How not to fight modern-day slavery

That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, here is one excerpt:

The Slave-Free Business Certification Act of 2020, introduced last week by Republican Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri, sounds unobjectionable, maybe even worthy. As the U.S. engages in a worthwhile and necessary reassessment of the role of slavery in its history, the bill would force large companies to investigate and report on forced labor in their supply chains.

In fact, the net effect of the bill — contrary to its stated intent — might be to increase slavery worldwide.

As a general principle, companies should cut off commercial relations with any known sources of slavery. Yet this law calls for mandatory corporate investigation and auditing, backed by CEO certification and with significant penalties for non-compliance. The investigatory process is supposed to include interviews of both workers and management in the supply chain.

Such a get-tough approach has a superficial appeal. Yet placing an investigative burden on companies may not lead to better outcomes.

Consider the hypothetical case of a U.S. retailer buying a shipment of seafood routed through Vietnam. It fears that some of the seafood may have come from Thailand, where there are credible reports of (temporary) slavery in the supply chain. How does it find out if those reports are true? Asking its Vietnamese business partner, who may not even know the truth and might be reluctant to say if it did, is unlikely to resolve matters.

It is unlikely that businesses, even larger and profitable ones, will be in a position to hire teams of investigative journalists for their international inputs. Either they will ignore the law, or they will stop dealing with poorer and less transparent countries. So rather than buying shrimp from Southeast Asia, that retailer might place an order for more salmon from Norway, where it is quite sure there is no slavery going on.

…for every instance of slavery today there are many more opaque supply chains that will be damaged and disrupted if the burden is on large companies to root out labor abuses.

Here are a few points of relevance:

1. The law penalizes opaque supply chains rather than slavery per se.  That is unlikely to be an efficient target.

2. Judgments about slavery are put in the hands of businesses rather than the government.  Why not just have the U.S. government issue sanctions against slavery-supporting countries when sanctions are appropriate and likely to be effective?  What is the extra gain from taxing businesses in this way?

3. There are many forms of coerced and exploited labor, and it is not clear this legislation will target slavery as opposed to simply low wages and poor working conditions as might result from extreme poverty.  You also don’t want the law to tax poor working conditions per se, since FDI, or purchasing flows from a supply chain, can help improve those working conditions.  You might however wish to target employment instances where, due to the nature of the law, additional financial flows toward the product will never rebound to the benefit of foreign labor.  This law (which I have read all of) does not seem to grasp that important distinction.

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Who willingly eats seafood from an “opaque supply chain?”

Amost everybody. Do you really think you could sit down and have a frank discussion with the man who caught what's in the can of star*fish you just opened?

You mean to say "everyone who refuses to pay US workers living wages because paying high sea food prices kills good US jobs".

We know how to grow sea food without slave labor, without pollution, and pay good wages to US workers.

Conservatives simply have convinced people that we can all keep our high wage jobs but pay much lower prices by paying workers much lower wages, killing workers and customers with pollution, aand exporting gthe jobs.

Note that conservatives and the GOP never talk about getting rid of costly regulations to eliminate profits and increase jobs, wages, and benefits.

Bernie is always talking of cutting the costs of profits...

Now why should you pay higher prices to put money in the pockets of people who never produce anything?

But then again, why should you be paid to work at good wages if you won't pay high prices so the workers get paid the same high wages you want?

Man this stuff is awesome. Who knew the trick to growing rich as a nation was to pay the guy running the microwave at McDonalds 30 dollars an hour.

I mean think about the purchasing power that guy will have?

It's more honest work to sell a hamburger than to make millions selling yet another cryptocoin that tanks in a few months. Our economy gives a lot of real purchasing power away to hypesters and much less to people that do real work.

Tyler’s position is that, while companies shouldn’t actively work to incorporate slave labour into their supply chains, willful blindness toward slavery is a-okay.

This would all be a little easier to swallow if it weren’t coming from the voice of “libertarianism”, the philosophy that values “liberty” above all else.

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There is no slavery in the modern world - except what some governments allow themselves. There are only work practices some NGOs and the nice upper middle class girls who run them do not like.

The process is proof of that. If governments sanctioned countries that had work practices all those Madisons did not like, it would cost money. People would lose business opportunities. It might even be effective. It is better to give big businesses what they like - a pointless exercise in ticking boxes that they can afford because they have big legal departments, but their smaller competition cannot.

It is a meaningless example of virtue signalling

There is slavery going on here?
I'm shocked shocked I tell you

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"There is no slavery in the modern world". Yes, I suppose some moslem countries can't reasonably be viewed as part of the modern world.

A few cases have have been reported in Britain of people (often mad or mentally defective) being held captive and obliged to do unpaid work - by Gypsies, for example.. It seems reasonable to me to call that slavery. It also seems most unlikely that legislation along the lines that Mr C describes would be much help against it.

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The corporations can’t track slavery,but the NBA players can protect themselves from covid 19. Incentives!

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Another example of a potential coalition of Baptists and Bootleggers, here Protectionists and Moralists.

Tyler :” As the U.S. engages in a worthwhile and necessary reassessment of the role of slavery in its history....” Why does no one State the obvious: there is slavery in China, and slaves bing sold in Libya and elsewhere.

In fact there is no “reassessment” of slavery going on in the US, but rather opportunistic Marxists aiming to overthrow the least racist and most generous nation on the planet.

And the Ruling Class and their pawns in education and the media cheering on this obscenity! I’m outraged and demand a bloody middle class Civil War to take back our great nation from all these Traitors who must be hung, shot or guillotined.

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The bill seems very obviously designed to stop hypocritical corporate revolutionaries like Nike torment Americans with micro-aggression, while at the same time profiting from Chinese mass enslavement, particularly of minorities.

I don't know if it was intended to pass or just to send a message. But that is the point, not Thai fishermen, although there do appear to be issues there.

Republicans very rarely show any interest in forcing business to comply with massive procedures that amount to taxes in order to accomplish something that may or may not help anyone. They have other flaws.

Yep, paying workers, especially US workers is a crushing tax, according to conservatives, libertarians, most Republicans.

Being forced to pay monopoly rents and profits by government regulations, however, is never a tax, just free market capitalism.

Thus Trump places avoiding the cost of competition above workers becoming homeless and hungry, small businesses disappearing because no customers have money, and the higher cost to tax payers of trying to squeeze new FBI quarters into space better suited to a new luxury hotel across the street from Trump's hotel leased from the Federal govrrnment in a sweetheart deal.

And it's really costing Trump the press find all the illegals Trump hires to cut costs so he doesn't need to pay US wages to US workers which cut his profits.

Are you sure US domestics want to take the high paying jobs?

Lots of iron worker and electrical line worker jobs paying over 26 dollars an hour remain unfilled.

This country has a growing labor scarcity in high paying trade jobs.....the thing with those jobs is they are hard work. But you can make well over 20 an hour doing them.

Yet there's a glut of overeducated Millennial baristas complaining about the scarcity of work, which suggests it's not supply that's the issue. (Not that I'm implying your average man-bun could back it in the trades, but still that goes back to parenting.)

Not many of them educated in the manipulation of live power lines. In most cases this is for the best.

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26/hr isn't high paying. That puts you on the median at best. If those jobs go unfilled, then there is a market based solution to that.

"26/hr isn't high paying. That puts you on the median at best. I"

That puts you in the median household as a single worker even before considering over time. And Electricians, iron workers etc, usually have plenty of opportunities for over time.

$26/hour puts you firmly in the middle class for 80% of America.

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"In Haiti it is a known practice for parents to give up their children to indentured servant status, to ensure those children are fed by their new wards." Doesn't "ward" usually refer to the children, not the caregivers/masters?

Haitian parents want their children to have food! OMG, that's horrific. BLM/Antifa has to burn up a city somewhere to protest this abominable practice right away.

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Remind me again, which of the critiques in this post do not also apply to laws about bribery, espionage, or any other corporate malfeasance?

Why if we ban American firms from using bribery in their supply chains rather than buying from Mexico (where corruption is rampant according to the Googled rankings) they will clearly just substitute away to Canada. Did not the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act lead to disinvestment in Mexico that continues to the present day? Were not American firms unable to partner with Mexican firms lest they fear being entrapped as complicit in the bribery that flows heavily in Mexico? Why clearly the uncertainty rendered NAFTA and the USMCA dead letters.

In any event:
1. Opaque supply chains are terrible for many reasons. They lead to increased uncertainty, particularly as places like China just might trying politicking to close them. They, likewise, help launder money and can aid sanctioned regimes in evading restrictions for little things like genocide or sponsoring terrorism.

Creating an incentive for foreign suppliers to work towards transparent supply chains is a feature, not a bug.

2. Well for one it creates a better incentive for information gathering before Foggy Bottom knows the problem exists. But I suppose it would be better to wait until it becomes both known, and a large enough problem for it to become a major political issue rather than providing an up-front incentive to regimes not to allow such in the first place. For another, this makes it harder for defiant regimes to simply launder products through an "opaque supply chain" in a neighboring country. And of course there is the big gain of firms based outside the US electing not to taint their own supply chains with slave labor leading to greater isolation of slave labor states. And lastly, this allows us to provide anti-slavery incentives to places, like say Goma, where the writ of the central government is weak at best and liable to be held by rebels at worst. Much of the evil in the world is done in spite of the rulers and targeting the actual goods rather than the entire economy of a state allows for more efficient targeting.

3. Right and as Confederate apologists never cease pointing out, being enslaved drastically increased the living standards of the descendants of those enslaved relative to the descendants of those who stayed behind in the Congo Basin. At exactly what point should we say something, like slavery, is too abhorrent even it does improve working conditions in the long run? I mean child prostitution provides a substantial inflow of capital to some grindingly poor cities in SE Asia. Should we rescind our extraterritorial laws against it so the money can flow and improve working conditions over time? Sure they are children subject to repeated bodily assault, but if we ban American child sex tourism they working conditions could worsen (you know having to service more, poorer clients) and they could go from being raped five times a day to seven.

Further the word "can" is doing an awful lot of lifting in your hopes here. Exactly how often do payments into opaque supply chains trickle down to the labor? What I have seen with MSF typically suggests coercive labor forms tend to lead to money going into the pockets of a thin skim at the top of the pyramid and any trickle down is likely a generation away at least.

Overall, this critique is most unconvincing. Why exactly is this one legal liability going to cause all of these harms that we have not seen from FCPA or FATF. Frankly I suspect that we will simply see the rise of another sort of Wolfsberg Group. If companies cannot afford to send investigative journalists, I suspect we might, possibly, find some firm who sees an opportunity, provides a contract service to multiple firms.

We have dealt with these sort of problems before. The market has previously, and will continue to, find ways to investigate and comply with basic enforcement of law. It will be haphazard. It will will be partially corrupted. It will generate huge paperwork burdens. It will incur real economic costs. It will be just like ending the slave trade which consumed huge amounts of resources from Her Majesty's Navy.

Frankly this seems to be pretty basic economics. If you want less of something, tax it. Taxing "opaque supply chains" seems to be good in its own right and making slavery less profitable should make it less prevalent.

+1

Big American corporations have the competence to follow a law like this. You put someone in charge of compliance, have them publish an RFP in countries where they do business for private investigation and legal services, and then have the winning firm do the work of interviewing workers and tracing supply chains. If they do a shoddy job of investigating, that is one thing but that shoddy job may then reflect poorly on the reputation of the American company that is trying to comply with the law.

It is interesting that Tyler thinks the State Department and the foreign policy parts of government would be more competent at investigating and punishing (with sanctions) slavery in other countries than private companies would be with the DOJ and ultimately federal judiciary looking over their shoulder.

I suppose the issue is whether small American corporations have the competence to follow a law like this, too.

Either way, easy enough to fix legislatively (if it hasn't already), just cap the certification to purchases above a certain dollar value and maybe exempt anything that come through a exchange (e.g., oil futures)

The bill has written directly into it a specification for entities with at least $500,000,000 in gross receipts. It is literally the first thing after the name of the bill.

(1) COVERED BUSINESS ENTITY.—The term ‘‘covered business entity’’ means any issuer, as that term is defined in section 2(a) of the Securities Act of 1933 (15 U.S.C. 77b(a)), that has annual, worldwide gross receipts that exceed $500,000,000.

Which is why all the little framing tales have been bogus. The entire Thai shrimp export market is only $1.8 billion per Google. A shrimp importer would need to corner over 25% of the entire Thai market to even be covered. Now sure you can get over $500 million over multiple goods and services from multiple suppliers ... but for markets that are truly too diffuse to track or where the profit margins are so low why would not expect the big boys to just let them lie and leave these small areas to the sub $400,000,000 operations?

This is not a law saying that undocumentable suppliers are frozen out of the global economy. It is a law saying that they will, at worst, be frozen out of the large scale players where the biggest profits lie.

Suppliers have lots of choices. Do up the paperwork. Find smaller distributors. Sell to Russia. The people whose behavior will have to change are large scale US corporations who might have to trade back some profits to relieve human bondage. At worst the average American will be paying 10 cents or something more per impulse buy.

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+1.

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Well-stated. And anytime you can give the lawyers something worthwhile to do, and less opportunity for mischief, so much the better for us all.

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+1 You said it (eloquently) so I don’t have to. Tyler is completely wrong on this one. Maybe he would change his mind if he was friends with Uyghurs.

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+1, excellent post sure, I agree that Tyler gets it wrong on this one.

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I don’t think Tyler is wrong on this one. I see problems in that the law is good for ancillary reasons, such as it forces supply chains to be less opaque or because there were other laws before this one that businesses found a way to deal with. Yes, they will find a way to deal with it but there is a cost. That they find a way to handle it should not be the test.

How much not opaque is not opaque enough ? Do they have to know about their suppliers’ suppliers or contacts or friends ? or relatives ? Is this actually going to improve the slavery situation or will it just lead to cosmetical change and dissimulation.

Slavery is the just the popular cause of the day. Where was it mentioned a year ago. It wasn’t that much , the cause was mass murders and guns. There is an endless supplies of these causes we might want to impose on developing countries: racist attitudes, plastic bags, carbon footprint, transgender rights, and so on. Still as the US was itself developing it had no qualms about not implementing any of these rules and would have resisted imposition from the outside.

Mexico is no less corrupt because some American companies don’t do business with them. It has not led to any improvement. Their corruption rank has actually worsened the last few years.

After all Switzerland and Norway can find the US death penalty abhorrent and decide to tax American companies because the US electorate elected a Congress and president that supports it. How would we like it ? Is there nothing objectionable in America that foreigners can’t object to ?
Or is it rather that they don’t have the economic/political power to impose any sanctions on us. ? Why are we so sanctimonious ? Does Islam promote equality between men and women ? What are we doing about it businesswise when we deal with businesses in Muslim countries where Islam is the state sponsored religion ?

Are political prisoners in Egyptian prisons treated fairly with no torture and access to a lawyer. I very much doubt it. Still the US government gave 1.3 Billion to Egypt last year. It's in the name of regional stability. Stability for a non democratic government ?
Maybe that’s abhorrent, that our government is giving 1.3 billion to a government that supports torture and now wants to give the world lessons about slavery ?

There are many evils in the world no doubt, I have no arguments to the contrary. You mentioned a few.

In the US, we don’t require that US companies, investigate and verify that their suppliers are not engaged in drug trafficking, child trafficking, money laundering , gang activities or other crimes. These are crimes and it’s a matter for the police to deal with; If the company discovers it they have a duty to report it but that is all. Why should US companies have this requirement in a foreign country where the burden is likely to be higher.

I could argue that road deaths and alcohol are a bigger problem than slavery in Thailand (It’s almost 3 times the US rate). Therefore should American companies police their suppliers for employee compliance with driving and alcohol because we feel bad about this situation rather than let Thailand itself handle it ?

We actively supported Gadaffi’s removal in the name of democracy/ universal human rights in the wake of the Arab Spring. Democracy/ universal human rights, what is there not to like ? In retrospect it was naïve and there were a lot of unintended consequences.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Morally this is quite simple. Should a person do the things that are deemed unethical, illegal, and immoral here over there?

We hold those who outsource their murder, extortion, and assault liable for the acts committed by those they hire. So I am perfectly fine saying that Americans who knowingly buy goods or services produced by slaves should be at least liable for conspiracy to extort, kidnap, or assault the slaves.

Should it matter that this crime is occurring on foreign soil? I suppose if you believe that slavery is the sort of idiosyncratic cultural practice that is just cultural belief. I, and you know all the folks who signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, agree that this is universal harm and deserves to be illegal.

So now we are asking, corporations with >$500 million in revenue, to due some small amount of due diligence to say that they are not knowingly profiting from slave labor.

Oh the horror. Why this might mean that European countries might restriction the sale of lethal injection drugs by the same token (i.e. something they have already done). This might mean that we need to inspect all the way down the supply chain (something we are going to need to do for any sort of carbon rationing and already do for Montreal Protocol compliance).

And that is what is perhaps most galling about Tyler's view here. This is not Americans going and saying the Thais must do thus and so. It is Americans saying that other Americans (be they individuals or corporate individuals) cannot adopt business practices that benefit from slavery.

But what about compliance costs? Indeed, I would be most interested in knowing what exactly the big cost here would actually be. In my experience with MSF, hiring someone local to make sensitive inquiries costs peanuts (e.g. we hired a PI to find out who was stealing supplies and we paid him below US minimum wages even though he was a professional and quite effective). I could be wrong, but my experience suggests that verifying your supply chain is free of slaves is going to cost less than verifying basically any OSHA compliance directive. But prove me wrong, give me an itemized estimation of the compliance costs. Show me that it will raise gross prices more than 1%.

I am glad you are so concerned about drunk driving. One of the most effective options is increasing alcohol taxation. Might I propose a simple win-win. We increase the tax on ethanol. We give businesses a small fractional decrease in taxes. We increase their compliance costs slightly. Everyone wins.

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"Why if we ban American firms from using bribery in their supply chains..."

We don't. We ban American firms from engaging in bribery themselves, we don't required them to hire investigators to validate the entire supply chain to verify no bribery takes place anywhere in it. Think of 'I, Pencil'. And then think of investigating every firm involved in producing a machine or raw material that goes into making even something as 'simple' as a pencil -- let alone a cell phone.

Look, this very obviously Trump & allies trying to take the Republican party back to the days of Senators Smoot and Hawley. It's protectionism cloaked in nationalism and faux moralism (everybody knows they don't give two shits about slavery in Asia, they just want to use the issue to erect new trade barriers -- most particularly with China).

I didn't vote for Hillary or Trump last time and won't vote for Trump or Biden this time, but I'm really starting to look forward for these a**holes to go down in November (even though I'm very well aware that I'll quickly come to hate the new, alternative set of a**holes just as much).

Actually we do. "The anti-bribery provisions of the FCPA now also apply to foreign firms and persons who cause, directly or through agents, an act in furtherance of such a corrupt payment to take place."

You will note that the DOJ does not say "agent" nor in any way restrict it to degrees of formal separation.

Again this is not that hard. It is illegal for a firm to conduct corporate espionage. It is illegal for a firm to hire someone to conduct espionage for them. It is illegal for a firm to hire someone to hire someone to conduct espionage for them.

If an American firm knows, or reasonably should know, that someone acting on their behalf is engaged in bribery, they are held liable. Nor is this hypothetical, KBR and several others just happened to have an external business relationship with Marubeni Corporation which just happened to bribe Nigerian officials. Yet the DOJ named KBR as co-conspirators.

Nor is this unique. I mean for goodness sake, the EU requires that food processors certify that their entire supply chain be GMO free. Which means taking responsibility for operations down to, and including single family farms in impoverished nations.

And exactly how bad can this be given that most companies have already been doing all of this. Because funnily enough Googling turned up this gem called the

The California Transparency in Supply Chains Act

Which requires that all retailers or manufacturers who "do business in California" and have gross worldwide receipts of $100,000,000 or more must disclose their efforts to maintain supply chains free of slavery. So corporations like Perdue Farms, Clorox, and Nestle already audit their suppliers. Now California merely requires a statement delineating any such audits conducted, but we have records of companies doing exactly what you and Tyler say would be too financially onerous, doing it for years, and for nobody to notice.

Exactly how expensive has it been in practice? I mean if you could predict that some firm would even be even 50 basis less profitable conducting the audits that these firms, under penalty of law, are already stating they conduct would there not be somebody making a killing in the market shorting them? Would it not have been a hot topic back 10 years ago with major corporations gaining or losing value based on their voluntary auditing or certified lack thereof?

Or take it another. When California shamed a bunch of companies into starting these sorts of audits a decade ago did any of Cowen's predictions come even close to being true? I saw no uptick in slavery when firms started doing this. I saw no selective enforcement or even aggressive shaming as I literally did not know California had this on the books until today. And as far as deligitimizing global trade, perhaps but seems awfully off in timing.

So again I ask, for corporations grossing over $500 million, exactly how much do you think this will cost. Given some dollar figures or at least percentages. Let's compare those against the costs of voluntary auditing "encouraged" by the The California Transparency in Supply Chains Act.

Because we do not live in a world where this auditing is not happening. We live in one where it is and has been happening for a decade.

If an American firm knows, or reasonably should know...

Yes, American firms cannot knowingly engage in bribery second-hand. But nor have they been legally required to investigate the supplier of the supplier of the supplier, ad nauseum.

So again I ask, for corporations grossing over $500 million, exactly how much do you think this will cost.

It depends on the nature and complexity of the product. For raw materials, it might be relatively easy. For complex manufactured products that include a myriad of parts, materials, sub-assemblies, etc, it could be extremely costly -- for low-margin products, the cost could be easily beyond the point where the trade will even happen. The number of suppliers is also a major factor. If they are large and few it would be far less costly than when those suppliers are small and numerous.

Which brings us to Amazon and eBay -- are they to certify the supply chain of *every* 3rd party vendor (foreign and domestic) that sells through Amazon.com? Wouldn't even Amazon choose to drop these small (very often China-based) vendors rather than attempt to certify them? And isn't THAT exactly the outcome that Josh Hawley and Donald Trump are looking for? That kind of negative effect on foreign trade is very obviously the whole point of this effort. Trump at all don't want or expect American companies to be able certify all Chinese firms, they want to use 'anti-slavery' as a cudgel to try to crush this kind of free trade.

These guys are not even trying very hard to hide what they're up to:

Buck mentioned the subject during Wednesday's House subcommittee hearing on antitrust with America's big tech CEOs, saying that Amazon may be perpetuating the cycle of forced labor, whether it realizes it or not.

"I’m also concerned that given Amazon’s allowance of counterfeit goods on its marketplace, especially counterfeit goods from China, that Amazon’s marketplace may be, knowingly or unknowingly, furthering China’s use of forced and slave labor conditions," he explained.

"Yes, American firms cannot knowingly engage in bribery second-hand. But nor have they been legally required to investigate the supplier of the supplier of the supplier, ad nauseum."

The actual language of the bill is, "covered business entity or its suppliers, including by direct suppliers, secondary suppliers, and on-site service providers of the covered business entity". Nowhere does the mean going out to I pencil for the graphite mining. Almost as though the intention of the bill is to require major conglomerations (i.e. >$500,000,000 gross revenue) to audit the suppliers that are integral to their business.

"It depends on the nature and complexity of the product."
Sorry for not being clear. I was not asking for yet another round of obfuscation and theorizing. What is the dollar amount you expect? How much does say Perdue incur in costs for the audits it already has done and certified for California?

This is not a great unknown. Numerous companies have been voluntarily doing these audits for a decade. How much did it cost? A million dollars? When I actually read Hawley's bill the only costs I actually see are:
1. Interviewing employees and management.
2. Paperwork review of employee paystubs against management records.
3. Policy reviews.

All of these can be handled in country by any firm that can be trusted. And shockingly I predict that some accounting firm in Thailand will manage to fit the bill and make a buck.

Likewise, this appears to be just a couple a man-days per supplier. But at base I am not seeing anything that would cost even six figures.

So enlighten me. Show me actual costs from any actual example audit. How much does this cost?

"Which brings us to Amazon and eBay -- are they to certify the supply chain of *every* 3rd party vendor (foreign and domestic) that sells through Amazon.com"
Bezos, already claimed they do this. The slavery is so abhorrent to Amazon that they would ensure that slavery was not present on Amazon out of their own sense of morality. Maybe he was just doing that misleadingly legal all-but-lying thing I expect from CEOs, but he certainly implied that Amazon would not tolerate these things.

I mean we get it. Stopping human bondage requires costs. Profit margins may dip. Americans may have to pay 10 cents more for cheap plastic crap. But stopping human bondage is worth some level of sacrifice. And certainly like all endeavors there is a trade off between cost and the goods sought. You tell me a lot of fanciful stories about how horrid things will be, but we have literally had major corporations doing exactly these sorts of audits, certifying them under pain of law, and nobody noticing higher prices, worse stock performance, or significant disruptions of legal trade for any of it.

And finally, I have not now, or ever, given a rat's ass about the motive for legislation. I care about results (after all the slave trade in this country was banned on completely pretextual motives to protect the domestic slave trade). Trump will be gone in four years. Hawley does not even sit of the relevant oversight committees. The law will be whatever is actually written as interpreted by bureaucrats in the executive as limited by the congressional oversight committees.

Reading the actual law it seems pretty reasonable. Thou shalt hire someone to interview workers. Thou shalt check paystubs. Thou shalt certify that thou hast done this and hast not cut corners.

Again, either show me actual dollar figures or give it up. We all know that this has costs, but absent evidence to the contrary this looks to be not terribly expensive and a wonderful incentive structure for places like China to adopt better legal and business practices.

When I actually read Hawley's bill the only costs I actually see are:1. Interviewing employees and management.
2. Paperwork review of employee paystubs against management records.
3. Policy reviews.

Now apply that to, say, a traveling trader who goes from one Andean village to another buying handcrafts from local artisans (many illiterate and speaking only Quechua) which he then re-sells to an exporter, who then lists the items on eBay. Now what kinds of 'paystub review' requirements are being imposed on the trader and the local artisans?

You sound like the bureaucrats who are the villains of Seeing Like A State. What are the chances of all this paperwork and reporting actually being done? What would it cost -- exactly? It doesn't matter because the actual answer is enough to make it not worthwhile for Amazon, eBay, etc to engage in the business at all.

You're trying to impose strict worldwide reporting requirements on any producer worldwide (however small) who would like to sell goods in the U.S. through Amazon and other large eCommerce businesses (even two or three or more steps removed).

This would fit right in with FATCA and the U.S. abusive global tax system. And these are the proposals of 'pro-liberty' Republicans!!?

Oh look, yet another post devoid of actual numbers.

Exactly how many exporters are going to be doing $500,000,000 worth of revenue in Andean handicrafts? Do tell.

And if this going to be so hard why, exactly, is it considered not a problem at all for Andean exporters to certify that all of their crops are GMO free for Europe? After all you posited a chain three layers deep, but those for grain are typically more than six. Which grain markets were unable to comply EU GMO certification requirements? By far and away agriculture is the most important industry in impoverished areas and the most decentralized. Yet we have had Europe demanding exactly this sort of supply chain management for over a decade and shockingly nobody has quit buying grain from the Andean highlands.

"What would it cost -- exactly? It doesn't matter because the actual answer is enough to make it not worthwhile for Amazon, eBay, etc to engage in the business at all."
Mr. Bezos states to the contrary. Per him, Amazon will be auditing to prevent slavery of its own absent legal compulsion. Do you believe him to be lying or uninformed?

"And these are the proposals of 'pro-liberty' Republicans!!?"
Exactly when did pro-slavery become pro-liberty?

As far as the Republicans, well it was the Republicans who banned slave labor. It was also the Republicans who went after debt peonage in the Old South and limited the use of carceral labor.

At the end of the day we all agree that in the best world nobody would buy goods made under coercion from slaves. So the only question is how much will preventing it cost?

And we are still waiting for answer. Give us an example. Because companies are already doing it. Yet another round of obfuscation and non-normative pleas about bogus examples is only going to terminally weaken your case.

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"The law penalizes opaque supply chains rather than slavery per se. That is unlikely to be an efficient target"

Isn't that the opposite of your claim about MLB, which targets getting the virus rather than risky behavior?

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All fine, but you seem to be having some big argument with yourself over something that take you down some weird roads.

"Right and as Confederate apologists never cease pointing out, being enslaved drastically increased the living standards of the descendants of those enslaved relative to the descendants of those who stayed behind in the Congo Basin."

I suppose this could be a technically correct argument, but this is the first time I have heard it made publicly and I read a fair amount of "right" media.

"I mean child prostitution provides a substantial inflow of capital to some grindingly poor cities in SE Asia."

This is an inaccurate statement. If you want grindingly poor cities in SE Asia you need to be looking at Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar. Cambodia is the only one of these that could have significant child prostitution, but providing substantial flow of capital, no.

No Thai city is grindingly poor, and few are actually poor. There is almost no significant international participation in child prostitution in Thailand, although adult prostitution has provided substantial international income.

There is much less forced prostitution in Thailand than there used to be, but it was always a Thai, not a foreign business and in any case the supply chains more likely went through local police departments than multinational corporations.

"I suppose this could be a technically correct argument, but this is the first time I have heard it made publicly and I read a fair amount of "right" media."
This would be because the right are not Southern Apologists. The modern Right thinks the Confederacy, and particularly its political leadership, were wrong. They have a soft spot for the rank and file who neither owned slaves nor had hope of owning them and try to remember that like all conflicts these were real people with multitudinous motives. I cannot think of a single modern pundit who holds that the Confederacy was "right".

Confederate Apologists saw slavery as an objective good. Calhoun, for instance held "Never before has the black race of Central Africa, from the dawn of history to the present day, attained a condition so civilized and so improved, not only physically, but morally and intellectually." This continued on through Wallace and the segregation era when Wallace grounds his infamous "Segregation Forever" speech in the "card of the Confederacy".

Pretty much all of the pro-Southern histories of the war (e.g. A Southern History of the War) take this line.

As far as child prostitution, sorry but I trust those on the ground more than those on the internet. A colleague of mine with MSF worked in Svay Pak. While he was there, foreign pedophile prostitution was the single largest economic activity in town. I suppose you could quibble about a place of 16,000 people being a "city" but undoubtedly child sex trafficking was the single biggest economic driver in town.

By the numbers, the price of traffic girls is well into the millions. Presumably the traffickers are recouping that several times over. And for impoverished places like Svay Pak, that is a major source of economic investment.

I am also on the ground and your friend is also on the internet. But broadly you do seem to have accepted my point. That child prostitution in Southeast Asia is, although a horrible thing, an extremely rare activity that may or may not be prevalent in a single very small city.

You don't cite any data for the claim in this strangely constructed sentence:

"By the numbers, the price of traffic girls is well into the millions."

But there is no doubt that it does not apply to Southeast Asia. I think your claims in this regard are well-intended but ignorant. Southeast Asia are moral humans equal to you or me. They are not hiding horrific crimes any more than Americans. It is a slur.

No, just mentioned the glaringly obvious case. When IJM investigated prostitution with validated time-space sampling in Cambodia they foundnd that minors made up 3.7 - 9.2% of the prostitutes working in major cities (e.g. in Phnom Phen 8.32% were illegal under US law; additionally about 0.75% were <15 years of age). UNAIDS estimates that there are around 35,000 prostitutes in Cambodia. This suggests that there are between 1,300 and 3,200 children, as defined by US law, working in the sex trade. The average reported price for purchasing one of these girls is around $2,000 from her parents.

So initial outlay was somewhere around $4 million for the current child sex slaves. There are, of course continuing outlays and most criminal enterprises have revenues that an order of magnitude or more greater than base costs.

Of course average wages in Phnom Phen are only around $250 a month. So we are talking about a flow of money that is substantial by most local metrics and definitely substantial in a few select areas.

And at the end of the day the difference is merely of scale. If banning slavery in US corporations' supply chains will hurt some amount of GDP growth, then so will banning US participation in the child sex trade. Obviously you think this scale of degree is important, so at exactly what point would the child sex trade become large enough to be something we should ignore in the name of GDP growth?

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"The Censorship-Free Business Certification Act of 2020, introduced last week by Republican Senator Coq Bloqersun of Missouri, sounds unobjectionable, maybe even worthy. Consider the hypothetical case of a U.S. retailer buying a shipment of seafood routed through China. It fears that some of the seafood may have come from Hong Kong, where there are credible reports of censorship in the supply chain. How does it find out if those reports are true?"

I think CNN does investigative reporting . . .

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Are always worth defending, especially when it comes to food.

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Well don't most large (publicly traded) businesses already do this?
https://www.google.com/search?q=social+compliance+jobs

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Hello China, we have a new law for doing business with you!

More like -- "Hello China, we have a new law intended to make it very difficult for American businesses and consumers to do business with you".

It is protectionism with a transparently phony anti-slavery pretext.

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On the point of opaque supply chains, I think there is a general understanding in business that when you start supplying to the big boys, it is time to step your game up. As Sure pointed out above, it isn't an obviously bad thing if this law filters out companies who may well have no business supplying American companies in the first place.

American companies exercise considerable authority over their suppliers when it comes to quality control, materials, and design. The idea that they are somehow unable to know anything about working conditions in those suppliers or in companies that these suppliers themselves source goods or materials from is dubious at best.

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To sum up, the position here is one of broad-based tariffs ("sanctions") against countries which "support" slavery, after investigations by a large US government bureaucracy, in lieu of targeted fines at specific US end companies when specific instances of failing to detect slavery in their business chain are identified?

It seems like the alternative policy proposed could be toothless, if "supporting slavery" is defined very softly, such that countries where slavery is practiced but who make some weak token attempts in line with limited against it are not seen to "support" slavery. "You're doing all you can as a poor country, so no tariffs for you! Your heart's in the right place! Shame about the slaves, but oh well".

On the other hand, if defined strongly, and actually has teeth, whacking broad based tariffs on countries which have slavery, without regard to their intent and capability, it seems unlikely this will have fewer perverse incentives than whacking specific fines on specific US based offenders.

As for giving USG more powers to investigate, that sounds like it needs higher taxes on business to fund. The general public sure as hell ain't payin for it!

So would big businesses rather pool their resources voluntarily to fund a shared international investigations agency, or get slapped with taxes to fund USG to do the same? Either way, they're gonna pay for this.

Exactly. On the sanctions/tariffs issue, the problem in cases like Cambodia and Thailand is that whatever the U.S. government does to these countries will always take place in the wider context of international politics. The U.S. government has known for years about potential slavery on Thai fishing boats but is imposing sanctions on the whole country the best approach? What if that just drives the once-close U.S. ally even further away and closer to China? Same with Cambodia, where Hun Sen seems comfortable giving Western countries the middle finger and telling them any trade, investment and aid they threaten to withhold will be made up by China?

That is why targeted sanctions on specific companies who engage in forced labor make more sense. But the people in the best position to apply those sanctions are American companies and the punishment consists of terminating the business relationship. Sanctions may come later if investigators come across credible allegations of specific crimes and the local cops still fail to act even after receiving this evidence.

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According to the Cocoa Barometer 2018, it is estimated that 2.1 million children are working in cocoa fields in the Ivory Coast and Ghana alone. Child labor is work that harms children because it is performed at too early an age or under dangerous conditions, or stops them going to school. For example, carrying heavy loads, spraying pesticides, or using dangerous tools.

Why does it still happen?
The causes are a mix of social and economic factors. Families feel they need the extra income or labor on their farms. Lack of schools, socio-cultural norms, and lack of awareness all contribute. And in extreme cases, there’s trafficking or modern slavery.

UTZ is working to put a stop to child labor
Child labor is prohibited on UTZ certified farms.
Children younger than 15 are not employed in any form.
Children younger than 18 do not conduct heavy or hazardous work, or any that could jeopardize their physical, mental or moral well-being.
On small scale/family run farms, children are allowed to help their families, but only if: the work does not interfere with schooling; it’s not physically demanding or hazardous; an adult relative always accompanies the child.
No forced, bonded or trafficked labor is allowed in any shape or form.
utz.org/what-we-offer/sector-change/child-labor/

Child labor was a feature of US agriculture from the beginnings of the country until very recently and remains so to a lesser extent even today.

On the definition of child labor. Children of 11 years old routinely working more than 40 hours a week did not end very recently, but more than a century ago. 15 year olds remain (broadly) legally able to work today, with various restrictions - including the number of hours a week that can be worked.

Nobody keeps track of the hours worked by juvenile family members on US farms. Or much else about the practice.

The number of family farms that use children to do work on the farm is a small fraction of the small fraction of those that work on any farm in the first place.

But to make you happy, yes, the Amish are likely still engaging in precisely the same child labor practices that they have for centuries. Care to guess how many hundreds or thousands of children that represents?

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"It is unlikely that businesses, even larger and profitable ones, will be in a position to hire teams of investigative journalists for their international inputs."

Where in the bill does it say that companies would have to hire investigative journalists? It takes a rather creative interpretation of it to assert that.

They would have to have audits. Companies already have extensive internal and external auditing of their supply chains. There's an entire industry of supply-chain sustainability auditing, which includes auditing for forced labor. There are tons of worker voice, product traceability, risk assessment, and supply-chain mapping technologies, too. None of these approaches are without limitations, but they are better than nothing.

This bill is for companies with $500 million in annual sales or more. Companies that big can easily afford to meet these requirements. Many probably already do so.

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Wanting the government to do this is just duplicating work. Companies should be doing this anyways. The fact that they won’t unless the government imposes fines is the real story.

If they want to make stupid commercials showing how woke they are, they can shoulder some real responsibilities.

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Sorry, Tyler. I don't know all the relevant national laws and international agreements on slavery whose enforcement appears to be weak. I think you don't know either (you claim you read the proposed law but it means nothing to understand the current legal situation of slavery and related issues, in particular, child labor).

I think that in our world's political order no national government, including the U.S. government, can dictate and enforce rules that require the cooperation of other governments. Yes, many times two or more national governments have found in their interests to agree on some policies that impose restrictions on their actions but since their serious enforcement is too costly is not a surprise that effective enforcement often is too weak. On issues of world interest like slavery, it's clear that the United Nations has long ago exceeded its "optimal" scale and scope, and to make things worse their existing agencies "have been failing us" for a long time (the latest example is WHO).

So, what can the U.S. government do assuming there is strong agreement on prohibiting slavery, that is, specific types of coerced labor defined as crimes in the U.S. but not prohibited and criminalized in some other countries? From other experiences, you should have learned that some Americans (individuals and organizations) will still do it in the U.S. and others will do it abroad. Indeed, the first step is to be sure that domestic enforcement is strong and cheap, something probable if there is strong agreement on prohibiting slavery (recent events show how national agreements on "law and order" issues have weakened). Now, can the U.S. government prohibit that Americans take advantage of coerced labor abroad, in particular when condoned by national governments? The drug wars have shown how costly enforcement is and therefore how ineffective "under-funding" is. To make things worse, in the drug wars the opposition to prohibition has largely come from pro-consumption people, mostly the same people that would/could be in favor of prohibiting slavery.

I hope those ideas help you to reframe the discussion of the proposed law.

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I suppose slavery is like pornography: you know it when you see it. Missouri, Hawley's state, has an interesting history. Missouri, a slave state, both joined the Confederacy and remained in the Union, sending (different) representatives to participate in each government. Officially more Missourians fought in the war on the side of the Union, but that doesn't count the so-called "bushwackers" who supported the Confederacy. Missouri's history isn't much different from the other border states. For example, Kentucky remained in the Union but more Kentuckians fought for the Confederacy than for the Union. Hawley grew up in rural Missouri, which is where the Confederacy found support from Missourians - it's where the slaves were, working on farms in the fertile valleys of the Mississippi.

Hawley's bill is intended to bust up supply chains in Asia, not free labor from harsh conditions, by forcing American companies to either police labor conditions in remote parts of Asia, a near impossible task, or withdraw from the supply chain. Will busting up supply chains result in improved labor conditions in Asia? As Cowen suggests, it would have the opposite effect. In the absence of western supply chains, Asian employers would have little or no incentive to improve labor conditions, and opportunities for labor would be diminished. Here's an alternative to Hawley's bill: tax US. companies on their worldwide income, and stop letting them dodge US. taxes on global income by deflecting that income to tax havens. Hit the US companies where it hurts, don't punish Asians, which is the likely result under Hawley's bill. Hawley, a good Missourian who knows history (a graduate of both Stanford and Yale), wants to have it both ways: make a show in support of labor while maintaining the status quo that allows US companies to dodge US taxes.

Probably just a Trumpian ploy to make it harder for Biden to join the TPP.

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Trump scrapped the TPP because Trump is an ignoramus. The TPP is intended to boost Asian countries other than China as a check against China. Trump, being Trump, thought it was something to aid China. Stupid is as stupid does. Scrapping TPP strengthened China. Duh. Americans are stupid, and proud of it.

TPP had a good intent (free trade, check China) but the execution was rather suspect since it was more than just a free trade agreement. It was an extralegal framework. I'm no fan of Trump but it was a good thing he scrapped it.

Right, Trump scrapped it because everything was "a horrible deal, the worst deal ever and I can do better because I'm the best negotiator ever", right or not, not bcos of anything like ray says.

And note Hilary Clinton, Liz Warren, Bernie Sanders all in against TPP too (https://www.cnbc.com/2018/04/13/elizabeth-warren-bernie-sanders-slam-trumps-move-on-tpp-trade-deal.html - Trump getting blasted by Poca and Bernie for considering reversing and joining the thing). Perhaps they are all ignorami?

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In the absence of western supply chains, Asian employers would have little or no incentive to improve labor conditions

In the presence of effectively unpoliced Western supply chains (unpoliced beyond the court of negative publicity), what incentives do they have?

Seems like none, but magical thinking on the power of "Engagement" reigns among a ceraltain age bracket, it seems. "We simply trade with them and by magic they transform towards our norms and standards".

Nice insinuation that political figures from certain places within the US should be mistrusted, by the way.

It’s just supply and demand. All else equal, more demand for product means more demand for labor means higher wages. Econ 101. As long as a free market is functioning (and 99% of the time, it is—true slave labor is much rarer than labor that is low-wage simply as a function of supply and demand).

@Zaua, you do not disappoint in responding to one your personal Batsignals - the suggestion that anything other than the unhindered operation of the market and increased international trade is responsible for modern labour rights, or modernization, in contradiction to virtually all social history of labour rights, for one - and have gamely leapt in here with an apparent argument that "Increased trade and demand for the products of slaves is the way to solve slavery, as it will increase the relative bargaining position of the slaves".

While you may believe this (billions wouldn't... literally) I am a bit more interested in ray's take here, as I believe a self identifying liberal Democrat who almost certainly would not accept anything like this argument in the United States.

Zaua- Any regrets on granting China MFN status in the 90's?

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One of the assumptions of the free market is that it is indeed "free". Once we get to coercion, history states that increased demand goes to the ones holding the whip.

For instance, the Red Rubber System in the Congo Free State required compulsory labor by the natives for which they were compensated at very low wages. In the 1890s there was a boom in rubber prices. Demand for rubber and hence rubber collection labor, rose dramatically. Yet the wages paid in the Congo Free State remained static or even fell (particularly on a hourly basis).

Or we might consider the sex trade. Germany regularized the sex trade in 2002. This resulted in increased demand for sex workers and we saw things like the Hell's Angel traffic women into Germany to meet this higher demand. Yet the wages of the trafficked women, per Arabaci's trial, received no increased in compensation.

And I could go on. The LRA's payment to its conscripts were totally unmoored from the demand for soldiers in the area. Peasant labor in Nicholation Russia likewise saw the profits go to the top, not labor.

Frankly, most of the forced labor I have seen in the world pays only enough to salve the conscious and any international monitoring. Why someone already forced to work at below market rate wages is going to suddenly be able to demand more money just because demand rises elludes me. I mean, by definition coerced labor is not market clearly, why exactly would changing the slope of a line make any difference? History certainly does not bear your theory out.

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"forcing American companies to either police labor conditions in remote parts of Asia, a near impossible task"

In most cases, we are not talking about a Heart of Darkness scenario here. A country like Thailand has reputable law firms and private investigators who are used to working with multinationals. Hire one of them to drive out to the supplier's factory and speak to the manager, workers and the families of the workers. Things may be dicier if you need to investigate a gold mine in a place like Mali but factories and even commercial fishing boats in Southeast Asia can be investigated easily enough.

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3 seems to be the real kicker. I see people all the time conflating slavery with free but low-wage labor (with terms like “slave wages” even though that’s an oxymoron). Such an expansive definition of slavery would effectively prevent people in poorer countries from getting on the first rung of the development ladder.

There’s also a lot of disputable middle ground too—for instance, is a conscription program where people are temporarily required to work for the government on items of public importance slavery? That could be argued both ways, but many countries do it and it’s highly likely that the argument will be “it’s not slavery when countries we like do it, but it is slavery when countries we don’t like do it.”

In terms of slavery and supply chains, the distinction ought to be whether a free market exists such that increased demand for the product would lead to increased wages or other working conditions in equilibrium according to economic theory. If so, I have no problem purchasing the product regardless of how bad working conditions are now. However, if conditions are purely coercive such that market forces no longer apply, I would not buy the product. This judgment should be up to the actual consumer though—I don’t trust the government to make these distinctions in a way that will benefit the people that they are supposed to benefit (none of whom can vote after all), so there should be no such laws at all.

I read the law and I don't see where it is conflating these two things. The law defines forced labor in accordance with U.S. law on slavery and human trafficking as well as ILO standards on what it calls "the worst forms of child labour."

There is nothing about low wages or poor working conditions. Even though almost all countries do, in fact, have laws mandating minimum wages and minimal working conditions, the law doesn't even require that those national standards be met.

One thing to note in the case of Thailand is that it isn't that poor of a country anymore and actually has a significant population of legal and illegal workers from Myanmar and Cambodia. When we are talking about human trafficking or slavery in a place like Thailand, we aren't talking about people being led in chains onto the factory floor or the dock of a fishing boat. We are talking about people whose passports are taken from them and whose family members back home may be threatened if they don't keep working to pay off the middleman who got them there in the first place. Thai officials do prosecute cases like these but, of course, corruption is a real thing and they also just face the same practical problems American police face when investigating working conditions of illegal immigrants.

Right, but migrants as a whole would not be better off if laws discouraged companies from hiring them for fear of being tarred with slavery accusations, even if some amount of slavery actually does exist. This kind of law could make Thai companies afraid of hiring any Myanmar or Cambodian migrants, causing those migrants to lose out on legitimate economic opportunities and people in all three countries to lose economic growth.

Looking back at our own history, the vast majority of improvement for African-American former slaves came not as a result of legal changes, but as a result of economic development, which allowed black freed slaves to escape semi-slavery sharecropping conditions in the South for more economic opportunity in the North through the Great Migration. If other countries had put trade sanctions on the US over African-American conditions in the late 1800s, then that could well have made African-Americans worse off because there would have been fewer opportunities in the North and in Southern cities for African-Americans to escape to, or companies would have been reluctant to hire African-Americans given the thought that anyone employing African-Americans would have been suspected of being a slaver. I would apply that same logic to places like Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia, etc. and allow them to develop as quickly as possible without restrictions imposed by outside governments for the purported benefit of workers.

There's also a huge incentives problem here. Supposedly enslaved workers in foreign countries can't vote in Western elections. Therefore, Western governments have no incentive to actually make life better for those enslaved workers. Instead, Western governments design policy around their own voters, to keep slavery "out of sight and out of mind" so their own voters don't have to worry about it. You see this same thing with illegal immigration: politicians frequently justify policies that take options away from illegal immigrants as "for their own good" even though taking an option away from a mentally competent adult is almost never in their best interest. These policies are really done so that so that illegal immigrants suffer in poverty in their home countries where we don't have to see them rather than here. This kind of purportedly anti-slavery law would likely be enforced in a similar way, just to make Western voters feel better and not to actually improve the lives of these enslaved workers or help lift people in countries like Myanmar and Cambodia out of poverty.

Right, anything for GDP growth. We should rescind our extraterritorial bans on child sex tourism so that these poor impoverished states can more efficiently pursue adult sex tourism and they handful of kids swept in at the margins are just the price to pay for development. After all we would not a chilling affect on adults (say those near the age of majority) choosing sex work just because it would be a hassle to prove they are actually adults.

I suppose this also means yous support Trumps efforts to rescind FCPA. After all, why should we outlaw corruption when it might harm economic growth.

Reality is, when you have corrupt institutions in a county, be it segregation in the South, slave trade in Zanzibar, or forced labor in SE, the powers the wield this corruption capture much of civil society to their own benefit. Funnily enough, the South had massively more economic growth in the periods where external forces thought to compel more actual freedom be it through reconstruction or civil rights, than when you just let the Klan run the place. Likewise, suppression of the slave trade led to vastly more economic growth in East Africa than slaving ever did.

What actually makes a country wealthy is not the cash that flows in or even the industries present. We have seen far too many places go the way of Zimbabwe and Argentina even with high value, functioning industries. What makes for strong economic growth is rule of law and fair processes. Institutions matter and letting slavery fester has basically never lead to increased economic growth. From Haiti to Brazil to the US South, pretty much every abolitionary event has seen massively more economic growth in the following generation than was ever managed under slavery. And it does not matter if abolition was enacted locally, forced by other regional powers, or blackmailed through by Her Majesty's Navy. I literally cannot think of a country that actually suffered diminished economic performance after forced abolition. But I am sure you have plenty of historical examples as what you decry literally happened dozens of times over the span of decades throughout the world.

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If people are being enslaved, there's no room for a GDP argument here. If we are talking about a grey area, then that warrants a closer look. But no matter what, the laws need to be written very clearly for the very obvious cases of slavery so that all actors can proceed with certainty. Ambiguity is what really kills business.

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FWIW, I agree with Tyler. The way I'd say it is that I oppose a system wide burden for a truly rare occurrence. Instead try to police the rare occurrence directly.

Of course, it can be tricky deciding what's rare. Apparently we do need someone watching *all* the bagged lettuce, because lettuce baggers are not that reliable.

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“ The losers will be U.S. consumers, who will face higher prices and less choice.”

Well, them and the guys pocketing the difference between slave-based producers’ prices and the wholesale price?

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"1. The law penalizes opaque supply chains rather than slavery per se. That is unlikely to be an efficient target."

Use blockchains to store your info. Opaque supply chains only look like an inefficient target if you wear a policy wonk's hat but not if you have a problem solving mindset. There are solutions. Think about it in those terms first because they have a better chance of growing the pie than the usual zero sum quicktakes.

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"So rather than buying shrimp from Southeast Asia, that retailer might place an order for more salmon from Norway, where it is quite sure there is no slavery going on."

Then the Southeast Asia countries will have an incentive to clean up their act, crack down on slavery.

[As an aside, are shrimp and salmon really fungible products? Both seafood but demand is different.]

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>Why not just have the U.S. government issue sanctions against slavery-supporting countries when sanctions are appropriate and likely to be effective?

Some companies in the country might not use slaves. This measure targets the right entities.

Also, it's not either-or. We can use government sanctions "when sanctions are appropriate and likely to be effective" too.

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Noticing the statement: "where there are credible reports of ... slavery" that included a link I decided to read the link (a social science section article in ScienceAdvances "Seeing slavery in seafood supply chains") and some links, links (including "file not found government sites). A credible publication (by AAAS), but I also do a lot of peer review and know how easy it is to get junk science through the system, especially in some complex areas like environmental and social sciences where the number of variables is huge and leaving out a relevant variable can completely shift the result.

In the case of fisheries and aquaculture, I have considerable knowledge about the situations and some of the huge variations. Of course, those that have hired me as a consultant (primarily shrimp aquaculture) are some of the best-run operations in the world. This would create a bias in my thinking indicating no problem or problems that are rare exceptions.

However, I am also well aware of how activists have used false and misleading information to achieve their goals and have even been successful in planting false and misleading information in the scientific literature and getting that information and models designed to get PC results used in regulations.

In my reading of these links on the credibility of the claims, I was noting how often their sources were other activist organizations that have an agenda (requoting other activists' opinions is not evidence). I do remember a big story about "slave labor" in shrimp processing in Thailand years ago that created a lot of comments on a shrimp list server where I was active. Many of the claims were proven false, but some small independent processors who would just buy shrimp from wholesale markets were using very questionable labor practices and were shut down with no market impact (indicating lack of significance).

These independent processors were extremely small and were not processing for the export markets that require full temperature control and history. Note that buyers can and do measure the decay of the product after death by looking at the decay products of ATP (K value) and tell how long the product was at room temperature before cold packaging and freezing (your cat is also very sensitive to such handling issues on seafood). The published photos of these "slave labor" operations indicated a few people with buckets sitting around pealing shrimp under a palm leaf shack. Commercial shrimp processors are workers in a cold room with masks, hair nets, garments and gloves along with boots on production lines.

When I looked at the details of the link's "Seeing slavery in seafood supply chains" supply chain chart for shrimp they made an interesting set of errors. One of the environmental activists' false or misleading attacks as part of their multi-million dollar "Aquaculture Demarketing" campaign is to make the claim that the use of fish meal in aquaculture formulated diets ( fish/shrimp diets) is depleting the fisheries around the world. However, just noting that worldwide fish meal production has been almost constant for the last half a century while aquaculture product of fish/shrimp grew at double-digit rates from near zero to larger than total wild fisheries or cattle production and the only change has been a shift of fish-meal markets from cattle, pig and chicken diets to fish/shrimp diets as a protein source (protein sources are reasonably fungible -- why vegans aren't dead). Fish-meal is a minor component (often just flavoring) of most formulated aquatic diets. Note that fishmeal production is probably the best regulated wild fishery in existence and is capital intensive.

However, in the "Seeing slavery in seafood supply chains" fishmeal was a direct input and the only food input into the shrimp supply chain (about 60% of the production cost is feed). The raw "feed-stuff" goes to feed mills (large capital intensive businesses) and processed into feeds based upon linear programs using all the available feeds stuffs (corn, soy, feather meal, distillers dry solids, etc. etc.) to obtain a balanced diet (correct fats, proteins - amino acids, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals) at minimum cost.

By not having feed mills as part of the supply chain and including "fishmeal" are they saying something about their activist orientation and desire to obtain a specific result, even when it is very misleading.

Note that they did put the hatcheries and imported broodstock into the supply chain. Yes, it is critical and where I spend a lot of effort, but the biomass and labor cost are trivial with much of the labor having BS degrees or higher with a very international workforce (many from the US, where we developed much of the technology and trained the people back in the '70s, '80s, but had regulators and evnivronmental acitivists evolve into preventing an aquaculture industry from being created in the US). One shrimp female will produce about 200,000+ eggs/larva every two weeks with some hatcheries producing a billion larva per day.

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Dirtbag left responds:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FtwqGRkEVo0

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