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TPP at What Cost? Did U.S. Move Up Malaysia's Ranking in Annual Human Rights Report?

Did U.S. Move Up Malaysia's Ranking in Annual Human Rights Report to Grease the Skids for TPP?

Washington – The speed and secrecy on display during the recent fast track debate underscored the notion that backers of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) are intent to advance the trade deal at any cost. Now, we may have a troubling new example on the topic of human trafficking. As Reuters reported last night:

“The United States is upgrading Malaysia from the lowest tier on its list of worst human trafficking centres, 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. The upgrade to so-called ‘Tier 2 Watch List’ status removes a potential barrier to President Barack Obama's signature global trade deal. A provision in a related trade bill passed by Congress last month barred from fast-tracked trade deals Malaysia and other countries that earn the worst U.S. human trafficking ranking in the eyes of the U.S. State Department.”

Upon the news breaking of Malaysia’s upgraded ranking, Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), the author of the referenced amendment that would bar fast-tracking trade deals with Tier 3 nations, told The Hill newspaper , “ 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 …Furthermore, if this report is contrived, it would undermine the credibility of labor and environmental provisions’ enforcement and call into question whether or not they would be manipulated as well in order to meet the standards,” he said.

“The Trafficking in Persons Report – and the horrific human rights abuses that remain ongoing in Malaysia in particular – is too important to have its credibility sacrificed for short term political expediency” said Shane Larson, Legislative Director of CWA. “It is outrageous that the State Department would turn a blind eye to some of the most egregious trafficking that we have seen in years simply to grease the skids for passage of a trade agreement designed to benefit multinational corporations."

The worries expressed by Sen. Menendez are underscored by the recent evidence on the ground in Malaysia, as well as the views of human rights experts:

· In late May, the Associated Press reported in late May, “a cluster of abandoned jungle camps used by human traffickers contained 139 suspected graves as well as barbed-wire pens likely used to cage migrants, shedding more light on a regional trade that preyed on some of Southeast Asia's most desperate people.”

  • Phil Robertston, Deputy Director of Human Rights Watch's Asia division , told Reuters: "I would be stunned if they [Malaysia] are upgraded. They have done very little to improve the protection from abuse that migrant workers face … This would seem to be some sort of political reward from the United States and I would urge the U.S. Congress to look long and hard at who was making the decisions on such an upgrade." Robertson also told the Washington Times, “Malaysia has little to distinguish its record on human trafficking since last year — its service to victims is poor, anti-trafficking law conceptually conflated with people-smuggling, and protection for vulnerable migrants minimal.”
  • Shaman Darshni, Amnesty International’s Malaysia Executive Director , stated that, an upgrade “indicates the U.S.’ willingness to sidestep one of the world’s worst rights crises in the Southeast Asian region, of which Malaysia is a contributing cause … Malaysia’s anti-trafficking efforts have been severely wanting.”

CONTACT: Chuck Porcari, CWA Communications, 202-434-1168 or

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