Jun 17, 2002
On June 5, the State department released a study on slave labor and what it calls “human trafficking.” Secretary of State Colin Powell said the U.S. was determined “to stop this appalling assault on the dignity of men, women and children,” which the report estimated number from 700,000 to four million people worldwide. Powell also mentioned the 50,000 slave laborers in the U.S., the majority of whom are women and children kidnaped, then sold into prostitution.
The State department study categorizes countries according to the amount of slavery and the degree to which the government is implicated in it. The worst category, “Tier III,” includes a number of major U.S. allies, including Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Indonesia and Turkey. The State department said that in Saudi Arabia there is forced labor of domestic servants and laborers. “Many low-skilled foreign workers have their contracts altered and are subjected to extreme working conditions and physical abuse.”
Many more close allies are among the 52 “Tier II” countries. Effectively, there is no real distinction between those two categories. Slavery flourishes in both. But the U.S. State department awards “Tier II” status to those governments it considers to be making “significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance.”
It’s significant that countries which were moved up from Tier III to II this year were also countries with which the U.S. needs especially close relations: India, Israel, Japan, Mexico, Morocco, the Philippines and Pakistan.
In reality, the distinction between categories is simply a question of politics and which countries the U.S. is sporting as solid allies this year.
Republican Congressman Christopher Smith of New Jersey ridiculed the idea that such countries were making “significant effort”: “For governments whose own high-ranking officials are deeply involved in trafficking, holding an occasional training session with an international organization, or even a few ineffectual prosecutions, do not amount to ‘significant efforts.’” He went on to say, “several of the nations omitted from Tier 3 have governments with which the United States is trying to improve relations.”
One notable U.S. ally was simply left out of the study: Kuwait. That’s curious since the entire ruling class employs slaves in their homes, either as concubines or house maids. Undoubtedly, this would have been a bit embarrassing to Colin Powell and to Bush, whose father led the Gulf War in defense of what he called the “free world” in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.
This report makes something very clear; the question of slavery is not going to stop U.S. imperialism’s relation with Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Israel and the many other countries on its list. Nor does the report impede slavery. It just gives the U.S. a fig leaf.