Expand The Debate: Jill Stein VS Obama On Stopping The Outsourcing Of American Jobs
During a time when tens of millions of Americans find themselves unemployed, and hundreds of thousands of American jobs continue to move to low-cost labor countries, there is perhaps no single issue more important to America’s economic viability than outsourcing.
Obama, as a Presidential candidate in 2008, was consistent in naming what plagued the country’s job crisis: Free Trade deals.
In 2008, candidate Obama pledged to rewrite NAFTA and explained the problems of Free Trade:
About NAFTA, Sen. Obama said in a Democratic primary forum in 2007: “I would immediately call the president of Mexico, the president of Canada to try to amend NAFTA because I think that we can get labor agreements in that agreement right now. And it should reflect the basic principle that our trade agreements should not just be good for Wall Street, it should also be good for Main Street.”
About free trade, Sen. Obama said at the same 2007 forum: “… people don’t want a cheaper T-shirt if they’re losing a job in the process. They would rather have the job and pay a little bit more for a T-shirt. And I think that’s something that all Americans could agree to.
As a Senator in 2005, Obama voted against Bush’s Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), citing the following as his reasons:
“There are real problems in the agreement itself. It does less to protect labor than previous trade agreements, and does little to address enforcement of basic environmental standards in the Central American countries and the Dominican Republic…
“So far, almost all of our energy and almost all of these trade agreements are about making life easier for the winners of globalization, while we do nothing as life gets harder for American workers.”
But then Obama was elected President and, despite his promises, made no efforts whatsoever to renegotiate NAFTA. Instead he pushed through THREE job-killing ‘Free Trade’ deals of his own — the kinds he always criticized. The Korean ‘Free Trade’ Deal alone is expected to cost 159,00 American jobs. These agreements were opposed by a major majority of Congressional Democrats, and Obama could only get these NAFTA equivalent deals passed with the help of the Tea Party GOP Freshmen in Congress.
The days of Obama assigning blame to ‘Free Trade’ agreements for the outsourcing of American jobs are long gone. In the Hofstra Presidential Debate, Obama blamed tax loopholes that provide incentive for corporations to outsource. Fair point, but keep in mind that he made this same argument repeatedly as a Candidate in 2008, and did absolutely NOTHING as President to push any bills through Congress to address this offshoring tax incentive.
So it was refreshing to hear Jill Stein speak to this issue in Democracy Now’s ‘Expand The Debate’ series:
So, if the question is how to stop the outsourcing of our jobs, it is very clear we need to stop expanding the Free Trade Agreements that send our jobs overseas, and which also undermine wages here at home by effectively threatening workers that if they don’t drop their wages and their benefits that their jobs are gone.
We saw the first Free Trade Agreement NAFTA enacted under Bill Clinton, a Democrat. We saw it carried out under George Bush. But then we saw Barack Obama expand three Free Trade Agreements, and is now negotiating a secret Free Trade Agreement — the Trans Pacific Partnership — that will continue to offshore jobs, undermine wages, and as well, this time compromise American sovereignty with an international corporate board that can rule on our laws and regulations and say whether or not they pass muster.
This is an absolute outrage against American sovereignty, democracy, and our economy. We need to turn the Free Trade Agreements into Fair Trade Agreements.
And again, the Green New Deal will create the community-based jobs we need here supporting small businesses, worker cooperatives, public services, and public works to put people back to work right now for less than the cost of the first stimulus package.
When you actually assess Obama’s statements on trade, while factoring in his record as President, it is clear that he will continue to push job-killing ‘Free Trade’ Agreements — as will, of course, Mitt Romney. Jill Stein, conversely, intends to actually confront this most pressing crisis.
WATCH (Jill Stein starts at the 2:55 mark):
Fair Trade Comes Home: Fair Food Program Works To End Exploitation Of U.S. Farmworkers
Most coffee and chocolate aficionados are generally well-versed on the Fair Trade movement, which organized to offer producers in developing countries better trade deals than would normally be offered to them by large corporate purchasers.
Today’s massive food conglomerates routinely leverage their purchasing power to negotiate prices so low as to all but ensure farmworkers suffer dire working conditions and sub-poverty wages.
In contrast, Fair trade agreements pay these farms a premium for their products, while contractually obligating them to provide better working conditions and wages to their employees (including the rights to organize), and to promote superior environmental standards.
Yet, within the very borders of the United States, many farm workers continue to suffer from similar exploitation and deplorable working conditions. These mostly-migrant workers often have limited English-proficiency and questionable citizenship status, making them powerless to bargain for better conditions, or even to seek recourse when their employers violate federal and state labor laws.
The National Center For Farmworker Health found that 72% of all farmworkers in America were foreign born, earned between $12,500 – $14,999 per year on average, and 92% of them received no employer-provided health insurance — despite physically-demanding, high-risk work conditions.
Meet the Fair Food Program (FFP)
Driven by the same human-rights concerns as the Fair Trade movement, FFP activists pressure large ‘market-influencing’ purchasers of agricultural products to sign Fair Food Agreements that improve wages and working conditions of farmworkers in America.
The organization spearheading this effort is The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) — an organized tomato farmworker group based in Immokalee, Florida. The group describes itself as “a community-based organization of mainly Latino, Mayan Indian and Haitian immigrants working in low-wage jobs throughout the state of Florida.”
The Florida agricultural industry has a long well-documented record of human-rights abuses, including nine cases prosecuted for slave-labor in the past 15 years alone.
CIW organized in 1993 to overcome the industry’s exploitation, and their efforts have proven to be highly successful. Over ninety percent of the Florida tomato farming industry now participates in the Fair Food Program. And as Florida FFP tomatoes begin to ring synonymous with fair labor practices the movement has the potential to spread into other farming industries and states.
Consider the marketing advantages that ‘Fair Trade’-designated coffees enjoy in the billion dollar U.S. coffee industry, where millions of American consumers expect to buy nothing less than Fair Trade. This demand has lured many coffee roasters and coffee shops alike to make the extra effort and expend additional monies to offer Fair Trade selections.
The major grocers and restaurant chains who sign CIW’s Fair Food Agreement commit to purchase all their Florida tomatoes exclusively from farms that participate in FFP, which in turn gives holdout Florida tomato farms incentive to join as well.
There are 7 major elements to the Fair Food Program:
- A pay increase supported by the price premium Participating Buyers pay for their tomatoes;
- Compliance with the Code of Conduct, including zero tolerance for forced labor and systemic child labor;
- Worker-to-worker education sessions conducted by the CIW on the farms and on company time to insure workers understand their new rights and responsibilities;
- A worker-triggered complaint resolution mechanism leading to complaint investigation, corrective action plans, and, if necessary, suspension of a farm’s Participating Grower status, and thereby its ability to sell to Participating Buyers;
- A system of Health and Safety volunteers on every farm to give workers a structured voice in the shape of their work environment;
- Specific and concrete changes in harvesting operations to improve workers’ wages and working conditions, including an end to the age-old practice of forced overfilling of picking buckets (a practice which effectively denied workers pay for up to 10% of the tomatoes harvested), shade in the fields, and time clocks to record and count all compensable hours accurately.
- Ongoing auditing of the farms to insure compliance with each element of the FFP.
Some of the methods CIW employs to pressure large retailers and restaurant chains into joining the program include: letter-writing campaigns, massive boycotts, highly-visible store and restaurant protests (not just in Florida, but across the country), and by educating the public about the heinous working conditions of farmworkers in the tomato industry. The group enjoys tremendous support from students, religious groups, labor groups, and community organizations across the United States.
Last week, following a 6-year-long campaign, CIW finally convinced Chipotle Mexican Grill, which operates under the “Food with Integrity” slogan, to sign the Fair Food Agreement, agreeing to pay a pennies-per-pound premium to help raise tomato workers’ wages across the state of Florida. With over 1,200 restaurants and $2.3 billion in revenues, this chain’s signature is a major victory for the FFP movement.
CIW member Nely Rodriguez explains how having powerful corporations like Chipotle as FFP members helps to end farmworker abuse:
“… [I]f there are any human rights violations in Florida’s fields, against women being sexually assaulted, for example, Chipotle now has the responsibility to hold the grower to the code of conduct, and stop the misconduct. There are now market consequences for abuse.” […]
Chipotle joins ten other major corporations who similarly concluded that indirectly profiting from inhumane labor conditions is just not good business:
Yum Brands [includes Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, KFC] (2005), McDonald’s (2007), Burger King (2008), Subway (2008), Whole Foods Market (2008), Bon Appetit Management Company (2009), Compass Group (2009), Aramark (2010), Sodexo (2010), Trader Joe’s (2012), and Chipotle (2012) are participating in the Fair Food Program.
All eleven companies have agreed to pay a premium price for more fairly produced tomatoes, and to shift their Florida tomato purchases to growers who comply with the Fair Food Code of Conduct.
Edits: Per Claire Comiskey (from Interfaith Action in Immokalee — which works closely with CIW), the following errors have been corrected: 1. CIW engaged in a 6-year-long campaign with Chipotle (article previously described as ‘9-year-long campaign’). 2. The nine cases prosecuted for slave labor in the past 15 years occurred within the Florida agricultural industry (article previously reported within the Florida tomato industry).
TRADE DEALS: Obama’s Freudian Slip: I Want To See Us Export More JOBS, … Ah, More Products
Sometimes hidden truths have a way of boomeranging back at the most inopportune times …
Now Obama claims to have accidentally channeled his opponent on that slip, but what is Obama’s true record on crafting the kinds of trade deals that would increase the number of jobs here at home?
Economist Ian Fletcher, in his Huffington Post column, summed up Obama’s NAFTA-style ‘free trade’ agreement with Korea, which passed last year:
You think America has learned its lesson from NAFTA, which the Labor Department has estimated cost us 525,000 jobs? Think again.
Take the Korea agreement, for example. President Obama and the Republican leadership want it despite the fact that the Economic Policy Institute has estimated it will cost us 159,000 more jobs over the next five years.
Yes, you read that correctly. At a time when the president says that his number one economic priority is job creation, and has created an entire commission for that purpose, they’re going ahead with it anyway.
Even the official U.S. International Trade Commission has admitted that KORUS-FTA will cause significant job losses. And not just in low-end industries: the ITC foresees the electronic equipment manufacturing industry, with average wages of $30.38 in 2008, as a major victim.
The supposed logic of America swapping junk jobs for high-end jobs simply isn’t the way the economics really works out. Pace free-market mythology, there are actually well-understood reasons for this, if you dig a little into what economists already know.
Was this the Obama America voted for in 2008?
No. That Obama is at an undisclosed location somewhere. He campaigned against KORUS-FTA during the 2008 campaign. (It was originally negotiated, but not ratified by Congress, by Bush in 2007.) Among other things, that Obama said:
I strongly support the inclusion of meaningful, enforceable labor and environmental standards in all trade agreements. As president, I will work to ensure that the U.S. again leads the world in ensuring that consumer products produced across the world are done in a manner that supports workers, not undermines them.
Nice words. Unfortunately, none of them are reflected in KORUS-FTA, which contains no serious new provisions on these issues.
This agreement is essentially a NAFTA clone. It is, in fact, the biggest trade agreement since NAFTA, and the first since Canada with a developed country.
This agreement, like NAFTA and the dozen or so other free trade agreements America has signed since NAFTA, is fundamentally an offshoring agreement. That is, it is about making it easier for U.S.-based multinationals to move production overseas with confidence in the security of their investments in overseas plants.