Tuesday, March 10, 2009


It is wonderfully encouraging to see that the Obama Administration's new trade representative, former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk, is drawing a hard line on the enforcement of labor rights and environmental protections by our trading partners. (See: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/7934583.stm). This is how we can "export" our treasured American values of freedom, fairness, and human dignity. The laws we have in this country should apply equally to the countries that we trade with. In the heat of the Iraq war the administration said "We don't torture" but then turned over prisoners to Syria, Egypt, and other countries, knowing full well that they would be tortured. (The administration, in some cases, even relied on "confessions" obtained under torture in other countries.) Obviously, this was a subversion of our values. If we don't torture we can't use other countries to do the torturing for us!

The same principle should apply to the exploitation of labor and environment. If we don't exploit labor (well...in theory, anyway) we can't allow other countries to do the exploiting for us. But that is exactly what has occurred under globalization and "free trade". We get most of our consumer goods from countries where working conditions, wages, and environmental degradation are so bad they would never be allowed in the US. Yet, our willingness to ignore those conditions as long as we could get cheap consumer goods has enabled and encouraged horrendous abuses. Obama and Ron Kirk are on the right path to restoring the US as global leader of freedom and democracy by insisting that our trading partners rise to acceptable standards in the way workers and the environment are treated.


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