Thursday, February 19, 2009

Refusing to act on slavery

The Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade committee has reported back [PDF] on the Trade Aid petition to ban the import of products produced with slave labour. The petition was signed by 17,000 people, and the ban on slavery is a part of customary international law. Despite this, the committee has recommended that the government do... nothing. Why? Because it would be contrary to our WTO obligations:

We were told by the ministry that in the context of international trade rules New Zealand would need to consider a number of technical issues if it were to impose a trade ban on goods proven to have been produced by slave labour. While Article XI of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade would prohibit banning the importation of goods made by slave labour, Article XX may allow the banning of imported goods on such grounds as the need “to protect public morals” or evidence “relating to products of prison labour”. However, where Article XX exceptions have been formally tested, they have proven very difficult to use and have never before been applied to the products of slave labour. Furthermore, there is no international consensus on which to base trade restrictions on goods produced using slave labour. New Zealand would need to prove that such a trade ban was not a disguised restriction on trade.
So the WTO (which succeeded GATT) permits goods produced by forced and slave labour to be prohibited when they are produced in a prison, but not when they are produced as the result of illegal activity or where slavery forms part of the general economic conditions of a country or industry. This is simply madness. And as a result, instead of legislating a ban, the select committee instead recommends "voluntary corporate social responsibility mechanisms". For slavery - something which is illegal under both New Zealand and international law.

What a crock. Time for someone to bring a member's bill.