Civil society groups oppose Big Tech e-commerce initiative in WTO

April 3, 2019: Over three hundred labour unions, consumer advocates and environmental organizations from all continents sent a letter on April 1, 2019, to World Trade Organization member nations expressing a "profound and urgent opposition" to talks that would establish new rules on digital trade.

The letter argues that binding rules in the agreement would allow big tech firms to “consolidate its exploitative business model”. It also raised issues on labor rights and tax avoidance by such firms.

The letter details how Big Tech companies would access markets globally; extracting and controlling personal, social, and business data around the world; locking-in deregulation and evading future regulation; accessing an unlimited supply of “gig economy” labor stripped of its rights; expanding its power through monopolies; and evading the payment of taxes. The proposed rules thus represent a grave threat to development, human rights, labor, and shared prosperity around the world.

“We thus urge WTO members to abandon their push for digital trade negotiations in the WTO and focus urgently on transforming global trade rules for shared prosperity for all”, the letter concluded.

Australia has just signed the TPP-11 and Free Trade Agreements with Indonesia and Hong Kong which have e-commerce chapters reflecting the demands of Big Tech.

Australian signatories are the Australian Council of Trade Unions, AFTINET, the Community & Public Sector Union – State Public Services Federation, the NSW Nurses & Midwives Association, Union Aid Abroad – APHEDA and The Grail.

Global and regional organisation signatories include the International Trade Union Confederation, the International Transport Workers Federation, the International Union of Food Workers, the Public Services International, Education International, the European Council of Public Service Unions, International Grail Justice in Trade Agreements Network, IBON International, Focus on the Global South, Global Alliance for Tax Justice, Asia Pacific Research Network and Civil Society Coalition for Sustainable Development.