In Hillary Clinton’s fascinating new memoir “Hard Choices” about her work as Secretary of State under President Obama, she devotes a section to the issue of what she calls a “more open trading system,” arguing that it has lifted “more people out of poverty in the last thirty five years than any comparable time in history.” She quickly adds, knowing that the labor movement has looked with dismay at so called “free trade agreements” that have shipped jobs overseas to places where the pay is a fraction of ours, that she is “determined to do everything [she can] do to help American businesses and workers seize more of the legitimate opportunities already available.”
I was glad to read from the woman who may be the first viable female candidate for President that she puts a priority on raising standards in foreign markets on key issues like labor rights and environmental protection. She also notes that, “For too long we’d seen companies closing factories and leaving the United States because they could do business more cheaply in foreign countries where they didn’t have to pay workers a living wage or abide by U.S. rules on pollution.” In response, she believes that “using diplomacy and trade negotiations to raise standards abroad could help change that calculus.”
These are exactly the concerns that consumer groups have expressed through the Trans Atlantic Consumer Dialogue about the trade negotiations between the European Union Countries and the U.S.. We want our safety, health, and environmental regulations strengthened – not watered down – through the negotiation process.
Clinton feels “particularly passionate about improving working conditions around the world” and that she had met workers, “many of them women and even children, who labored under atrocious conditions.” Her observation that the most “heartbreaking were victims of human trafficking and forced labor that amounts to modern-day slavery,” hit close to home given NCL’s history of working to eradicate child labor. She talks about a meeting with women workers coordinated by the Solidarity Center in Cambodia. The Solidarity Center is an active member of the Child Labor Coalition, which NCL coordinates. She talked about children forced to “tend fields, bake bricks, and beg in the street,” and the scourge of child trafficking for sex. She event mentions her appointment of Ambassador Luis CdeBaca to “ramp up our global anti-trafficking efforts,” which he has done with a passion. Indeed, CdeBaca spoke at a recent CLC meeting about his work.
Finally, I loved that Clinton gave inspiration to labor activists in Bangladesh by reflecting on our own U.S. labor history, noting “You go back to the 19th and early 20th century when labor unions were just getting started…we passed laws at the beginning of the 20th century against child labor, against too many hours for people to work, but that took time. It took time to develop a sense of political will to address those issues.”
Clinton has written an important book but it’s also a page-turner. I learned more about how the U.S. makes decisions about foreign policy from this one tome – at 600 pages it IS a tome – than from anything else I’ve read. But most satisfying for me was the acknowledgement she gives to keeping front and center some core U.S. values – workers’ rights, safety, and environmental protection concerns in our interactions with nations abroad.