In his race to Fast Track the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership “free trade” deal, U.S. President Barack Obama made a stop at the Oregon headquarters of Nike, a large multinational with notoriously poor labor standards, to promote the behemoth pact.
The irony was not lost on the dozens of protesters who greeted Obama outside the Portland location with chants of, “TPP – just don’t do it.”
John Hively, a Portland bus driver for and member of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 757, told The Oregonian that Fast Track legislation is “just a scam to ram through the TPP.” He added, “We only know a few things [about TPP] because most of it is top-secret.”
The company, for its part, trumpeted the visit in an official statement on its website and announced “its intention to accelerate investment in advanced footwear manufacturing in the United States, if [Fast Track legislation] is passed and a TPP agreement is finalized,” said the corporation.
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“Footwear tariff relief would allow Nike to accelerate development of new advanced manufacturing methods and a domestic supply chain to support U.S. based manufacturing.”
And in his address to the corporation, Obama made the claim that the TPP will lift labor standards. “If you’re a country that wants into this agreement, you have to meet higher standards,” he said. “If you don’t you’re out.”
But analysts argue that the company’s track record shows that giving Nike more power does not, in fact, help any workers—from Vietnam to the United States.
As watchdog group Public Citizen noted in a recent statement, “Last year, one-third of Nike’s 13,922 U.S. production workers were cut. Most Nike goods, and all Nike shoes, are produced overseas, by more than 990,000 workers in low-wage countries whose abysmal conditions made Nike a global symbol of sweatshop abuses.”
“This includes more than 333,000 workers in Nike-supplying factories in TPP nation Vietnam, where the average minimum wage is less than 60 cents per hour and where workers have faced such abuses as supervisors gluing their hands together as a punishment,” the statement continues. “Instead of requiring Nike to pay its Vietnamese workers more or ending the abuse they endure, the TPP would allow Nike to make even higher profits by importing goods from low-wage Vietnam instead of hiring U.S. workers.”
International civil society groups, from labor to climate justice to community organizations, say the problems with the TPP are rooted in its embrace of corporate power overall. Under negotiation since at least 2008, the deal includes the U.S. and 11 Pacific Rim countries—Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam—which together represent 40 percent of the world’s GDP.