The US Department of Labor has taken a new “America First” tone in publishing its biennial list of foreign goods made using slave or child labor.
Rather than seeing forced labor as primarily a human rights issue, the US government has reframed this as a trade issue, arguing that it is fighting against slave-made goods in order to “safeguard American jobs.”
Related Campaign: Help end forced labor.
In announcing the DOL list — comprised of 148 goods produced in 76 countries — Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta said, “American workers cannot compete with producers abroad who use child labor 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.
Thomson Reuters Foundation reports:
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.
“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 in emailed comments.
She said the Department of Labor’s change in tone echoed President Donald Trump’s ‘America First’ agenda on international trade issues and could mean a more sustained effort to block forced labor-made goods from entering the country.
“It’s reflective of the current administration’s trade policies and focus on America First,” Febrey told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Eric Gottwald, legal and policy director for the International Labor Rights Forum in Washington DC, said he was struck by the Department of Labor’s new stance on forced labor being a problem because it puts American workers at a competitive disadvantage.
Historically, US foreign policy has considered goods made using slave labor as a gross violation of human rights.
“The current administration has placed more emphasis on…how American workers shouldn’t have to compete with forced or child laborers,” he said.
It became a crime to import goods made using forced or child labor in 2016 under a law introduced by President Barack Obama.