Congressman Jim McGovern

Representing the 2nd District of Massachussetts
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McGovern: Trade Deals Should Never Trump Human Rights

Jul 29, 2015
Press Release
McGovern, Pitts Bipartisan Statement Condemns U.S. Move to Upgrade Malaysia Human Rights Rating Ahead of Trans-Pacific Partnership Trade Deal

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Congressmen Jim McGovern (D-MA) and Joe Pitts (R-PA) – Co-Chairmen of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission – released the following joint bipartisan statement regarding the State Department’s upgrading of Malaysia to a Tier 2 Watch country in its latest Trafficking in Persons report.

The move comes as the Obama administration pushes to complete the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade deal between the U.S. and 11 countries, including Malaysia.

Excerpts from the Joint Bipartisan Statement from Congressmen McGovern and Pitts:

“This decision could undermine the global fight to end modern-day slavery by leaving the impression that political considerations have been prioritized over basic human rights

The Administration’s decision to upgrade Malaysia, in spite of Congressional concerns, raises questions about the political impartiality of the report. Malaysia is one of the 12 nations involved in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations and its upgrade to the Tier 2 watch list comes as TPP negotiators seek to pave the way for Malaysia’s participation in the trade pact. 

We call on the Department of State to publicly reveal the criteria and factual basis used to justify the upgrade in the ranking in accordance with the Trafficking Victims Protection Act as amended. Finally, we emphasize the need for bold human rights and anti-trafficking policies that can bring about real progress in Asia as the United States seeks closer relations with the region, including through the Trans-Pacific Partnership.”

Full Joint Bipartisan Statement from Congressmen McGovern and Pitts is Below:

“As Co-Chairs of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, we express our deep disappointment over the State Department’s decision, in the newest State Department Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report, to upgrade Malaysia from the lowest ranking of Tier 3 to a Tier 2 Watch country. This decision could undermine the global fight to end modern-day slavery by leaving the impression that political considerations have been prioritized over basic human rights. 

“Last July 17th, we were among the 160 Members of Congress who wrote to Secretary Kerry to emphasize the importance of the TIP report, which has become the global gold standard for assessing how well governments are doing in meeting the challenge of human trafficking. At that time, we warned that we saw nothing that would justify upgrading Malaysia’s ranking, and that such a decision could undermine the credibility of the TIP report. The Administration’s decision to upgrade Malaysia, in spite of Congressional concerns, raises questions about the political impartiality of the report. Malaysia is one of the 12 nations involved in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations and its upgrade to the Tier 2 watch list comes as TPP negotiators seek to pave the way for Malaysia’s participation in the trade pact. 

“The TIP report states that “the Government of Malaysia does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking, however, it is making significant efforts to do so.” Yet the report also observes that practices such as “restricted movement, wage fraud, contract violations, passport confiscation and imposition of significant debts by recruitment agents or employers” are widespread, while trafficking convictions in Malaysia declined from 2013 to 2014. These facts are alarming, as Malaysia is a major destination for foreign workers from Indonesia, Bangladesh, the Philippines, Nepal, and Burma, who migrate in search of economic opportunities but become vulnerable to forced labor and sexual exploitation. The Rohingya refugee population within Malaysia is exceptionally vulnerable to trafficking. In May 2015, the discovery of 139 graves in jungle trafficking camps near the border with Thailand sparked international outcry, as did the subsequent revelation that thousands of Rohingya migrants were held ransom in such camps. 

“We reiterate our disappointment with the Administration’s decision to upgrade Malaysia’s TIP ranking. We call on the Department of State to publicly reveal the criteria and factual basis used to justify the upgrade in the ranking in accordance with the Trafficking Victims Protection Act as amended. Finally, we emphasize the need for bold human rights and anti-trafficking policies that can bring about real progress in Asia as the United States seeks closer relations with the region, including through the Trans-Pacific Partnership.”

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