Why TPP Is a Feminist Issue

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks during a town hall meeting Friday, Oct. 16, 2015, in Keene, N
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks during a town hall meeting Friday, Oct. 16, 2015, in Keene, N.H. (AP Photo/Mary Schwalm)

Do you want your tax dollars to go to companies in countries like Brunei, where unmarried women who get pregnant are sent to prison and gays and lesbians are sentenced to death by stoning?

Do you believe the official trade policy of the U.S. should make it easier for corporations to outsource majority-female jobs -- not only in low-wage workplaces such as call centers but also better-paying sectors like human resources?

Do you support an agreement that gives pharmaceutical companies a green light to keep lower-cost generic drugs, including HIV/AIDS medication, off the market in developing countries?

Of course you don't.

These are just a few of the reasons why women are speaking out against the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which would codify these and other horrific policies.

Women like Hillary Clinton.

Although Anderson Cooper called Hillary Clinton's opposition "political expediency," and asked, "Will you say anything to get elected?," I admire her for paying attention to actual facts, and being responsive to actual voters. (Note to pundits: responsiveness to voters is also called democracy.)

As Yale Law Professor David Singh Grewal wrote here last week,

Clinton's response was cool and collected. She reminded Cooper that the TPP negotiations were only concluded earlier this month, and stated that the negotiated deal "didn't meet [her] standards." When she was Secretary of State, she had hoped that the TPP would represent the "gold standard" in new trade deals, as she expressed in a speech in 2012. But as anyone who has studied these trade deals knows, the devil is in the details -- and Clinton was not in charge of the final talks that produced the details of the TPP. Now that Clinton knows what was negotiated, she has decided she doesn't support the agreement. As she explained, "I want to make sure that I can look into the eyes of any middle-class American and say, 'this will help raise your wages.' And I concluded I could not."

In an op-ed titled "The Trans-Pacific Partnership clause everyone should oppose." Elizabeth Warren wrote about "Investor-State Dispute Settlement," or ISDS.

The name may sound mild, but don't be fooled. Agreeing to ISDS in this enormous new treaty would tilt the playing field in the United States further in favor of big multinational corporations. Worse, it would undermine U.S. sovereignty.

That tilted playing field should have all of us alarmed. Just to take one example of how it could work: California recently passed a Fair Pay Act which requires employers to affirmatively justify their wage structure if it systematically pays women less than men.  In other words, the law requires equal pay for substantially similar work.  It's a much stronger way to close the gender and gender-race wage gaps than anything currently in federal law.  It's great, and it should be a model for all states to implement similar legislation. 

However, suppose that the TPP is in place and then Oregon enacts a Fair Pay Act like California's.  The way this ISDS seems to be set up under the TPP, any multinational corporation could haul the state of Oregon to an international tribunal and demand compensation for lost profits resulting from Oregon's new law.  You read that right. A state could be forced to compensate a multinational corporation for complying with the state's new anti-discrimination law.

What about a state that adopts a state Equal Rights Amendment?  Or a state-level living wage law?  Or a state or municipal ordinance extending its human rights law to transgender people?  Suppose a corporation believes that complying with human rights laws would hurt its bottom line? Under the TPP, if a state's law would impinge on the profits of a multinational corporation that is thinking about opening a plant or making some other kind of investment in that state, the corporation would be entitled to use this ISDS process to seek compensation.  

Or, as Senator Warren put it in her op-ed,

...with ISDS, the company could skip the U.S. courts and go before an international panel of arbitrators. If the company won, the ruling couldn't be challenged in U.S. courts, and the arbitration panel could require American taxpayers to cough up millions -- and even billions -- of dollars in damages.

If that seems shocking, buckle your seat belt. ISDS could lead to gigantic fines, but it wouldn't employ independent judges. Instead, highly paid corporate lawyers would go back and forth between representing corporations one day and sitting in judgment the next. Maybe that makes sense in an arbitration between two corporations, but not in cases between corporations and governments. If you're a lawyer looking to maintain or attract high-paying corporate clients, how likely are you to rule against those corporations when it's your turn in the judge's seat?

As this fact sheet explains, TPP is a recipe for disaster for women and LGBT communities.

The TPP would undermine competition from generics by, among numerous other provisions, extending pharmaceutical companies' patent rights and allowing such companies to extend their monopolies and continue to charge artificially high prices for key drugs.xi High prices mean more lives lost - already AIDS is the leading cause of death for women of reproductive age worldwide and discrimination against LGBT communities hampers their access to life-saving medical and health services.

Here's the key question that Hillary Clinton and others are asking.

What's the reason to support a trade agreement that rewards governments that put women to death by stoning and jails gay men, lesbians and so-called "adulterers;" forces Americans to compete against workers from extremely low-wage countries; makes it easier for corporations to out-source majority-female jobs and allows foreign companies to challenge U.S. laws designed to protect our health, economic security and fundamental rights?

The answer is simple. There's no reason to support this TPP. No reason at all.

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