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Fighting Child Labor in the Global Supply Chain During the Trump Era

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One of the many things I’ve personally been reckoning with in the past few weeks is how the shocking (although I am disappointed in myself for being so shocked) election of Donald Trump is how it impacts my larger mission of trying to reform the global supply chain and create international accountability to hold corporations responsible for what happens in those supply chains. But I realized that it actually doesn’t really matter very much. Yes, Donald Trump is going to be terrible on these issues, just like every other matter of both work and international relations. But you know what? It’s not like Barack Obama was exactly good on taming the exploitation in the global supply chain. Reclassifying Malaysia’s human rights rating even after mass graves of migrant labor were found just so it could be included in the Trans-Pacific Partnership was pretty bloody awful. The inclusion of the Investor State Dispute Settlement courts in said agreement, Obama’s top late-term foreign policy priority, was another. In international labor and trade agreements generally, the U.S. government is the single biggest obstacle to meaningful reform, even under a Democratic administration. The fight might be a little harder on this issue under Trump than under Hillary Clinton, but I never had actual confidence that Clinton would do the right thing on these issues either.

So this Amnesty International report on child labor in Indonesian palm oil plantations, with kids providing the goods for big western companies like Unilever, NestlĂ©, and Proctor and Gamble is as depressing as always, but doesn’t really affect me too differently at this point than it did before the election. Ultimately, we still have to articulate the just world we want to see and fight for that. We can’t let all of our energy just go into fighting the outrage du jour. Of course, we do need to fight those outrages with everything we have, but we also need to keep our eyes on the prize of a truly just world and keep talking about what needs to happen for children in Indonesia and how to hold Proctor and Gamble accountable for their role in exploiting them. Because someday, maybe, we will actually have the ability to make that world happen.

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