Bipartisan TPP Letter Sent to President

Dec 13, 2013 Issues: Global Trade

Lawmakers concerned with Vietnam’s record on human rights

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, Representatives Mike Michaud (D-Maine) and Chris Smith (R-NJ) sent a bipartisan letter signed by their colleagues to President Obama expressing deep concern with Vietnam’s record on human rights, particularly in the areas of civil and political rights, labor rights, and religious freedoms.

“Improving Vietnam’s commitment to human rights should be a top policy priority of the United States. We understand the Administration believes the TPP negotiations present an opportunity to address some of these issues. We are skeptical, however, that meaningful improvement can be made unless Vietnam’s participation is contingent upon tangible improvement on the ground and verifiable confirmation that they have fully met the high standards in the agreement,” wrote Michaud and his colleagues.

In their letter, the lawmakers requested an explanation of the inclusion of Vietnam in the Trans-Pacific Partnership and an assessment of the changes the Administration expects to see in the country’s commitment to freedom of expression, association, and religion once trade benefits are granted under the agreement. In addition, they urged the Administration not to implement TPP with Vietnam until the people of Vietnam can fully exercise their fundamental civil, political, labor, and religious rights.

The full text of the letter sent today can be found below.

December 13, 2013

President Obama
The White House
Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear President Obama:

We write to express our deep concern with Vietnam’s record on human rights, particularly in the areas of civil and political rights, labor rights, and religious freedoms. As the negotiations of the Trans-Pacific Partnership progress, we fear the agreement will not adequately address Vietnam’s limitations of civil liberties and political rights, violations of core labor standards, and restrictions on religious worship.  

Vietnam’s abuse of political and civil rights is well documented. The Communist Party of Vietnam governs the country by authoritarian rule, and the State Department has identified ongoing, severe government restrictions of human rights. For example, the government continues to detain and arrest individuals who speak out on human rights and politics. Recently, the trend in Vietnam has worsened significantly; in the first six weeks of 2013 alone, forty people were convicted in political trials, which is as many as were convicted in all of 2012. Internet access remains tightly controlled and heavily monitored for anti-government content, and the government does not allow local human rights organizations to exist.
 
Vietnam’s poor labor standards are equally troubling. The country fails to ensure freedom of association and the right to collectively bargain, either in law or in practice. The Department of Labor has identified Vietnam as having child and forced labor in the garment sector and child labor in the brick sector. Even worse, DOL and the Department of Homeland Security have determined that some Vietnam-made garments have been made with forced or indentured child labor. In the State Department’s most recent report on human trafficking, it noted that labor export companies affiliated with state-owned enterprises have been known to engage in labor trafficking activities. The Worker Rights Consortium has also detailed violations of international labor standards in Vietnam, including the country’s repression of independent unions, excessive working hours, and harsh working conditions.  In addition, Human Rights Watch has documented the ongoing use of forced labor in drug detention centers.  

Religious freedoms are regularly compromised in Vietnam as well. While the constitution provides for freedom of worship, the State Department claims that ordinances prohibit religion or beliefs determined to undermine the country.  These same policies authorize suspension of religious activities if they negatively affect the country’s cultural tradition.  Religious groups have to register all of their activities, and the government uses this process to limit or undermine them.  Some Christian groups told the State Department that they have faced harassment when they tried to organize Christmas services, and some individuals remain imprisoned for exercising their religious freedoms.  

Improving Vietnam’s commitment to human rights should be a top policy priority of the United States. We understand the Administration believes the TPP negotiations present an opportunity to address some of these issues. We are skeptical, however, that meaningful improvement can be made unless Vietnam’s participation is contingent upon tangible improvement on the ground and verifiable confirmation that they have fully met the high standards in the agreement. The TPP is likely to increase demand for Vietnamese exports and expand foreign investment in the country.  Without ensuring that dramatic advances are made to protect the basic rights of Vietnamese citizens up front, the TPP will exacerbate the country’s existing failure to protect civil, political, labor, and religious rights.

For those reasons, we request an explanation of the inclusion of Vietnam in the Trans-Pacific Partnership and an assessment of the changes the Administration expects to see in the country’s commitment to freedom of expression, association, and religion once trade benefits are granted under the agreement.  In addition, we urge the Administration not to implement TPP with Vietnam until the people of Vietnam can fully exercise their fundamental civil, political, labor, and religious rights.

Sincerely,

MICHAEL H. MICHAUD         CHRISTOPHER H. SMITH
DANA ROHRABACHER        ZOE LOFGREN
FRANK R. WOLF                 FRANK A. LOBIONDO
ALAN S. LOWENTHAL         PAUL COOK
AMI BERA                            ILEANA ROS-LEHTINEN