America's abysmal human rights record at home reveals its hypocrisy abroad
Published: Jul 02, 2022 01:47 PM
Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

The United States has the dubious distinction of having a reputation for a multitude of things. These include leading the world in school shootings, having stereotypically unhealthy food and having prohibitively expensive healthcare. 

However, one of the things that the US government has also earned itself a reputation for is the continuous lecturing of any and all countries that do not tow its line, on topics as purposefully vague as "human rights." "Human rights" and "democracy" have been weaponized by the rulers in Washington and on Wall Street to fit their geopolitical goals.

What makes this situation ever more curious is the fact that human rights and democracy are in an abysmal shape in the US itself. One of the ways in which human rights are continuously violated and the principles of democracy shredded is through the US government's permission of forced labor.

The 13th Amendment to the US Constitution reads "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction." While the 13th amendment effectively ended chattel slavery in the US, it specifically allowed the utilization of slavery for those convicted of a crime, and subsequent administrations have not been shy to allow the proliferation of "legal slavery." 

According to the US Bureau of Prisons, as of 2021, inmates in federal prisons earned between $0.23 to $1.15 per hour, way below the starvation wage that is the federal minimum wage $7.25. Some of the world's most powerful international corporations further pad the pockets of the world's oligarchy while squeezing the poor even more so.

Allowing voluntary labor with full protection under the law is one thing, but according to a University of Chicago Global Human Rights Clinic report, this is nowhere near the case for inmates in the United States. 

According to the report findings, nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of incarcerated people report working behind bars - amounting to roughly 800,000 workers incarcerated in prisons. More than three quarters of incarcerated people surveyed (76 percent) report facing punishment such as solitary confinement, denial of sentence reductions, or loss of family visitation if they decline to work.

This is more than our regular "work or starve" coercion typical under capitalism. This is subjecting people to solitary confinement or extending their sentences if they refuse to produce goods for large corporations for virtually no monetary compensation.

The US is also unique amongst what they would call the "developed world" in their utilization of child labor. While, once again, child labor is supposedly outlawed in the US, there are convenient loopholes to this law as well.

The 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act allowed for the employment of children in the agricultural sector, one of the most dangerous areas of occupation in the US. According to US media reports, as many as 500,000 children, some as young as seven, harvest up to 25 percent of all crops in the US. Ten-hour days, heavy machinery and the blistering sun are just some of the things these children have to endure, sometimes seven days a week.

None of this is surprising however, as the US is the only member of the UN that has so far refused to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Children. That is, there are 196 parties to the convention with just one outlier, the US.

The agricultural sector is also notorious for being especially exploitative towards migrants. The H2-A visa program is often utilized as an avenue for exploitation of immigrant workers because it ties temporary immigration status to employment without offering a sustainable solution. Empowered with this, employers can keep immigrant workers on a never ending hamster wheel of harsh conditions and coercive practices while using deportation as a threat.

A CDM report confirmed some of these exploitative practices. One hundred percent of immigrant workers experienced at least one serious legal violation of their rights, with 94 percent experiencing three or more. Eighty six percent said that women were either not hired or were offered less favorable pay or less desirable jobs than men, 45 percent experienced overcrowded and/or unsanitary housing conditions, 35 percent did not have necessary safety equipment to do the job, and 43 percent were not paid the wages they were promised. The visa program is also notorious for its predisposition to be utilized by human traffickers, smugglers and modern day slave drivers on farms particularly in the US South.

Yet this is the country that seeks to lecture others, sanction others and bomb others in the name of human rights and democracy?

The author is a political and economic analyst with a concentration in areas such as socialism of the 21st century, Chavismo, Populism, Latin America, Geopolitical Trends, Latin America, and Kirchnerismo. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn