EDITORIAL: On reaping fruits of child, slave labor
Bill that bans products made through coercion finally passes
Oftentimes the idea of slavery is limited to the United States’ atrocious historic practice that ended in 1865 with the 13th amendment, and modern-day slavery is presumed to not exist or is simply out of social consciousness. Even well into the 21st century, unfair and abhorrent labor practices still continue: forced labor and child labor. From small children in Tanzania gold mining — extremely dangerous work that risks death from explosion, rock falls and tunnel collapse — to slaves in Thailand who are abused, drugged and caged with no pay for their efforts to catch seafood. Marginalized people all over the world have been reduced to pawns in an illegal scheme that earns $150 million for those responsible for the forced labor market.
The U.S. is now taking a strong stance against slave labor practices as President Barack Obama signed a law in late February that closed a loophole in the Tariff Act of 1930, and it’s putting pressure on countries that overlook coercive labor practices or, worse yet, acknowledge its existence on their territory but unabashedly allow it to continue. Embedded in the trade enforcement bill that Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) presented last year is the “prohibition on the importation of goods made with convict labor, forced labor or indentured labor,” and before this bill the loophole in the Tariff Act of 1930 allowed these products to be imported into the U.S. as long as the items were in short supply in the country. Although this prohibition is only in the U.S., it sets an example for other nations to follow in its steps. Also the loss of America’s demand for goods made from coerced labor means that this $150 million of illegal profits is going to take a hit.
This is a milestone in terms of raising and sticking to ethical standards, but its implementation is questionable. The law that’s been signed is going to ban 136 goods from 74 countries, according to the recommendations of the U.S. Department of Labor, from being accepted into the country but verifying whether goods are produced from coerced labor is going to be difficult. Some instances may prove to be obvious, but there are some more inconspicuous slave labor practices. In an example that took part in our very own University, 24 members of Rutgers United Students Against Sweatshops (Rutgers USAS) marched to Old Queens to discuss with University President Robert L. Barchi Rutgers’ contract with Nike and the company’s labor practices. Nike refused members of the Workers’ Rights Consortium, an independent factory-monitoring association, access to its factories, which signals the possibility of inhumane working conditions and would then be a breach of contract with the University. Rutgers USAS encouraged Barchi to give Nike a warning to reverse policies or terminate the contract if the demands aren’t met. Rutgers already had this established agreement with Nike that stipulates against the use of sweatshops, but the lack of transparency persisted on the part of Nike and required the lobbying efforts of a student organization to hold the company accountable. To avoid scrutiny corporations are unequivocally going to work harder to make their labor practices and their working conditions obscure.
We treat the issue of U.S. slavery with wide disdain. Imagine an attempt to bring back this abolished practice in the country — the backlash it would incite is unfathomable. However, when it comes to people outside the country producing cheap items (deceptively so, since it’s at the grand cost of the risk and danger to the lives of workers), people are more likely to accept it because they’re spatially and socially detached from the acts. The law that’s been passed may not catch all of the coerced labor practices on its radar, but it’s an improvement to the current situation.
The Daily Targum's editorials represent the views of the majority of the 148th editorial board. Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.