President Obama Accepts Slavery in Order to Win TPP Trade Deal

Eric Zuesse

So that U.S. President Barack Obama can end a roadblock and win the agreement of other nations for his proposed Trans Pacific Partnership, he has decided to remove one of the nations, Malaysia, from the U.S. State Department’s official list of countries that allow slavery. Malaysia, which recently found over a hundred graves of discarded slaves, has been on the U.S. State Department’s “Tier 3” list of slave nations, along with North Korea, Zimbabwe, Syria, and Iran, but, unlike those other countries, Obama wants Malaysia to be included in his Trans Pacific Partnership; so, he has decided to remove Malaysia from that official list.

This was first reported by Reuters on July 8th, under the headline “Exclusive: U.S. Upgrades Malaysia in Annual Human Trafficking Report.” Reuters announced: “The United States is upgrading Malaysia from the lowest tier on its list of worst human trafficking centers, U.S. sources said on Wednesday, a move that could smooth the way for an ambitious U.S.-led free-trade deal with the Southeast Asian nation and 11 other countries.”

Zach Carter at Huffington Post headlined, later on July 8th, “Obama To Upgrade Malaysia On Human Rights Despite Mass Graves,”  and he reported that U.S. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) issued a statement saying: “If true, this manipulation of Malaysia’s ranking in the State Department’s 2015 TIP report would be a perversion of the trafficking list and undermine both the integrity of this important report as well as the very difficult task of confronting states about human trafficking.” 

However, Senator Menendez, himself, has, behind the scenes, pushed for Obama’s TPP and other mammoth ‘trade’ deals, including TTIP and TISA, even despite these deals allowing participating countries to look the other way and not prosecute when international corporations hire killers to assassinate labor union organizers in a given U.S. trade ‘partner’ country. So, Sen. Menendez is in no position to accuse this President of allowing slavery and even mass-murder of slaves, and he is not making any such accusation. In fact, Menendez was a no-show at the key vote in the Senate on Fast-Tracking – reducing from the Constitutionally required 67 down to the ordinary-law-required 51 Senators, which will be needed in order to approve, as constituting a U.S. law, a treaty – each one of this President’s three gigantic ‘trade’ treaties. Menendez did this even though the Obama Administration has acknowledged that it considers a nation’s murders of labor union organizers to be irrelevant to that country’s suitability to be included in a ‘trade’ treaty as a favored nation and ‘trading’ partner, such as will be in the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), or in its Atlantic equivalent, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

Allowing murder of trade-union officials, and allowing slavery, are not, in either case, matters of law in any given country, because nowhere are those things technically legal. They are instead matters of not enforcing laws that are technically on the books. When corporations can become more internationally competitive by employing such tactics and paying public officials to look the other way, it’s just a matter of economic competition and of minimizing government regulation of the economy. These are unofficial ways of boosting competitiveness, which – the U.S. President and his “Fast Track” supporters in Congress are now on record as accepting – do not disqualify a given country from being included as one of the treaty “Partners.”

Recently, on May 25th, Britain’s Guardian headlined “Malaysia migrant mass graves: police reveal 139 sites, some with multiple corpses,” and reported that the corpses were probably Bangladeshi but that this had not yet been confirmed. “The revelation is likely to focus new attention on Malaysia’s record in battling a scourge that activists say is carried out by criminal syndicates, likely with the complicity of authorities.” It helps Malaysia stay internationally competitive. And the use of foreigners for this, reduces the likelihood of serious domestic political blowback from this particular means of the nation’s increasing its economic competitiveness. This technique additionally helps to drive down wages within the given nation, and by that indirect means, makes the entire nation even more economically competitive. The Obama Administration is now officially categorizing the entire matter as simply expanding “free trade.”

When the United States provides favored-nation treatment to nations where slaves are used, or where labor-union organizers are murdered, the United States is allowing U.S. international corporations to lower their production-costs by “shipping those jobs overseas” to countries where labor is cheaper (or even free, if the cost of bribes is not included). The beneficiaries of those lower (if any) wages are the owners of these international corporations. U.S. consumers might also benefit, if the lower production-costs get passed along to them; but, sometimes, that doesn’t happen, and all of the benefits from other nations’ union-busting and/or outright slave labor go only to the stockholders of the international corporations.

Under the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, which allows corporations to donate unlimited funds anonymously to U.S. political campaigns, there is no longer any way to prevent international corporations from participating in U.S. electoral politics – it’s now “free speech” (no matter where the corporation is headquartered or incorporated), and any corporation is a “person,” which has unlimited “free speech” regarding political matters. If those corporations (or, actually, their controlling stockholders) decide to do business that way, it’s now only a private decision that they are entirely free to make, according to the U.S. Supreme Court.

An independent economic analysis was done of TPP, and it showed that international corporations will benefit enormously, but that the publics everywhere will become far worse off, if it goes into effect. An independent economic analaysis was also done of TTIP, and it produced the very same findings. However, corporate-backed economic analyses have produced contrary findings, and those are the studies that are officially cited. In current economic theory, the more that things are privatized, the better. Some economists personally object, but most economists who have successful careers do not. Endowed chairs in economics are sparse for dissenters. As the late economist Robert E. Prasch noted:

“Positions at the top twenty research universities are simply closed to scholars working outside the mainstream, and the next twenty on the list have every incentive to become caricatures of the top schools. The reason for this de facto policy of exclusion is not solely ideological. In this era of austerity, research faculties are expected to garner substantial outside funding, and these funds are typically granted to scholars whose work serves the funders ends.”

In other words, there is a “free market” in economists, too.

And so, the “free market” will be expanded, no matter what; and there is likely to be considerable public cheering about it, regardless of what slaves, or non-unionized workers, or other possible objectors, might happen to think about it. International corporations might have lots of “free speech,” but the real people who are at the bottom – not nearly as much. And, in Malaysia, perhaps, not at all.


Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010, and of  CHRIST’S VENTRILOQUISTS: The Event that Created Christianity.