March 10, 2017
‘A gift to human traffickers’: report warns of dangers of Trump immigration policy
By Kate Hodal
Donald Trump’s hardline approach to immigration has been branded a “gift to human traffickers” amid concerns that stricter deportation and border regulations will push undocumented migrant workers underground, putting them at greater risk of slavery and human rights abuses.
The new administration’s immigration policy – which hinges on the construction of a US-Mexico border wall and immediate repatriation of illegal immigrants – will force criminal networks to use more costly and potentially more dangerous trafficking routes by air and sea, say global risk analysts Verisk Maplecroft.
According to a report by the company, the controversial stance adopted by the White House towards migrant workers and immigration will be a major driver of human rights risks for business in 2017.
Developed countries are warned that human rights abuses are surfacing closer to home for western companies just as legislation strengthens and scrutiny of business practices increases.
Saket Soni, executive director of the membership organisation National Guestworkers Alliance, said the Trump administration’s new regulations will only exacerbate existing problems and proves that the US government is “part of the problem”.
“Trump’s policies are a gift to human traffickers,” said Soni. “We know firsthand what Verisk Maplecroft’s report confirms: criminalising immigrants makes them more vulnerable to forced labour, human trafficking, and modern-day slavery. Trump’s mass criminalisation will drive immigrants further into the shadows, where increasing numbers of them will face forced labour conditions.”
The report, entitled Human Rights Outlook 2017, draws on Verisk Maplecroft’s portfolio of global human rights data and its interactions with multinational companies to assess the top 10 human rights issues affecting business in the year ahead.
“The US is already classed as ‘medium risk’ in our index measuring modern slavery around the world, and the commodity risk that we’ve done shows that there are already extreme risks for migrants, including those on farms harvesting apples or citrus fruits,” said Maplecroft’s principal analyst, Alexandra Channer.
“There’s already a significant problem for undocumented workers in certain industries in the US. So the impact of these policies will be worsening an already serious issue, which we could see potentially widen to different industries, for example the transportation and hospitality sectors.”
There are an estimated 8 million undocumented migrants in the US. They comprise more than 10% of the labour force in Nevada, 9% in California, 8.5% in Texas and 6.2% in Florida, according to the report.
Ironically, as a result of the Trump administration’s directives to put “America first”, US companies with supply chains reliant on low-skilled, migrant labour face an increased risk of modern slavery, as these sectors often include informal and casual labour, hidden subcontracting and corrupt recruitment practices, the report warns. Stricter deportation rules for undocumented migrant workers will push them further underground, potentially exposing them to criminal trafficking gangs, while a US-Mexico border wall would increase criminal trafficking fees, leaving migrants more deeply mired in debt and vulnerable to exploitation, according to the study.
A 2015 Buzzfeed investigation found that migrant workers – both documented and undocumented – faced high levels of abuse at the hands of their employers, with thousands of workers on legal H-2 visas reportedly deprived of fair wages, imprisoned, starved, beaten, raped, and even threatened with deportation if they complained.
Channer said that migrants who fear they may be at risk of deportation, even if they are working legally in the US, will hesitate to report any labour abuses, such as delayed payment of wages or excessive working hours. “But failure to report even one abuse may lead to a slippery slope where conditions of modern day slavery [go unreported],” she added.
“Traditionally people have thought this is a problem that’s isolated on Thai fishing vessels or in textile factories abroad, but this is an issue that affects economies that are low-risk,” she said. “We highlight blind spots – such as cleaners and security guards, or caterers that supply food at business headquarters in London or Paris or Berlin. These workers are all extremely susceptible to conditions of modern slavery.”
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) called Trump’s immigration policies “concerning” because of their potential impact on all involved. “Heightened immigration enforcement will push people underground and create a significant chilling effect on reporting labour abuses,” said Sarah Mehta, a human rights researcher for ACLU. “There are consequences for all workers, including US citizens, when the ability to organise and report abuses is thwarted by the threat of deportation.”
The report recommended tougher auditing processes for companies completing human rights assessments. It stressed that a greater risk of modern slavery in the US supply chain could deter international businesses from working with US firms, lest their own supply chains should be sullied.
“Companies and investors looking to avoid the moral hazard of forced labour need to be as concerned about the US as they are about Thailand,” said Soni. “Since Trump has made the US government part of the problem, companies and investors will need to partner directly with worker voice organisations to make sure that immigrant workers have the power to receive a fair wage, expose abuse without fear of retaliation, and combat discrimination.”