The TPPA and women: spot the difference

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New Zealand Prime Minister John Key (6R) and Ministerial Representatives from 12 countries pose for a photo after signing the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement in Auckland on February 3, 2016. / AFP / MICHAEL BRADLEY

Analysis by Carolyn Skelton.

The potential impact off the TPPA on women, especially women of colour, gets very little coverage in the mainstream media. The agreement poses very strong risks for women, who are over-represented in low income jobs and as receivers of state benefits. Sometimes pictures really do tell the story that requires a lot of words to explain.

Spot the difference: The feature image from the Malaysian Insider is of the member state representatives who signed the TPPA in Auckland on February 4th [NZ time]. There are two women and 10 men.

Trade minister s TPPA Oct 2015 and Jan 2016:

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From Auckland News
Leaders of TPPA member states 2010:L eaders_of_TPP_member_states
Leaders from the TPPA member states 2010: From Wikipedia
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Leaders from the TPPA member states: From Newstalkzb

 

Image by Del Abcede.
Image by Del Abcede.

Compare the gender balance in the above leaders’ photos with that in the photo essay by Del Abcede, of the February 4 protests against the TPPA in Auckland, published on Asia Pacific Report.

Women have been playing a strong role in opposing the TPPA, while the people negotiating are largely men, along with those in powerful corporations.

This rundown of the TPPA on Scoop, by the US Trade Representative in Oct 2015, has only one specific section referring to women:

“… and economic growth, including helping women build capacity and skill, enhancing women’s access to markets, obtaining technology and financing, establishing women’s leadership networks, and identifying best practices in workplace

The focus is on women in leadership, “markets”, finance-acquisition, and workplace practices. Inequalities in the 21st century result in extreme hardship for mothers of young children, and single mothers. Low paid workers are over-represented by women, and especially women of colour.

The US Trade Representative’s press release highlights the TPPA’s provisions for protecting worker rights and labour relations, which are a step in a positive direction:

“… a prohibition on the worst forms of child labour; and elimination of discrimination in employment. They also agree to have laws governing minimum wages, hours of work, and occupational safety and health.

Each of the 12 TPP Parties commits to ensure access to fair, equitable and transparent administrative and judicial proceedings and to provide effective remedies for violations of its labour laws. They also agree to public participation in implementation of the Labour chapter, including establishing mechanisms to obtain public input.

So far so good. Excellent to see such things get consideration and a positive statement of intent. However, these promises are qualified by this:

The commitments in the chapter are subject to the dispute settlement procedures laid out in the Dispute Settlement chapter.”

Any issues with respect to failure to provide for workers rights as laid out above, are to be dealt with by negotiation between parties. There is not authority with the power to resolve disputes, or hold member states to account in the interest of workers. In contrast, ISDS provisions give powerful international corporations the right to challenge the laws of member states that protect the rights of workers, in the interests of powerful employers.

In contrast, a June 2015 advisory for the US National Organisation of Women outlines why the TPPA is a feminist issue. It looks to the impacts of past US trade agreements and identifies a pattern whereby when wages are lowered, women, especially women of colour are hit hard. They tend to work in low pay occupations such as retail, food service, nursing homes and day care.

The advisory refers to statements by Senator Elizabeth Warren. The advisory summarizes:

Through a thorough investigation of how the United States implemented the labor provisions of in-place free trade agreements, the Government Accountability Office found “persistent challenges to labor rights, such as limited enforcement capacity, the use of subcontracting to avoid direct employment… [and] violence against union leaders” in many countries with existing agreements. Specifically, the Department of Labor found that ten countries that had free trade agreements with the U.S. (Colombia, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Honduras, Jordan, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, and Peru) continue to use child labor and force labor to produce their goods, regardless of international laws in place to prevent it.

The advisory concludes on the basis of the evidence available, that the TPP will not protect worker’s, especially women workers’ rights, wages will be driven down, unemployment will rise, and there will be less access to affordable health care.

The TPPA has largely been negotiated by powerful men and corporations, and it doesn’t look that good for women: especially women of colour and those on low incomes.

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Carolyn is committed to economic and social justice. She has researched and taught in film, TV and media studies, sociology and gender studies. Carolyn is actively interested in local history, and its impact on the present and future. Carolyn currently works part time as a research librarian in Auckland Libraries, which is part of Auckland Council. The views, analysis, and opinions she expresses on this site are her own, and not those of Auckland Council.

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