Labourers work at a garment factory in Bac Giang province, near Hanoi October 21, 2015. 
Nguyen Huy Kham / Reuters

Malaysia’s inclusion in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement has given human rights advocates cause for concern. Until last year, the U.S. State Department classified the country as a Tier 3 violator of human rights in its annual Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP). That ranking situated Malaysia among the world’s worst offenders and would have prevented Washington from fast-tracking the TPP’s ratification due to recent federal law. And so, when the State Department suddenly upgraded Malaysia to Tier 2 Watch List status in 2015, which let Washington move forward with the fast track, human rights groups suggested that foreign and trade policy concerns were behind the change. 

If the allegations are true, it is discouraging that Washington has softened its stance on Malaysian human rights violations. There is still reason to hope, however, that the United States could leverage Kuala Lumpur into improving its labor conditions through trade. If Washington ratifies the TPP, the treaty’s side agreements with member nations, including Malaysia, would encourage countries to adhere to international standards on forced labor. Perhaps more important, the recent move to close a loophole in the Tariff Act of 1930 has empowered domestic agencies to further prevent goods made with

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