Tim Newman, Campaigns Assistant, International Labor Rights Forum
With the financial crisis and faltering economy foremost on U.S. voters' minds, one of President-Elect Obama's first decisions will likely be who to appoint as Treasury Secretary. Already, Lawrence Summers' name as been circulating as a top candidate for the position. So who is Summers?
Larry Summers was the chief economist of the World Bank from 1991 to 1993, Treasury Secretary from 1999 to 2001 under Clinton and President of Harvard University from 2001 to 2006. In his positions at the World Bank and as Treasury Secretary, Summers promoted the deregulation policies which laid the groundwork for the current financial crisis. He also expressed many concerning positions related to workers globally. Summers supported NAFTA and was "very troubled" by the protest at the Seattle WTO ministerial in 1999. When questioned about sweatshop labor conditions, Summers said that the workers "chose those conditions because they represent the best available alternative" and asked "Why do people choose the jobs if they're not the best available alternative?" when talking about child laborers in Asian sweatshops. These statements show a total disconnect with the realities and demands of workers internationally. Low-wage workers globally have very little choice when it comes to their working conditions and we need people in government who will stand up to corporations who seek out the most easily exploitable workers and who will enforce labor protections
Meanwhile, Summers is infamous for a memo he wrote while he was chief economist at the World Bank encouraging the dumping of more waste in Africa. One of his arguments is that any health consequences related to toxic pollution should be put on low wage countries because it will have a lower long-term economic cost. He also argues that since the life expectancy is lower anyway in Africa, it makes sense to dump trash there. Yikes. As the media has been picking up again on this story, I couldn't help but think about recent campaigns fighting electronic waste dumping in Ghana, the recent court case related to toxic waste dumping in Ivory Coast and of course, the environmental implications of Firestone's rubber plantation in Liberia.
Summers also came under fire when he was at Harvard for claiming that innate differences between men and women caused fewer women to succeed in carreers in math and science and questioned the role that discrimination plays in this problem. Among other controversies during his time at Harvard, this episode eventually led Summers to step down from his position at Harvard. Women's groups are already expressing their concerns about Summers.
In the 2008 election, voters in the U.S. showed how much they want serious changes in our economic and foreign policy. Global Trade Watch just put out a new report showing that voters overwhelmingly made fair trade principles a major factor in the election. Does Larry Summers represent the change that voters were looking for? Will low-wage workers in the U.S. and around the world benefit from policies promoted by Summers? You can share your own thoughts on this issue through President-Elect Obama's new government website: Change.gov. Let us know what you think in the comments section, too.