Funds Lacking to Combat Global Slavery
Trump’s plans to shave $60 million from the Bureau of International Labor Affairs is the latest blow to the global fight against forced labor and human trafficking. The administration said that the grants were not proven to help prevent slavery, and that the organization, which falls under the oversight of the Department of Labor, should redirect its mandate to protecting American workers and pursing trade agreements that level the playing field. This shift in budget priorities follows a trend that has spread through South America and the Middle East, where authorities frequently turn a blind eye to human rights violations by big business.
Critics Blast Trump Budget Cuts in Fight against Human Trafficking
Carol Pier, a former Labor Secretary who served under President Obama, noted that pulling away from monitoring unfair labor practices in countries where the United States does business will actually hurt the American worker, as allowing the use of child labor or underpaid workers lets foreign companies compete more effectively on price than is practical for domestic corporations. Some analysts also believe that certain trade agreements have built-in requirements for maintaining ethical work environments in return for allowing the manufacturers access to American markets, and that if Trump withdraws supervision, those agreements will be breached.
Brazil Fails to Cure Labor Offenses
The United States is not the only country experiencing problems combating labor rights violations. Brazil has been attempting to rescue workers from poor conditions in a number of industries, including cattle ranches, sugar plantations, and coal mines. However, the number of inspectors has been cut in half over the last 10 years, and is insufficient to stem the flood of nearly 25,000 workers tricked into working without compensation. Typically, workers are promised good pay, but once they begin work, the cost of food and tools is subtracted from their salaries, leaving the workers in debt to the companies.
Middle East Prospers Through Slave Labor
While the prospects are grim in a country where the government at least attempts to fight against human trafficking, things become much worse in regions where slave labor is generally accepted by the establishment. Throughout the Middle East, many countries practice a system called kafala, in which employers have complete control over whether migrants can remain in the country. In certain cases, workers even have to receive permission from their original employer before changing jobs. This has led to abuses, including where workers have their passports taken, or are not paid promised wages. In some countries, for example, Kuwait and Qatar, more than 90 percent of the workforce consists of low paid laborers from Asia and Africa.
North Korea Punishes Prisoners with Labor Camps
Another country known for its use of human trafficking is North Korea, which typically uses forced labor as a punishment for speaking out against the government. The labor camps came into the news recently following the detainment of American Tony Kim, for reasons that are still unclear. Political prisoners are sentenced to lengthy terms, and are forced to work up to 16 hours a day with little food or shelter. To make matters worse, many Korean laborers have been sent abroad to Poland, Russia, and China. Most of these workers receive little money, instead having their salaries sent back to North Korea.
Coffee and Chocolate Cut Out Slave Labor
Certain industries are beginning to police their ranks. In the boutique industries of coffee and chocolate, the term “fair trade” which denotes products bought from ethically sourced farms, is used as a rationale behind charging more for specialty coffee. However, many large companies have such a complicated supply chain that it is nearly impossible to completely protect against the use of slave labor. Nestle and Jacobs Douwe Egberts make up 39 percent of the world’s coffee market, and admitted in 2016 that they don’t know the complete origins of their products from the field to the factory.
How Does Slave Labor Affect Trading?
Human trafficking depresses prices globally, and limits competition from countries which have strong protections against these civil rights abuses. As some countries in Europe are currently turning a blind to slave labor, this could result in a fall for the USD, CAD, and GBP against the EUR. Continued use of forced labor keeps down prices for certain commodities, including coffee, cocoa and cattle.