Trans-Pacific Partnership does not live up to labour promises: study

July 21, 2016

OTTAWA Far from being a pro-labour trade deal, as the Canadian and U.S. governments claim, a new study from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives shows the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) makes little effort to improve labour standards and offers workers a toothless dispute processes compared to the strong investment protections elsewhere in the agreement.

“Based on our history with NAFTA and other deals, and our reading of the TPP text, we can only conclude the TPP will reproduce an ineffective labour rights regime while further expanding a free trade model that has perpetuated labour rights violations across the world,” says Angella MacEwen, economist with the Canadian Labour Congress and co-author, with Carleton University professor Laura Macdonald, of the new report, Does the TPP Work for Workers?

As outlined in the study, the TPP labour chapter is modelled on earlier labour accords or chapters, which remain largely ineffective for addressing labour rights violations, and fail to counteract the negative impacts on working people of other, stronger provisions in contemporary trade agreements. As the International Labour Organization (ILO) pointed out recently, “no complaint has given rise to a decision of a dispute settlement body or even led to sanctions.”

“In Mexico, the country that might have been expected to benefit most from NAFTA’s labour side-agreement, systematic violations of labour rights abound in a broader context of widespread human rights violations that have escalated rapidly in the country over the past 10 years,” says Macdonald. “The most serious problem faced by Mexican trade unions is the failure of the Mexican government to enforce labour and other laws, particularly those around freedom of association and collective bargaining. There is nothing in either NAFTA or the TPP to help Mexican workers in this respect.”

MacEwan and Macdonald’s study points out the following:

  • The TPP requirement to adopt and maintain fundamental labour rights is undermined by a footnote clarifying these can be defined differently depending on the country, based on “acceptable conditions of work as determined by that Party”;
  • Countries are required to enforce fundamental labour rights, but workers, individuals or other groups must show a “sustained or recurring course of action or inaction in a manner affecting trade or investment between the parties” to wage a complaint under the TPP—an unnecessarily difficult hurdle;
  • A non-derogation clause, which says countries “recognize that it is inappropriate to encourage trade or investment by weakening or reducing” labour laws, including by lowering minimum wages, appears to only apply within export processing zones (EPZs); and
  • The dispute process in the labour chapter is difficult to access, forcing workers through a lengthy co-operation (Article 19.10), co-operative labour dialogue (Article 19.11) and labour consultations (Article 19.15) before a Party to the TPP can request a dispute settlement panel on the workers’ behalf.

“It is unfortunate that while business groups were regularly consulted throughout the TPP negotiating process, labour unions in Canada were given little opportunity to put their alternative proposals on the table,” says MacEwen. “Although the TPP labour chapter is a slight improvement on NAFTA in that it includes a dispute process directly into the agreement, it could not hope to mediate the negative impacts on workers of modern trade and investment agreements.”


Does the TPP Work for Workers? is the latest study in the CCPA’s ongoing research series on the TPP, What’s the Big Deal: Understanding the Trans-Pacific Partnership and is available on the CCPA website at

For more information, contact Kerri-Anne Finn, CCPA Director of Communications, at 613-563-1341 x306.