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Fifteen Years After 'Battle Of Seattle,' Labor Groups Raise Concerns About New Trade Deals

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Friends of the Earth International
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Sunday marks the 15th anniversary of the World Trade Organization meeting that brought tens of thousands of protesters to Seattle. Now labor groups are once again sounding the alarm that new trade deals being negotiated may leave workers behind. 

The Obama administration has made new trade agreements a high priority, including one with Japan, New Zealand and other countries called the Trans-Pacific Partnership. With Republican majorities about to control both houses of Congress, reaching that trade deal seems more likely.

Business groups, including the Washington Council on International Trade, whose members include Boeing, Microsoft and Weyerhaeuser, say it would benefit the state’s economy.

But labor unions are concerned. Celeste Drake, trade and globalization policy specialist with the AFL-CIO, says new trade agreements need stronger provisions for investigating labor conditions.

"If they’re serious about defending labor rights, they need to constantly be monitoring labor rights and there needs to be a dialogue with all of the countries all of the time saying what are you doing to protect workers and how is that going," Drake said.

Drake says governments should copy universities that have been more aggressive about investigating overseas factories to make sure clothes are not being made in sweatshops.

She says the AFL-CIO right now is focused on trying to persuade Congress not to pass so-called fast track trade promotion authority. That would allow the president to bring a trade agreement to Congress for a vote without it being amended, something business groups say is needed. 

In July 2017, Ashley Gross became KNKX's youth and education reporter after years of covering the business and labor beat. She joined the station in May 2012 and previously worked five years at WBEZ in Chicago, where she reported on business and the economy. Her work telling the human side of the mortgage crisis garnered awards from the Illinois Associated Press and the Chicago Headline Club. She's also reported for the Alaska Public Radio Network in Anchorage and for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.