Business Aims to Relax Bans on Products Made with Child & Slave Labor

Open Left

By David Sirota

We've seen corporations use "free trade" agreements to quietly camouflage their push for exploitable labor in broader arguments about globalization. What we haven't seen is corporate special interests openly push for U.S. regulators to openly allow companies to sell goods made with child and slave labor...until now.

Check out this report from Inside U.S. Trade (no link- subscription required) - it's straight from the I Sh*t You Not File:

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.

Those of us pushing for serious trade policy reform have argued for years that businesses are aiming to create global economic policies that allow them to troll the world for the most exploitable forms of labor. As General Electric CEO Jack Welch famously said, corporations want laws that allow them to "have every plant you own on a barge" - one that can move from country to country looking for the worst conditions to exploit. Such an international economic regime would (and now does) allow the world's worst governments to create artificial comparative economic advantages through bad/immoral policies.

This is an important concept: Whereas comparative advantage used to be about natural advantages (ie. one country has optimal soil for grapes, another country has optimal soil for corn), "free trade" encourages countries to create comparative advantage through man-made laws. Some countries, for instance, creates a comparative advantage by letting factories pollute as much as they want, thus encouraging companies to move their factories there from other countries where pollution controls are more serious. Other countries create a comparative advantage by permitting children to be enslaved, thus encouraging companies operating in countries with more expensive non-slave labor to shift operations to a place where they can make products with all but free labor.

The way to stop this is for the world's largest economies to establish basic rules which everyone else will inevitably follow as a price of admission to those economies' markets. If the United States says companies cannot sell products in our market made with child slave labor, most companies will cease making products with child slave labor fearing the loss of access to our market which would destroy their business.

Of course, that's why business has opposed every effort to put basic labor, environmental and human rights standards into our international trade agreements - and why business groups are now preparing to try to weaken the laws barring products made with child slave labor. They know that the less rules that exist in the American market, the more cost-cutting exploitation they can engage in.

That corporations' advocacy for deregulation has now become so brazen that they are effectively pushing the U.S. government to endorse child slave labor is predictable. This is what their globalization agenda has always been all about. The only thing surprising about it is that in a Washington so overtly dominated by Big Money, it has taken them this long to be this blatant about their objectives.