Thursday, June 18, 2009

Excerpt- The Slave Next Door Pt. I

Ron Soodalter


It is important to look at the federal government’s actions – both positive and negative – in its relatively new war against human trafficking in America. Many federal officials have taken on the task of rooting out and prosecuting traffickers, as well as coordinating with service providers and victim advocates providing care for survivors. We’ll speak with representatives of some of the federal agencies whose job description has been expanded to include modern day slavery, and get a sense of how they feel the campaign is going. We’ll also examine some cases that seem to stand in direct contradiction to the anti-trafficking position taken by the government – cases in which administration politics and inaction have actually increased human trafficking on American soil - both here and abroad. One of the worst of these cases involves tax-payer money supporting slavery as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Bringing democracy to Iraq – on the backs of slaves

First Kuwaiti General Trade and Contracting Co., a billion-dollar construction company, was hired to build the new U.S. Embassy in Baghdad – after no American company would agree to the government’s terms. The project is worth $592 million to First Kuwaiti, and encompasses a 104-acre, 21-building complex, making it the largest U.S. embassy in the world. When completed, it will be six times larger than the United Nations, and the same size as Vatican City. From the beginning First Kuwaiti had difficulty in fulfilling the terms of its contract. Serious problems piled up: faulty wiring, fuel leaks, and poor construction. Some of the problems were determined to be “life safety issues.” And while the day-to-day fire fight was going on in Baghdad, a war of words was being waged between the State Department in Washington, who defended their contractors, and those on the ground in Iraq, who were suffering from substandard work, and delays.

Boondoggles, pork barrels, and shoddy work are scandalous, but it was another, uglier issue that brought First Kuwaiti to the world’s attention. Some of their contract workers had been trafficked to Iraq against their will, held by force, and paid little or nothing. First Kuwaiti – and by association, the U.S. Department of State – were using slave labor to build the embassy. Taxpayers were footing the bill. The idea of a U.S. subcontractor trafficking enslaved workers into the country where we are waging a war to introduce freedom and democracy, is unthinkable. And yet, in case after case, the construction company hired workers, normally through sub-contractors, from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Sierra Leone, Egypt, Turkey, and the Philippines under false pretenses. Falsely promised work in Dubai, they were landed in a combat zone. Once in Iraq contractors confiscated the workers’ passports, forced them to live in squalid conditions, and to work long hours for little or no pay. And, says journalist David Phinney, “It was all happening smack in the middle of the US-controlled Green Zone—right under the nose of the State Department….”

The Slave Next Door by Ron Soodalter and Kevin Bales:

Tens of thousands of people from every part of the globe (including U.S. citizens) are living in slavery today in America. They are controlled by violence, paid nothing, and forced to work until they die, escape, or are rescued. Authors Ron Soodalter and Kevin Bales describe this horrific condition in their definitive book,
The Slave Next Door: Human Trafficking and Slavery in America Today, which presents for the first time, a comprehensive and compelling account of modern-day slavery in the Land of the Free.

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