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Uyghurs are the Slave Labor for Global Companies; Tax Dodgers Love to Knee-Cap the IRS

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China’s leaders and wealthy elites are willing partners of global capitalism, opening up its doors, willingly, to Wal-Mart and huge multinational companies so those companies can produce trillions of dollars of stuff using cheap slave labor—in good capitalist style. Since 2017, China has been conducting a steady campaign of mass transfer of more than a million Uyghurs and members of other Muslim minorities into a vast network of ‘re-education camps’ in the far west region of Xinjiang, which Uyghur activists call “east Turkestan”.

Think of the Japanese internment camps in the U.S. during WWII or apartheid in South Africa—the key difference, is that this is being driven a lot by the thirst of global capitalism for cheap, slave labor. Tens of thousands of Uyghurs are being forced to work in factories that are in the supply chains of at least 83 well-known global brands in the technology, clothing and automotive sectors, including Apple, BMW, Gap, Huawei, Nike, Samsung, Sony and Volkswagen. Tomorrow, a worldwide call will be issued by 71 Uyghur rights groups and over 100 civil society organizations and labor unions from around the world demanding that apparel brands and retailers stop using the forced labor. Rahima Mahmut, a Uyghur singer, award-winning translator, and human rights activist who is living in exile in London, and Brian Finnegan, the Global Worker Rights Coordinator in the International Department of the AFL-CIO, join the show to talk about the campaign.

Some things never change no matter when tax day falls—we pay our taxes, while the rich and big corporations dodge paying their fair share. Amazon paid zero taxes in 2017 and 2018, despite having huge profits and, lo and behold, Amazon is making a big deal out of paying taxes in 2019—a whopping 1.2 percent of its $13 billion in profits.

One of the reasons these very rich people and corporations can scam us is the careful, relentless undermining of the IRS. And Congress has been the willing tool for that anti-IRS campaign, cutting its budgets year after year. What that means is simple: rich people and corporations don’t pay what they should because they know the IRS can’t keep pace with the armies of lawyers hired by rich people and corporations to dodge and avoid taxes. Hundreds of billions of dollars go unpaid and about 70 percent of that “underpayment”—which is a euphemism for dodging—is by the top one percent. A week after Tax Day, Amy Hanauer, executive director of the Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy, talks with me about the IRS and who is not paying taxes (alert: the tax dodger list won’t shock you!).

This blog originally appeared at Working Life on July 22, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Jonathan Tasini is a political / organizing / economic strategist. President of the Economic Future Group.

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Financing Forced Labor in the Cotton Fields of Uzbekistan

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To most families in the United States, early September means back to school and heading to the football or soccer fields. To Uzbekistan’s families, September means the government forces many adults and children into the fields to pick cotton. Since this year’s harvest began, three young people have died. The youngest was a six-year-old boy, Amirbek Rachmatow, who suffocated under a pile of cotton on Sept. 15.

Under a Soviet-style command economy, the government of Uzbekistan orders farmers to plant the cash crop, pays them below-market prices for it and forces students, teachers and workers from both the public and private sector into the fields to pick the cotton. Those who refuse face repression, ranging from beatings, expulsion from school, loss of employment or access to public services to increased taxes. According to a June 2013 report of the U.S. Embassy there, “The Government of Uzbekistan remains one of only a handful of governments around the world that subjects its citizens to forced labor through implementation of state policy.” Recognizing this fact, the United States downgraded Uzbekistan this June to the lowest classification for countries’ efforts to eliminate the modern forms of slavery known as trafficking in persons.

In all too many parts of the global economy, workers’ rights violations are accepted as “business as usual.” In this part of this particular supply chain, however, labor unions like those of the AFL-CIO, human rights groups and some business organizations and socially responsible investors that participate in The Cotton Campaign have together argued that Uzbekistan’s way of doing business is unacceptable. The campaign has brought pressure on Uzbekistan by working with some major corporations in this supply chain and through some national governments to stop forced labor in the Uzbek cotton Industry. For example, the U.S. Department of Labor released its most recent critical evaluation of child labor in the cotton fields on Sept. 30, 2013. At the International Labor Organization (ILO), both worker and employer representatives have made the case a priority in annual hearings on the world’s worst workers’ rights violations since 2010, finally securing entry for ILO experts to monitor this year’s harvest.

However, recent missteps by the World Bank and Asian Development Bank show that international financial organizations remain slow to defend the most fundamental human rights for workers, citizens and children. Over the past five years, the World Bank has regularly and indiscriminately financed agricultural development projects in Uzbekistan, failing to ensure that funds do not contribute to the cotton industry that depends heavily on forced labor. During the very same weeks this fall, when more than a million children and adults, so many in Uzbekistan, were forced into the cotton fields and three young people died, the Asian Development Bank approved a loan to the government of Uzbekistan for irrigation systems that will benefit the cotton production that is underpinned by government-orchestrated forced labor. Among others in the coalition, Human Rights Watch and civil society groups from Uzbekistan have worked to press these development banks to play a positive role in economic development in Uzbekistan rather than facilitate forced labor and child labor.

The United States and other countries finance these institutions and have a vote on their governing bodies. They should use that vote in the future to demand that Uzbekistan improve its labor rights and human rights practices before receiving financing. In addition, member countries of the ILO must insist that reporting produced by the ILO monitors reflect the harsh reality of the harvest as much as possible.

This article was originally printed on AFL-CIO on October 3, 2013.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author:  Brian Finnegan is a Global Worker Rights coordinator for the AFL-CIO.

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