Was TPP withdrawal a missed opportunity for ethical trade awareness?

  • 15 February 2017
Indonesian garment production line ©ILO

“I’m a ‘turn lemons into lemonade’ type of person,” blogs ETI’s Courtney Brouse. “So even though my home country - the US - seems bent on burning itself to the ground, I’m over here racking my brain for the bright side of things.”

When President Trump withdrew the US from the Trans-Pacific Partnership or TPP a few weeks ago, my “lemonade” was that the media would have an opportunity to address ethical trade and labour rights in its coverage. 

Unfortunately, it didn’t happen then, and it didn’t happen last week when President Shinzo Abe of Japan, a key partner in the TPP, visited the United States.

Listen, I’m no economist, and my understanding of free trade is limited to exchanging your cookies for a bag of crisps at school lunchtime, so I set about learning more about the potential consequences of this move. 

The wider implications of TPP

Every article I read focused on explaining what the TPP is, and the effects of the US’s withdrawal (if you want a simple explanation, you can’t go far wrong with this Guardian explainer).

Yet, while several articles included a line about how the TPP would cause manufacturing jobs to move to countries where labour protections laws were less strict, none expanded on that point.

That being said, I did find this Human Rights Watch blog from a year ago that went into the implications for labour rights. But that was when TPP looked a certainty.

There’s been very little since Mr Trump withdrew from the trade deal, particularly in the mainstream media.

Maybe I’m being too hard on journalists, as I’m sure they’re currently overwhelmed by the ferocity at which Trump spits out 140 characters, but this seems to be a massive missed opportunity. 

  • There could have been an explanation of ethical trade and labour rights. 
  • They could have followed up with an article on ethical trade and the numerous organisations working to promote it. 
  • They could have further explored the link between free trade agreements and their effects on workers. 

Sadly, none of that happened, and the story of TPP has been lost in the news cycles of the past.

Having the conversation

So, what’s the silver lining? 

It’s that the people working to promote ethical trade and workers’ rights don’t only do so when it makes the news. 

They aren’t waiting for the media to initiate the discussion; they’ve been having the conversation. 

And they’re not going to stop.           

For more information on free trade agreements and labour rights, watch our video.


ETI's blog covers issues at the intersection of business, news and ethical trade. We welcome a range of insights and opinions from our guest bloggers, though don't necessarily agree with everything they say.