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Senator Josh Hawley’s Bill to End Slave Labor

Multinational corporations operate under the guise of 'wokeness,' while exploiting those abroad.

Senator Josh Hawley, R-Mo., asks a question during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing titled Police Use of Force and Community Relations, in Dirksen Senate Office Building in Washington, DC, on June 16, 2020. (Photo by Tom Williams / POOL / AFP) (Photo by TOM WILLIAMS/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Multinational corporations have come to rely on social corporate activism, championing causes such as Black Lives Matter and Defund the Police. The very same companies demanding social progress within the U.S., however, rely on slavery and forced labor around the world. Starbucks, known for their activism, employs such practices in Brazil, with conditions so poor that the employees don’t even have access to water.

Now, Senator Hawley is trying to stop this double standard with new legislation. The U.S. can be a world leader with the reform of global supply chains, helping to end slavery and forced labor across the world.

The Slave-Free Business Certification Act would require American corporations to disclose their supply chains and mandate that they never rely on forced or slave labor. Under this bill, corporations would be frequently audited and punished for failures to protect basic human rights.

According to a report published by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, 83 major brands, including notable industry giants like Adidas, Nike, Amazon, BMW, and Samsung, have relied on forced labor from Uyghurs in the Chinese province of Xinjiang. This exploitation is not unique to China: worldwide there are around 40.3 million slaves, roughly equivalent to the population of California.

Child labor is still critical to worldwide supply chains. It’s most prominent among agriculture and the cultivation of raw materials, such as mining. As documented by Human Rights Watch, “The International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates that 168 million children are involved in child labor globally, including 85 million who are engaged in hazardous work that jeopardizes their health or safety.”

Supply chains are inextricably tied to exploitation abroad. The Global Slavery Index estimates that “G20 countries are importing risk of modern slavery on a massive scale. Collectively, G20 countries are importing US$354 billion worth of at-risk products annually.”

Senator Hawley is critical of multinational corporations, particularly over their insistence on being vocal leaders of “wokeness” in America despite profiting off of exploitative practices abroad. As Hawley put it, “Corporate America and the celebrities that hawk their products have been playing this game for a long time—talk up corporate social responsibility and social justice at home while making millions of dollars off the slave labor that assembles their products. Executives build woke, progressive brands for American consumers, but happily outsource labor to Chinese concentration camps, all just to save a few bucks.”

Hawley has built his political image by going after multinational corporations, particularly over their willingness to leave the U.S. to produce goods abroad and their relationships with China.

Before those corporations can claim the title of agents for progressive activism, they should reform their reliance on exploitation.

about the author

Alberto Bufalino is a student at Wake Forest University in North Carolina and TAC's summer editorial intern.

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