Pacific trade pact tackles Malaysia trafficking, Vietnam labor


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Laborers work to make Zara jackets at a garment factory in Bac Giang province, near Hanoi October 21, 2015. Photo: Reuters/Kham Laborers work to make Zara jackets at a garment factory in Bac Giang province, near Hanoi October 21, 2015. Photo: Reuters/Kham


Malaysia will have to fully implement measures to combat human trafficking and Vietnam must allow independent labor unions before reaping the benefits of a new Pacific trade deal, details of the pact released on Thursday showed.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) will require countries to legislate for minimum wages and hours of work, discourage trade in goods made by forced labor and maintain labor protections in designated export zones as a condition of membership.
The pact, which will open new markets for Malaysian electronics companies and Vietnamese clothing firms, imposes additional obligations on those two countries and Brunei on workers' rights.
Bilateral agreements with the United States lay out specific conditions for each country, including affected domestic laws and a mechanism to police implementation for seven to 10 years.
"Being tied to entry into force means we have the ability to certify whether or not a country has met those standards so it gives us significant leverage," U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman said.
In Malaysia, required reforms will make it clear that it is illegal for employers to hold workers' passports, ensure employment levies are paid by employers and not workers, extend protections against excessive recruitment fees to all recruitment agencies and employers, and stop agencies which violate labor laws from bringing in new overseas workers.
Earlier this year, Malaysian authorities discovered dozens of suspected mass migrant graves and human rights groups reported continued forced labor in the nation's lucrative palm oil, construction and electronics industries.
Malaysia must fully implement reforms to allow victims of human trafficking to travel, work and live outside government shelters and remove long-standing restrictions on unions and strikes, the summary of the text showed.
The country's record came into focus earlier this year after Washington upgraded Malaysia in its annual trafficking scorecard, sidestepping a law which would have barred the TPP from a fast track through Congress.
Lawmakers demanded an investigation after a Reuters examination found the U.S. State Department office set up to independently rate countries' efforts was repeatedly overruled by senior U.S. diplomats.
Vietnam, which has been targeted by critics concerned that low wages and weak worker protections will entice U.S. manufacturers, will have to allow workers to form their own autonomous unions. Other reforms will increase penalties against forced labor and protect against discrimination.
The labor chapter requires all TPP countries to grant workers the right to form unions and bargain collectively and ban forced and child labor and discrimination in employment, as well as new commitments to legislate working conditions. Breaches can be punished by trade sanctions.
But the deal stops short of setting a floor for minimum wages or ceilings on working hours. The U.S. federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. Minimum wages in Vietnam in 2014 ranged from $85 to $121 per month.

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