Malaysia, Human Trafficking and the Trans-Pacific Partnership
July 28, 2015
Trade Justice & Citizens Trade Campaign & Public Citizen & Reuters
In 2014, the US State Department listed Malaysia among the world's worst countries when it comes to human trafficking. Now the Obama administration is reportedly planning to upgrade Malaysia's status in a forthcoming human trafficking report in order to ease its entry into the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). If accurate, this is a new low for those trying to rush the TPP to approval.
Malaysia, Human Trafficking and the TPP:
Ignoring Modern Day Slavery to Advance the TPP
Citizens Trade Campaign
(July 10, 2015) -- The Obama administration is planning to upgrade Malaysia's status in a forthcoming human trafficking report in order to ease its entry into the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), according to the Reuters news agency,
If accurate, this is a new low for those trying to rush the TPP to approval. In 2014, the US State Department listed Malaysia among the world's worst countries when it comes to human trafficking. While exact counts are impossible to come by, we're likely talking about millions of people affected.
Many of these modern-day slaves end up not only as prostitutes and domestic servants, but working in Malaysia's export-oriented electronics and palm oil sectors. One-third of all electronics workers in Malaysia are estimated to be trafficking victims.
Less you think this is anything less awful and barbaric than it really is, just this spring, dozens of trafficking camps with guard posts, barbed wire and their own mass graves were uncovered in the country's jungles. A human rights campaigner said at the time, "The only way these kinds of camps could operate was with the support of military, police and politicians who were either directly involved or were paid to look the other way."
The Fast Track legislation recently passed by Congress -- as awful as it was -- at least included a provision against fast tracking trade deals with the worst human trafficking abusers. Rather than requiring the Malaysian to clean up its act before it joins the TPP, the Obama administration has reportedly chosen to just write the problem away with a new trafficking report that says the country is no longer that big of a concern.
Top human rights advocates all agree the sudden "upgrading" of Malaysia's trafficking status has nothing to do with human rights improvements, and everything to do with greasing the skids for the TPP.
A "stunned" Human Rights Watch representative said Malaysia has done very little in the past year to protect trafficking victims, and "This would seem to be some sort of political reward from the United States."
An Amnesty International representative further argued that "Malaysia's anti-trafficking efforts have been severely wanting," and that "the US's willingness to sidestep one of the world's worst rights crises" was instead motivated by "the value of trade this would bring."
The administration's alleged willingness to turn a blind-eye to trafficking abuses in Malaysia in order to get the TPP done also does not bode well for the hope of any enforcement of labor and environmental provisions were the TPP actually enacted. If the administration were serious about using the TPP to enforce basic rights, they would make such enforcement a prerequisite to joining.
TAKE ACTION NOW: Please urge your US Representative to speak out against attempts to cook the books in the State Department's forthcoming human trafficking report.
Stop the TPP and Human Trafficking
Write Your Members of Congress to Oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)
To qualify for Fast Track, the TPP must meet a basic standard that partner countries not be home to modern-day slavery. It is widely suspected that this is the reason the State Department may baselessly upgrade TPP-partner Malaysia's human trafficking status.
If this upgrade is made, it will be a shockingly callous move that prioritizes the economic advancement of corporate interests over human lives and basic human dignity.
Using the State Department's report as a political ploy to advance the TPP also would be an unthinkable blow to the integrity of the United States and our ability to fight human rights abuses around the world.
Urge Your Members of Congress to Reject a TPP with Human Rights Violator Malaysia.
Copyright 2015 Public Citizen.
Nothing To See Here:
Just Mass Graves of Trafficked Women
Fight for the Future.org
President Obama just gave Malaysia a thumbs-up on human rights so that he can pass the TPP -- despite finding mass graves of sex trafficking victims.
US Congress recently passed a law giving President Obama "fast track" authority to secretly negotiate trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a massive agreement that could lead to Internet censorship, lost jobs, and worse. But the legislation had a caveat: the executive branch can't use this authority enter into deals with countries like Malaysia that have the worst records on abuses like human trafficking.
Rather than pushing for Malaysia to clean up its act and address the crisis, the Obama Administration has a simple solution: just upgrade Malaysia's human rights "ranking" on paper, and ignore the recently discovered mass graves of young women forced into sex slavery. It's a win-win for big government and big corporations and a disaster for human rights worldwide.
The US government has hit a new low. As a country we can and must do better. Sign and share the petition to demand our leaders respect human rights.
US Upgrades Malaysia in Annual Human Trafficking Report
Jason Szep, Patricia Zengerle and Matt Spetalnick / Reuters
WASHINGTON, DC (July 8, 2015) -- The United States is upgrading Malaysia from the lowest tier on its list of worst human trafficking centers, US sources said on Wednesday, a move that could smooth the way for an ambitious US-led free-trade deal with the Southeast Asian nation and 11 other countries.
The upgrade to so-called "Tier 2 Watch List" status removes a potential barrier to President Barack Obama's signature global trade deal.
A provision in a related trade bill passed by Congress last month barred from fast-tracked trade deals Malaysia and other countries that earn the worst US human trafficking ranking in the eyes of the US State Department.
The upgrade follows international scrutiny and outcry over Malaysian efforts to combat human trafficking after the discovery this year of scores of graves in people-smuggling camps near its northern border with Thailand.
The State Department last year downgraded Malaysia in its annual "Trafficking in Persons" report to Tier 3, alongside North Korea, Syria and Zimbabwe, citing "limited efforts to improve its flawed victim protection regime" and other problems.
But a congressional source with knowledge of the decision told Reuters the administration had approved the upgraded status. A second source familiar with the matter confirmed the decision.
Some US lawmakers and human-rights advocates had expected Malaysia to remain on Tier 3 this year given its slow pace of convictions in human-trafficking cases and pervasive trafficking in industries such as electronics and palm oil.
This year's full State Department report, including details on each country's efforts to combat human trafficking, is expected to be released next week.
The State Department and the White House both declined comment.
Obama visited Malaysia in April 2014 to cement economic and security ties. Malaysia is the current chair of the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations. It is seeking to promote unity within the bloc in the face of China's increasingly assertive pursuits of territorial claims in the South China Sea, an object of US criticism.
In May, just as Obama's drive to win "fast-track" trade negotiating authority for his trade deal entered its most sensitive stage in the US Congress, Malaysian police announced the discovery of 139 graves in jungle camps used by suspected smugglers and traffickers of Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar.
Malaysia hopes to be a signatory to Obama's legacy-defining Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), would link a dozen countries, cover 40 percent of the world economy and form a central element of his strategic shift towards Asia.
On June 29, Obama signed into law legislation giving him "fast-track" power to push ahead on the deal.
Lawmakers are working on a compromise that would let Malaysia and other countries appearing on a US black-list for human trafficking participate in fast-tracked trade deals if the administration verified that they have taken concrete steps to address the most important issues identified in the annual trafficking report.
The graves were found in an area long known for the smuggling of Rohingya and local villagers reported seeing Rohingya in the area, but Malaysia's Deputy Home (Interior) Minister Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar has said it was unclear whether those killed were illegal migrants. The discovery took place after the March cut-off for the US report.
The State Department would have needed to show that Malaysia had neither fully complied with minimum anti-trafficking standards nor made significant efforts to do so to justify keeping Malaysia on Tier 3, which can lead to penalties such as the withholding of some assistance.
In its report last year, the State Department said Malaysia had reported 89 human-trafficking investigations in the 12 months to March, 2014, down from 190 the previous year, and nine convictions compared to 21 the previous year.
In the latest year to March, Malaysia's conviction rate is believed to have fallen further, according to human-rights advocates, despite a rise in the number of investigations. That reinforced speculation Malaysia would remain on Tier 3.
"I would be stunned if they are upgraded. They have done very little to improve the protection from abuse that migrant workers face," said Phil Robertston, deputy director of Human Rights Watch's Asia division.
"This would seem to be some sort of political reward from the United States and I would urge the US Congress to look long and hard at who was making the decisions on such an upgrade."
Malaysia has an estimated 2 million illegal migrant laborers, many of whom work in conditions of forced labor under employers and recruitment companies in sectors ranging from electronics to palm oil to domestic service.
Last year's report said many migrant workers are exploited and subjected to practices associated with forced labor. Many foreign women recruited for ostensibly legal work in Malaysian restaurants, hotels, and beauty salons are subsequently coerced into prostitution, the report said.
An administration official told Reuters in June that the White House had been working closely with the Malaysian government and stakeholders to fight the problem.
Among the 12 TPP countries, Brunei has also come under attack by human-rights groups for adopting Islamic criminal law, which includes punishing offenses such as sodomy and adultery with death, including by stoning. Vietnam's Communist government has been criticized for jailing dissidents. (Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom; Writing by Jason Szep; editing by Stuart Grudgings)
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