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Brunei Sultan Raises More Worries About TPP

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) has rightfully come under fire for its potential to make things worse for workers and consumers both in the U.S. and the 11 other countries which are currently involved in negotiations. Among the chief concerns about the deal is the likely loss of American jobs, faulty labor practices and unsafe food and products that would accompany it.

But now there is another issue – Sharia Law.

The sultan of Brunei, whose nation is involved in the Pacific Rim trade deal discussion, announced his oil-rich country will be ruled under the religious penal code beginning in April 2014, a move that will result in harsh penalties -- including in some cases death -- for violations such as theft, adultery and alcohol consumption. The penalties will only apply to the Sunni Muslim majority in the nation of 416,000.

While how a leader of another country chooses to govern his own people is not necessarily a U.S. concern, it should in this instance raise some questions about how workers in Brunei will be treated. Will they be respected, working in safe conditions and producing goods that are safe to be sold in the U.S.?

Human rights are a significant matter, one that has already been raised as part of the debate over the TPP. Back in July, the U.S. government determined that Vietnamese children were being forced to work in garment factories against their will. The government discovered child slavery when two Department of Labor officials visited Vietnam in January to investigate labor practices.

The findings backed up a report by the Workers Rights Consortium that outlined repeated instances of child slavery. The document also detailed the squalid working conditions and low wages tolerated in Vietnam.

Teamster President James P. Hoffa spoke out against allowing Vietnam to be a part of the TPP earlier this year, saying the nation should clean up its act before it can be allowed to. He demanded that U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman hold the Southeast Asian nation accountable for its human rights violations.

The revelation about Brunei, therefore, is just another example of why the TPP is not a good deal for anyone. Human rights cannot be sacrificed for corporate enrichment. The U.S. cannot allow an agreement that endangers workers to move forward.

More and more, policymakers are speaking out against the TPP. Democrats and Republicans have concerns because they see it threatens the livelihood and safety of millions of Americans, Internet freedom and even U.S. sovereignty. In short, the trade pact has more holes in it that Swiss cheese.

America doesn’t need more free trade agreements, it needs fair trade agreements. It should be setting the standard on how to treat workers and produce safe products, not turning a blind eye to countries that condone sweatshops and mistreat workers. That means respecting human rights, and not entering trade pacts with those who don’t.

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