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Slavery and the Supply Chain

[ 29 ] July 4, 2016 |

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Yet another way to celebrate American awesomeness today before you blow off your fingers and, even worse, put ketchup on your hot dogs, is to remember how we rely on global slavery and other forms of labor exploitation to make the products we use everyday, probably including what you are wearing right now, your fireworks, the bandages to be used when you blow off your fingers, etc.

I like reading corporate perspectives on these issues, which can be very telling. This is an interesting essay on slavery in the ASEAN nations, warning companies to be aware of the labor conditions in the individual countries where they choose to source their production because a lot of them are afflicted with slave labor that the company may not want to be associated with, regardless of the cost. Thus, the article suggests that Bangladesh might not be where a company wants to go. Instead, it suggests Vietnam and Indonesia and low-cost (nearly zero cost?) alternatives without a lot of forced labor that are better than those high-priced nations like Thailand and the Philippines. Of course, the idea that Thailand and the Philippines, two very poor nations, have labor costs that are too high is another reason why manufacturing simply is not going to lead to wealth for poor nations.

The U.S. government might be willing to make statements on these issues–so long as the nation in question isn’t actually very important to American trade. The U.S. is telling Ghana to clean up its act with regards to child slavery, or face some consequences.

n the 2016 Global Slavery Index, Ghana ranks 13 out of 15 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa and the 34th country with the most modern slaves out of 167 countries in the world. The United States government on Thursday warned Ghana to increase its efforts to end modern day slavery or risk losing millions of dollars in aid.

The county has been listed for the second year in a row as a Tier 2 Watch List country in the 2016 Trafficking in Persons Report released on Thursday by U.S. State Department.

Child trafficking and forced labor remains a significant problem in Ghana with both the total number and the proportion of children in child labor increasing in recent years.

Data from the Ghana Statistical Service indicate that 1.9 million children aged 5-17 are engaged in child labor with 1.2 million of the children engaged in hazardous labor.

Ah, the Trafficking in Humans Watch List. Good thing the Obama administration is super consistent here, having jumped Malaysia from Tier 3 to Tier 2 so that it could include that nation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, immediately after a huge number of bodies of trafficked labor were found in that nation.

So maybe Ghana should be scared. After all, it doesn’t have a fancy trade agreement with the U.S. at stake.

Really, the Malaysia human trafficking score is one of the very worst moments of Obama foreign policy, in my view far worse than Honduras, where I guess Hillary was supposed to call for an invasion of that nation to restore the Zelaya government or something. I didn’t know that the left now supported U.S. invasions of Latin America, but in any case, while the Honduras case bathes Clinton or Obama in no great glory, there options were quite limited short of invasion, whereas in Malaysia, the Obama administration had lots of options and chose a very bad one.

Incidentally, the image above is by Darrin Bell, whose work you may find interesting.

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  • Murc

    Erik, you’re either not drunk enough yet or way, way too drunk.

    Either way it’s leading to some quality posting.

    • Having gained a few pounds on vacation, I’ve been not drinking the last few days. So maybe that’s the explanation.

      • William Berry

        What!?

        Not drinking on Independence Day, of all days! How un-American can you get?

        Excellent post btw, high-lighting the most disgusting aspect of Obama’s trade policy.

        • ThrottleJockey

          The post is fine. The choice of picture is…offensive as all hell. Depicting our only black president as a slave master is outrageous. The cotton field makes it especially vile. Was George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, or Andrew Jackson not available?

          • Clearly this is what you should be outraged about and not the Obama administration effectively accepting slavery in Malaysia.

            • ThrottleJockey

              You’ve attacked TPP without using offensive imagery before, Erik, I’m sure you could’ve done so again. Even Trump withdrew his Tweet bashing Hillary and used a different symbol when it became clear that the 6 pointed star he used offended people. And you’re a lot better than Trump…I’m hoping you were just too tired on a national holiday to see why people might find it offensive. It can be hard to see how provocative these things are sometimes so I hope you understand how this image comes across.

              • The artist is African-American.

                Not to mention it is not offensive under any definition.

                • JDM

                  I happen to think our president pushing to accept slavery in Malaysia is a tad more offensive than the picture.

                  I also think it’s a bit late to get slave-owners from 200 years ago to stop; maybe not too late to stop it going on right now. Or to at least have our country not lend official support to it.

                  But OTOH, if we use a picture that points out that this is a current problem which our current president is on the wrong side of, instead of some long-dead guys, how can we comfortably pretend that it’s a past problem.

                  (And what exactly would the connection of Washington, Jefferson, or Jackson be to current slavery in Malaysia?)

                • ThrottleJockey

                  Yeah, you beat me to it. I was just coming back to edit my post to say that that doesn’t matter–like hearing me use the N-word…Bell might be a bit of shock jock (“I cast against type to tell dynamic stories“), and he’s shocked this viewer. I think the image speaks for itself, the LGM masses can decide. You manage your brand as you see fit. I’ve dropped my 2 cents and now I’m hoping to eat a spot of BBQ before I head back to the hospital. Hope you enjoy your holiday.

                • Malaclypse

                  before I head back to the hospital

                  I hope all is well with you and yours.

  • shewasthenaz

    I suppose it’s encouraging that corporations recognize that slavery can bring with it negative pubic relations consequences.

    Of course, you can still make your clothes in Saipan, which is not covered by American labor laws, and slap “Made in the USA” on them, can’t you?

    I’m not up on the situation with Saipan – they might have finally changed that. But I doubt it.

    • I believe that is still the case, yes, although its garment industry has collapsed in the last decade or so.

  • Gregor Sansa

    where I guess Hillary was supposed to call for an invasion of that nation to restore the Zelaya government or something. I didn’t know that the left now supported U.S. invasions of Latin America, but in any case, while the Honduras case bathes Clinton or Obama in no great glory, there options were quite limited short of invasion,

    The US could have stood up for democracy. That is: “There has been a coup. We will freeze all military aid, and all visas for the elite, until there is a democratically-elected government again. That means real democracy, including a free press in the lead-up to the election, and at least a nominal roll-back of the coup. We are prepared to keep this freeze for as long as it takes.”

    Making it about military aid and elite visas doesn’t prevent all collateral damage, but it does keep the pressure up, while keeping the damage from being widespread. I believe this would have worked, in that Honduras and the region would be better off today, though still worse-off than before the coup.

    And really, “the only options are invasions, broad economic sanctions, or nothing” is pretty pathetic reasoning. I’m not a state-department pro and I came up with the above in a couple of minutes. I’m not going to claim that it’s the best possible plan, but it is a plan, and there’s more where that came from.

    • And I would basically support all of that. It’s just that I don’t think the criticism of Clinton is so much over her actions in Honduras–a nation which almost no one who is criticizing her knows anything at all about. It’s about that she’s Hillary Clinton and not a leftist.

      • Phil Perspective

        It’s just that I don’t think the criticism of Clinton is so much over her actions in Honduras–a nation which almost no one who is criticizing her knows anything at all about. It’s about that she’s Hillary Clinton and not a leftist.

        Are you serious?!? We know plenty. We know that the US will not tolerate any leftist government, if it can help it, in either Central or South America. I know you know that, so stop acting stupid.

        • Problem A) Zelaya was not a leftist.

          Problem B) It is not 1954. The U.S. has not invaded a Latin American nation in over 20 years.

          Problem C) There’s no evidence that the CIA launched this coup through covert operations.

          Time to update this tired Cold War rhetoric.

          • Bootsie

            B-b-but it’s Latin America! Surely they can’t make mistakes on their own! It must’ve been those dastardly Americans!

            • It’s factually impossible for a coup to happen in Latin America without nefarious U.S. assistance. Factually impossible.

              • Bootsie

                Unless it’s a vaguely leftist coup, at which point it was clearly a homegrown thing and you should give 100% support to it no matter what or else you’re a filthy neoliberal demagogue.

                • Hugo Chavez was the greatest human in known history.

          • Gregor Sansa

            To be scrupulously fair, if Zelaya hadn’t had a whiff of leftism about him, the US (that is, Clinton’s state department) would probably have pushed harder for his reinstatement. A Clinton tambien le comen los sesos los zombis neoliberales, aunque sea un poquito.

            • Certainly the fact that Zelaya was playing nice with Chavez didn’t endear him to the U.S. I’m not sure that if Zelaya had overthrown a right-winger in a coup that the U.S. actions would have been all that much different in the end.

    • ThrottleJockey

      Freezing military aid and all that other stuff may not realistically work. Foreign aid is less than 2% of the federal budget as I recall so its not much of a cudgel…If there’s anything we can see from Obama’s strategy in Syria, its that he doesn’t believe we have a strong ability to push foreign nations. He leaned on Mubarak and got worse in return. So I think he’s in the skeptical camp.

      • Ahuitzotl

        Foreign aid is less than 2% of the federal budget as I recall so its not much of a cudgel

        Um, it really depends what proportion of the recipients budget US foreign aid amounts to, to determine the weight of the cudgel – that it’s a trivialish amount to the US is irrelevant.

        Not that i think in the case of Honduras it would have been effective anyway.

  • heckblazer

    Speaking of blowing your fingers off, Slate has an article on the horrible conditions in Chinese fireworks factories. They’re the second most dangerous industry in China after coal mining, and they also supply an estimated 90% of the world’s fireworks. So have fun!

    • Good times.

    • ThrottleJockey

      Only the 2nd worst? Are they pouring kerosene down their coal mines now?

      • Colin Day

        Perhaps Don Blankenship is just too safety conscious for the Chinese.

      • Ahuitzotl

        like parts of Appalachia, black lung disease doesnt exist in China.