Saturday, September 22, 2018

The Chain Gangs

The United States said it was boosting its fight against slave-made goods "to safeguard American jobs", signaling that the Trump administration regards forced labor as a trade, rather than a human rights issue. 

"American workers cannot compete with producers abroad who use child labor or forced labor" U.S. Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta said. If "a trading partner" engages in child or forced labor, "the U.S. will do what it takes to protect vulnerable workers from exploitation, safeguard American jobs, and create a fair playing field for countries that play by the rules", he added.

"Child labor and forced labor are abhorrent practices that run counter to American values," Martha Newton, deputy undersecretary of the Department of Labor's Bureau of International Labor Affairs, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation

An estimated 25 million people are trapped in forced labor globally, according to the International Labour Organization and the charity Walk Free Foundation. More than $400 billion worth of goods likely to be made by forced labor enter the U.S. market each year, said Annick Febrey, director of government relations with the Human Trafficking Institute, which advocates to end modern slavery. 

Eric Gottwald, legal and policy director for the Washington-based International Labor Rights Forum, said he was struck by Department of Labor's stress on eradicating slave labor because it puts U.S. workers at a competitive disadvantage U.S. foreign policy has typically portrayed forced labor as a violation of international human rights standards that must be stamped out, he said. "The current administration has placed more emphasis on ... how American workers shouldn't have to compete with forced or child laborers," he said.

What strikes this blog is the neglect of the forced prison labor that exists in America as the recent strike by those captive prison workers demonsrated. In marketing brochures, the Department of Justice touts its “cost-effective labor pool” and a workforce with “Native English and Spanish language skills.” About 17,000 inmates at federal prisons work at more than 50 government factories, farms, and call centers across the country, according to the latest annual report published by the DOJ program Federal Prison Industries, also known as Unicor. Prisoners make air filters, clothes, lamps, and office supplies for wages that range from 23 cents an hour to $1.15 an hourThe federal government wants businesses to know that its call centers, staffed by prisoners, are one of the “best-kept secrets” out there. The state and local town jails also use prison labor. A 2004 economic analysis of labor in both state and federal prison estimated that in the previous year inmates produced more than $2 billion worth of commodities, both goods and services.

Prison labor is slave labor. At the end of the civil war in 1865 the 13th amendment of the US constitution was introduced. Under its terms, slavery was not abolished, it was merely reformed. The 13th Amendment, ratified in 1865, states in full:
"Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as punishment for a crime for which the person has been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States or any place subject to its jurisdiction. Section 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this Article by appropriate legislation."
Anybody convicted of a crime after 1865 could be leased out by the state to private corporations who would extract their labor for little or no pay. In some ways that created worse conditions than under the days of slavery, as private corporations were under no obligation to care for their forced laborers – they provided no healthcare, nutritious food or clothing to the individuals they were exploiting. The U.S. government has often admonished other countries such as Burma and China for using forced labor to build pipelines or make goods.Yet the truth is, it's just as prevalent in the U.S. as elsewhere. And many private businesses have used prison labor, such as Victoria's Secret, Starbucks and Microsoft.  In the recent outbreak of wildfires in California, prisoners were used as fire-fighters. 
Even immigrants awaiting deportation proceedings were forced to do janitorial and clerical work for $1 a day at the private detention facilities where they were held, according to recent litigation. Inmates have claimed in lawsuits that they earned as little as 12 cents an hour – or nothing as all, as is legal in some states.
Prison labor is widely used in many countries throughout the world on every continent, involving an estimated 36 million people.

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