When Free Trade Isn’t Free

Trade is Good

Trade has long been recognized as a good way to ensure peace between nations. After all, it is better for two nations to exchange goods than for them to go to war. When two nations trade and rely on each other, they are less likely to go to war. Trade helps us to acknowledge the inherent value of the other. It is also good for economies. Just ask Mexican avocado farmers who found new markets after the passing of the much-maligned North American Free Trade Agreement.

Unfree Trade

A disconcerting number of American companies take advantage of the ease of global trade in order to do business with companies that use slave labor. Recently, the American sportswear company Badger Supplier was found to have been using forced labor from prisoners in Chinese internment camps for the Uighur ethnic group. In the camps, Uighurs are forced to give up their language and religion.

This would be disturbing enough if it were an isolated incident. In another incident, Apple factories were discovered to be using students who were coerced into working if they wanted to finish a vocational degree. They were compelled to work eleven hour days. In one Apple factory, conditions were so horrid that suicide nets were installed in order to prevent workers from jumping out the window. Apple also bought cobalt from companies who use laborers as young as seven. To be fair to the company, they did decide to stop working with those vendors.

Thailand is the largest exporter of seafood in the world. A report by the Human Rights Watch shows that forced labor remains deeply embedded in the Thai fishing industry. Abusive practices common in the Thai fishing industry include withholding identity documents, withholding wages, recruitment linked to debt, excessive working hours and preventing workers from changing jobs. Walmart, Safeway, Kroger and Red Lobster buy seafood from Thailand. Considering that the United States is between two oceans one wonders why American companies buy seafood from other countries at all.

What is To Be Done?

The United States can not act as a beacon of freedom and democracy while simultaneously using slave labor. We must stop trading with dictatorships,like China, immediately. We have enough resources to be completely self-sufficient if we were to reopen American factories and American companies bought from American farmers. Where this is neither possible nor desirable, there are plenty of democratic countries for us to trade with. For example, why don’t we cultivate better trading partnerships with countries in this hemisphere? Instead of buying oil from the horrific dictatorship of Saudi Arabia-where leaving Islam is punishable by death-why not buy oil from Mexico or Russia? Neither of them are perfect democracies, but nor are they brutal dictatorships.

Some companies may not like such reforms. To these companies I say this-loyalty is a duty. One’s allegiance to one’s homeland is non-negotiable. One may legitimately work against a tyrannical state, but one must never betray their nation. This is the crime of treason and many of our companies have committed this crime. Companies which do trade with Saudi Arabia do trade with a country that was complicit in the terrorist attacks of September Eleventh, 2001 which claimed thousands of lives. This I call treason. If some companies wish to continue consorting with the enemies of freedom, then penalties must be imposed, perhaps through taxation. Free trade must not be used as an excuse to violate human rights or bolster the enemies of our republic.

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