The Jobs, Racial Justice and Consumer Privacy
Implications of Digital Trade Agreements
Recent and pending U.S. trade agreements have chapters on digital trade that could have far-reaching implications for jobs and the economy, racial justice, consumer rights and more in the United States and around the world.
These Digital Trade Agreements are often presented as a means of helping small- and medium-sized businesses reach more potential customers over the Internet. In reality, these trade provisions are an effort by some of the largest global corporations to lock-in rules that enable them to dominate the digital economy of the future at the expense of public-interest concerns. This rule making is not being driven by mom-and-pop businesses, but rather by mega-corporations along the lines of Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple and many others.
Sparking an Explosion in Service Sector Offshoring
The offshoring of U.S. service sector jobs has risen steadily in recent years, and that trend is poised to become even worse if Digital Trade Agreements proposed under the Trump administration are allowed to move forward.
The Biden administration will need to decide relatively quickly whether it will continue with negotiations that threaten to lock-in trade rules that facilitate the offshoring of jobs throughout the digital economy, or chart a different course for digital trade that prioritizes job creation, consumer privacy and respect for human rights.
While manufacturing jobs continue to be those hit hardest by offshoring, over a quarter million service-sector jobs in professions like call centers, computer programming and more have also been lost to offshoring over the past decade.
According to U.S. Labor Department data:
- Nearly 45% of jobs lost to offshoring today are in the service sector.
- The total number of service-sector jobs lost to offshoring annually has nearly doubled over the last five years.
- A cumulative 250,456 service-sector jobs were offshored between 2000 and 2019.
Digital Trade Agreements currently under consideration are designed to ensure that corporations can transmit consumer data across borders completely unencumbered — something that will make the offshoring of digital economy jobs even easier than it is already.
If new Digital Trade deals are enacted, they will establish a framework under which a wide range of digital economy service industries — including call centers, retail, transportation, delivery, education, healthcare, financial services and more — will become even more vulnerable to offshoring.
Concealing Discriminatory Practices
Corporations have pushed for Digital Trade Agreements to include rules that bar countries from demanding access to their source codes and algorithms — a move that makes tracking and safeguarding against biases in new technologies extremely difficult.
High-tech red-lining can affect which individuals and communities are offered access to everything from home loans to education opportunities to job postings to medical treatments — as well as what rates different people pay for similar goods and services.
As governments turn to private corporations for aid with “predictive policing” and similar surveillance, law enforcement and security functions, the inability of regulators, academics, civil society and the public to access and review the underlying technology further shelters oppressive practices from scrutiny, criticism and dismantling.
Underminding Consumer Privacy and Evading Liability
Digital Trade provisions that allow for cross-border data transfers also make it easier for companies to evade local consumer privacy rights, an increasingly serious issue that affects not only things like individuals’ addresses, social security numbers and online passwords, but also their personal finances, medical and genetic information, Internet browser histories and more.
The ability to store such data anywhere across the globe, free from regulation, would also help companies evade legal liability for potential security breaches.
Get involved. Stay informed.
You can help combat service-sector offshoring, discrimination and abuses of privacy by staying informed and spreading the word about trade justice issues like pending Digital Trade Agreements. We need to grow popular demand for trade rules that prioritize consumer protection, algorithm oversight, corporate liability, services regulation, as well as stronger labor and environmental protections.
The Trade Justice Education Fund offers many opportunities for you and your members to get informed and to help us inform others:
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Webinars on Digital Trade Rules: