Statement by Washington State Labor Council President, AFL-CIO, Rick Bender


Friday, April 24, 1998

The Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI) is the latest in a series of trade agreements that would have a dramatic impact on working people in this country and worldwide, yet fails to address even the most fundamental of labor standards to protect those workers. The MAI's potential to have a dramatic global economic impact makes it particularly alarming for organized labor and other advocates for working people.

The AFL-CIO has grown increasingly frustrated that the U.S. government appears to dismiss the concerns of American citizens about the real impact of so-called "free trade" agreements. Despite overwhelming public opposition and lack of support in Congress for President Clinton's "Fast Track" proposal to facilitate trade pact negotiation and approval, our government has yet to show any sign of willingness to address public sentiment that trade agreements should consider the importance of labor and environmental standards.

Instead, the "race to the bottom" continues as nations rush to attract capital investment in ways that increase pressure to lower living standards and weaken environmental safeguards. The reports we have on the still-secret MAI negotiations indicate it goes so far in protecting the rights of international investors that it could actually allow corporations to sue governments if they believe national, state or local laws pose a barrier to investment. This would place every existing labor and environmental standard in jeopardy.

MAI negotiators are scrambling to come up with a proposal that will generate consensus on protecting the environment and labor standards, but so far those proposals are merely to legally oblige signatory states not to compete for inward investment by lowering such standards. Why isn't there any discussion of requiring signatories to raise labor and environmental standards to a minimum level considered internationally acceptable?

Our members know they benefit from international trade, especially in Washington state. They also know that expanding trade opportunities will help maintain and create good jobs in this state. But our members have told us time and time again that they are not willing, to jepordize their rights, and the ability of workers in other countries to win similar rights, in the name of "free" trade.

The AFL-CIO will continue to oppose any treaty that considers only the welfare of corporations and ignores the welfare of citizens and their environment. That doesn't make us and other opponents of these treaties "protectionists." It makes us advocates for human rights and for fair trade policies that benefit everyone, not just the corporate interests at the negotiating tables behind closed doors.

-Rick Bender, Washington State Labor Council President, AFL-CIO