IV. The spillover effect of forced labor in the United States is felt worldwide
The widespread negative impact of forced labor in the United States has caused serious transnational human trafficking and human rights violations in other countries. The United States is an underperformer in the ratification and implementation of international labor conventions, which matches its long-standing poor record of forced labor and labor rights violations.
1.Forced labor leads to transnational human trafficking
◆ The United States is a source, transit hub, and destination country for victims of forced labor and slavery. Both legal and illegal industries in the United States have serious human trafficking problems. According to the U.S. Department of State, up to 100,000 people are trafficked to the United States annually and fall victim to forced labor. In the past five years, cases of forced labor and human trafficking were reported in all the 50 U.S. states and Washington D.C. According to statistics released by the National Human Trafficking Hotline, the number of reported cases increased significantly from over 3,200 in 2012 to about 11,500 in 2019. In 2020, 10,583 cases were reported, involving 16,658 victims.
Modern slavery featuring forced labor is widely seen in U.S. hotels, restaurants, massage parlors, farms, construction businesses, and domestic services industries. The victims are mostly new immigrants, children, women and other vulnerable groups. Means such as physical and mental abuses, threatening and humiliation are widely used to control the victims.
◆ According to a joint statement issued in April 2021 by the UNHRC Special Rapporteur on the negative impact of unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights and the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, the U.S. government forced foreign individuals to work with it by threatening to use sanctions, indicating a situation of forced labor and rights and interests violation. Urmila Bhoola, the UNHRC Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery pointed out in her 2018 report that cases of forced labor, bonded labor, sexual violence and threats of deportation against female migrant workers were discovered in several tomato farms in the United States.
◆ As highlighted by the Report on Human Rights Violations in the United States in 2021, tighter U.S. immigration policies, combined with weak supervision at home, have exacerbated human smuggling and labor trafficking targeting immigrants. Citing an indictment released in November, 2021 by the U.S. Department of Justice, the report reveals that dozens of workers from Mexico and Central American countries were smuggled to farms in the State of Georgia, where they were illegally imprisoned and forced to work under grueling conditions. These victims of modern-day slavery, under the threat of guns and violence, were required to dig onions with their bare hands for only 20 cents per bucket. At least two of the workers died and one suffered from multiple sexual assaults.
◆ Besides harsh working conditions, cruel management, confiscation of personal documents and restrictions on freedom are also typical features of forced labor cases. In 2021, the Associated Press reported that hundreds of Indian workers were lured to build a massive Hindu temple in New Jersey. Their passports were taken away on arrival and they were forced to work over 87 hours a week for US$1.2 an hour, while New Jersey's minimum hourly wage was US$12. Reuters reported that Goodyear, an American company and the world's largest tire maker, was sued multiple times by foreign workers at its Malaysian factory, for accusations of unpaid wages, unlawful overtime and the denial of their full access to their own passports. According to the workers' lawyer, some migrants worked 229 hours a month in overtime, far exceeding the Malaysian limit of 104 hours.
◆ The U.S. law enforcement clearly have not done enough to crack down on human trafficking and forced labor. According to the Report on Human Trafficking Data Collection Activities, 2021 released by the U.S. Department of Justice, a total of 2,091 persons were referred to U.S. Attorneys for human-trafficking and forced labor offenses in 2019, but only 837 were convicted. Chrissey Buckley, a scholar at the University of Denver, points out that forced labor lingers on in the United States because it is a lucrative business, and because inadequate legislation and inefficient law enforcement diminish the risks of prosecution of the offenders.
2. U.S. companies has long practiced forced labor abroad
◆ In 2019, the Washington Post disclosed that in almost the past two decades, a number of U.S. chocolate giants including Mars and Hershey had been using raw cocoa harvested by child workers in West Africa. More than two million cocoa workers are children earning less than US$1 a day. UK's Channel 4 revealed in 2020 that the coffee beans used by Starbucks and other famous U.S. coffee companies were picked by workers aged under 13 in Guatemala. These children worked eight hours a day, over 40 hours a week, and the youngest was only eight. Their daily wage sometimes is only about the price of a cup of coffee.
V. The international community has long been criticizing forced labor in the United States
Long being seriously concerned about forced labor in the United States, the international community has been calling on the U.S. government to earnestly reflect on and address relevant issues.
◆ Child labor in America's agricultural sector has been an indelible stain on the U.S. track record of implementing International Labor Conventions (ICLs), in particular the fundamental conventions. It is also the most prominent concern of the ILO standards supervisory mechanism regarding U.S. implementation of conventions. Since 2012, the Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations (CEACR) has repeatedly expressed concerns over fatal work-related injuries and accidents suffered by children under 18 working on U.S. farms. During the 103rd Session of the International Labor Conference in 2014, the Committee on the Application of Standards (CAS) had a detailed discussion on U.S. violations of the Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, 1999.
◆ In addition, over the past decade, the CEACR has commented on the U.S. compliance with the Abolition of Forced Labor Convention, 1957 and the Shipowners' Liability (Sick and Injured Seamen) Convention, 1936, urging the U.S. government to reverse its inappropriate practices and earnestly fulfill its obligations. The CEACR pointed out in 2017 that the U.S. government should adopt federal legislation to ensure that racial discrimination does not lead to racial disparities in the punishment involving compulsory labor in the criminal justice system, and should take necessary measures at the federal level to reduce racial and ethnic disparities in the criminal justice system to ensure that the punishment involving compulsory labor is not meted out more severely to certain racial and ethnic groups.
◆ In her statement made in 2016 after visiting the United States, the then UN Special Rapporteur in Trafficking in Persons Maria Grazia Giammarinaro urged the United States to engage in a more effective effort to detect trafficking for forced labor and labor exploitation. The statement cited data in 2015 that 75 percent of trafficking cases in the United States were related to sex deals, 13 percent labor trafficking, and 3 percent both. Women and girls, migrant workers, unaccompanied and homeless children, people fleeing conflict, runaway youth, Native Americans and the LGBTI individuals are particularly vulnerable to labor and sex trafficking and exploitation.
In disregard of its own enormous problems of forced labor and modern slavery in the past and present, the United States willfully discredits other countries and spreads lies about "forced labor". This reveals nothing but its hypocrisy and double standards on human rights, and its modus operandi of using human rights as a pretext for political manipulation and economic bullying.
The "Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act" pushed by the United States is not an act of care and concern over the alleged "forced labor" in Xinjiang. It aims to deprive the people in Xinjiang of their right to work by creating "forced unemployment", destroy the livelihoods of all ethnic groups in Xinjiang by creating "forced poverty", and disrupt international economic and trade order and industrial and supply chains by creating "forced decoupling". What the United States has been doing is, in essence, violating human rights under the pretext of human rights, defying rules under the banner of rules, and breaking the law under the guise of law. Such attempts that go against the trend of the times are doomed to failure.
What the U.S. government should do is to stop styling itself as a "lecturer" on human rights, review its own spotty record on forced labor, stop spreading rumors and lies, stop interfering in China's internal affairs, stop implementing the "Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act", and stop "using Xinjiang to contain China." ■