– The Trans-Pacific Partnership will lead to a global race to the bottom (Guardian, May 8, 2015):
At a time when economic inequality around the globe continues to widen, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) will only make things worse. Unlike what President Obama claims, the agreement will only encourage a race to the bottom, in which a small percentage of people get ridiculously rich while most workers around the globe stay miserably poor. We can’t let that happen.
Today, President Obama is visiting Nike’s headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon to garner support for the trade deal, which would be signed by the US and 11 Pacific Rim countries. That’s an apt place for Obama to beat the free-trade drum – Nike, like the TPP, is associated with offshoring American jobs, widening the income inequality gap, and increasing the number of people making slave wages overseas. Since the passage of NAFTA in 1993, we’ve seen the loss of nearly five million US manufacturing jobs, the closure of more than 57,000 factories, and stagnant wages. This deal won’t be any different.
In November, Zachary Senn, a college student reporter at the Modesto Bee, spent three weeks in Indonesia living with and interviewing workers who make goods for Nike, Adidas, Puma and Converse. When you hear Obama talking about those “high-quality jobs,” think of RM, a 32-year-old mother who told Senn that she works 55 hours, six days a week and makes just $184 a month after 12 years at the PT Nikomas factory, a Nike subcontractor that employs 25,000 people. That’s 83 cents an hour or $2,208 a year.
RM works in the sewing department and is expected to process 100 shoes an hour. “If we don’t meet our quotas, we get yelled at”, she told Senn. “And then the quotas are piled into the next day”. Eating lunch is difficult because the food “smells bad,” and worse yet, RM said there is only one restroom, with 15 stalls, for 850 women.
RM told Senn that she doesn’t want Nike to leave Indonesia; she wants an end to verbal abuse and a 50% raise, which would allow her to better provide for her family.
Is $368 a month too much to ask from a multinational corporation that posted $27.8 billion in revenue and spent $3 billion on advertising and promotions in fiscal 2014? Nike CEO Mark Parker was paid $14.7 million in compensation last year. That’s $7,656 an hour.
Wages in Vietnam, a key TPP partner, are even lower than Indonesia. Nike’s largest production center is in Vietnam where 330,000 mostly young women workers with no legal rights earn just 48 to 69 cents an hour, according to the Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights (IGLHR).
According to the IGLHR’s A Race to the Bottom report, Nike symbolizes the destructive impacts of trade deals like the TPP. Those $100-$200 Nike shoes you see in stores carry a declared customs value of $5.27 per pair, according to a sampling of ten shipments of Nike shoes from Vietnam destined for the US market.
In 2014, Nike contracted 150 factories in 14 countries to produce more than 365 million pairs of shoes, according to IGLHR and Matt Powell, sports industry analyst at the NPD Group. Vietnamese workers made 43 percent of those shoes; Chinese workers made 28 percent; and Indonesians made 25 percent. Not one pair was made in the United States.
Rather than create jobs that pay a living wage with benefits, multinational corporations like Nike, Disney, Walmart, and others have offshored jobs to countries where workers are paid slave wages and have very few, if any, basic rights. Now that Chinese workers are organizing and taking to the streets to demand dignity and a living wage, these same corporations see Vietnam as the next best country to exploit.
There are no quick fixes for these problems. We need legislation protecting workers in the US and abroad, more transparency, general strikes and boycotts. We also need to pressure multinational corporations like Nike to pay workers a living wage and shame President Obama for supporting yet another destructive trade deal.
There will be no TPP if there is no Fast Track, which would require Congress to give away their constitutional authority to the president. If they don’t have the votes, they won’t bring it to the floor. As the president pressures Democrats to vote for Fast Track, now is the time to speak out, stand up for workers and stop the TPP and global race to the bottom.