BETWEEN FREE TRADE AND LABOR RIGHTS, AND, THEREFORE, WILL NOT BE SUCCESSFUL IN TRANSFORMING LABOR STANDARDS

The United States of America uses free trade agreements to influence labor standards in developing countries. …

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