Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach

The Dignity of Work and the Trans Pacific Partnership

October 20, 2014

  Michael Bodyke, Economic Justice Intern
Columban Father Peter O'Neill took part in a protest against the abuse of migrant workers in Taiwan.

Columban Father Peter O’Neill took part in a protest against the abuse of migrant workers in Taiwan.

The Catholic Church proclaims human life to be sacred. Today, a threat to life exists in the form of our economy. To clarify how economics is threatening lives, we must first understand how we live. Put simply, we live by transforming our environment to fit our needs. This conscious, intelligent, and creative process is known as the production of wealth. When people are denied dignified work, they are denied life.

The Dignity of Work and the Rights of Workers
The economy must serve people, not the other way around. Work is more than a way to make a living; it is a form of continuing participation in God’s creation. If the dignity of work is to be protected, then the basic rights of workers must be respected–the right to productive work, to decent and fair wages, to the organization and joining of unions, to private property, and to economic initiative.
Themes of Catholic Social Teaching, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

In some communities where Columbans serve, corporations have accumulated capital and land, and workers have control over labor alone. In Taiwan Columbans operate the New Life Workers’ Center and Hope Workers’ Center to advocate for a livable wage for migrant workers. In the Philippines, Columban Father Shay Cullen founded PREDA Profairtrade for fair prices to be paid to producers there.

As corporations grow globally so do their incentives to influence global trade policies. Twenty years ago, President Clinton said the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) would enhance productivity and efficiency. But the opposite happened: corporations benefited from reduced environmental regulations, access to cheaper labor, and access to unprotected markets. Small farmers and small and medium-sized manufacturers were often pushed out markets across the U.S., Canada and Mexico.

Today, private negotiations are being conducted to expand NAFTA to 12 more countries and call it the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). Branded as “NAFTA on steroids” by economic watch dog groups, the TPP includes new rights and privileges for corporations and permanent constraints on government regulations.

Father Michael Gormly, Columban JPIC Coordinator for New Zealand, said “What we know about the TPP, through leaked sources, suggests that it is so hideous that if revealed the public would be outraged and would overwhelmingly oppose it. The TPP is said to give special rights and privileges to corporations. It effectively elevates them to a nation-state status by giving them the ability to over-ride our domestic law. It is an unfettered license for trans-national corporations to come into New Zealand and enforce their will.”

This lack of transparency during negotiations and the threat of the transfer of power from government institutions to private corporations is a concern to Columbans worldwide. At the CCAO, we are prepared to speak with members of Congress if the Obama Administration requests renewal of Trade Promotion Authority- or “fast track.” This would allow the U.S. Trade Representatives to negotiate text with the foreign governments involved in the agreement and to bring it before Congress once completed for them to vote yes or no. There would be no opportunity for members of Congress to change the text. We hope that you will join us in reaching out to your elected officials if the threat of fast track comes up after the election in November. We will let you know!