Tim Newman, Campaigns Director, International Labor Rights Forum
Recently, Rachel Maddow picked up on an article written by David Sirota about how business groups are lobbying against provisions in a customs bill that contains provisions banning the importation of goods produced by convict labor, forced labor or forced or indentured child labor. Check out the video below (and there's a transcript here).
As Sirota and Maddow note, the report in Inside US Trade stated that:
Business groups are worried by the potential effects of provisions banning the import of all goods made with convict labor, forced labor, or forced or indentured child labor that were included in a customs bill sponsored by Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) and Ranking Member Charles Grassley (R-IA)...
These groups are examining the ramifications of the bill's provisions, especially in light of the bill's requirements that a newly created office in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) annually report to Congress on the volume and value of goods made with child labor, forced labor or convict labor that have been stopped at the border.
Business sources say this reporting requirement could cause DHS to more actively seek out imported products made with child labor, forced labor or convict labor...
One source did expect a push from lobbyists closer to the Finance Committee markup of the bill, and speculated that U.S. industry groups and foreign governments could form ad hoc coalitions to help send a united message.
The sad fact is that even in 2009, it is hardly a new story that US corporations are lobbying against provisions to stop forced labor and child labor.
Just last year, there was a provision in the Farm Bill that would have provided a method which producers of agricultural products could use to certify that their products are free of child labor or forced labor. Big agribusinesses like Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland quickly made their way around Capitol Hill to lobby against this provision. In response to an action alert we sent out in April 2008, Cargill e-mailed our supporters stating that one of their primary reasons for opposing the provision was that: "This program will not provide the market incentive needed to encourage its commercial adoption." In other words, Cargill would prefer to profit off the market incentive of forced child labor.
Unfortunately for Cargill and their allied businesses, the provision did pass in the 2008 Farm Bill. However, the version that passed establishes a Consultative Group to determine the basis for a certification program while the original language would have by-passed this process and included in the provision the key components of a certification program that businesses should use to ensure their imported products were not made using forced or child labor. There is a lot more information about this provision on ILRF's website here.
Recently, the US Department of Agriculture released the names of the people who will be part of the Consultative Group established through that Farm Bill provision and they include ILRF's Executive Director, Bama Athreya. The Consultative Group has a big task on its hands as the US Department of Labor released a new "List of Goods Produced by Child or Forced Labor" in September that includes 122 products from 58 countries. That list clearly showed that the use of forced labor and abusive child labor is widespread globally and it is closely linked to a large number of products we buy every day in the US.
These major corporations that profit enormously from the sweat of the most exploited workers have lots of resources and connections to gut any kinds of protections for workers and the environment. It's up to workers, consumers and the media to expose them when they take actions like these. Let's continue to demand policies with real teeth to finally put a stop to horrific labor rights abuses and hold these companies accountable for their abuses!