- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 24, 2000

When the House of Representatives votes 371-to-1, you know it is time to read the small print. The "sex trafficking" elimination act is no exception. It is proof positive that the old bait-and-switch works as well today as in the days of old.
Who could oppose a bill to end the worldwide traffic of "700,000 and possibly millions" of women who are forced into brothels? But Patricia Ireland, Gloria Steinem and the other "human rights" activists raised suspicion when they claimed the United States alone has 50,000 woman and children trafficked across its borders. It turns out, it all depends upon what you mean by "trafficking."
Section 3 says that "trafficking in persons is not restricted to sex trafficking but often involves forced labor and other violations of internationally recognized human rights." Other violations cover "slavery-like" practices, which include "harsh or degrading" working conditions. Get it yet? Of course, there is some real sex trafficking but the real point of this legislation is that the labor unions were frustrated in their direct attempt get union job protections written into worldwide trade agreements so they switched to the more appealing theme of protecting women against being forced into brothels to get the same goal accomplished.
How was this major labor union priority passed almost unanimously by a Republican-controlled Congress? The union bosses had a great idea. Bait the social conservatives with the sex trafficking angle and let them take the lead. So big labor won the sanctions against "sweatshop" labor conditions they could not get directly in the North American Free Trade Agreement, the World Trade Organization, or China trade treaties.
The social conservatives were sweetened-up with a ban on Internet sales of alcohol, limits on teen-age drinking, and states forced to pay if they released sex offenders too early. Economic conservatives were concerned about the limits to trade and the overriding of federalism on drinking and sex-offender policy, but who had the courage to fight "the enslavement of women?" Only one very brave soul, Rep. Mark Sanford, South Carolina Republican, did so and he was retiring.
There are sanctions against countries in the bill but not on trade nor even cutting most aid. In fact, nothing is really aimed at them because the actual target is U.S. business. Any firm that "in any way, financially or otherwise," knowingly benefits from harsh or degrading working conditions suffers a penalty of up to 20 years to life in the slammer.
Physical coercion is not required. If children are involved, there do not even need to be "abusive practices" at all. Indeed, anyone who "shares in the profits" of the harsh and degrading working conditions "or any part thereof" is guilty. That is how they will get the GAP, Nike and the rest.
Any Westerner thinks Third World labor conditions are "harsh and degrading." With that standard and the threat of life in jail, any business would cave to the unions and not use cheap foreign labor.
As in other such laws, this will harm the very victims of the evil they supposedly are out to eliminate. If the sanctions work against either the poor countries where conditions are so bad that these poor women risk emigration that leads to brothels and sweatshops or the companies employing people there, naturally, conditions there would get worse and more desperate women would be created. More would be forced into brothels or sweatshops, only it would be in the worse conditions of the poorer foreign nation, so the sensitive in the rich nations would not have to see them.
The paltry $30 million in grants and training only salve the liberal conscience. There are scores of laws on the books at local, state and national levels already against the real evils. Yes, offenders under the national law would now be given 20 years to life up from 10 years but it is doubtful this addition will stop these wretched traffickers. Again, the real purpose is to protect rich union workers here from competition from women in terrible economic conditions in poor nations and to make rich U.S. corporations pay. When more sex-trafficking and poverty results for these women, well, just pass another law.
The bill passed the Senate last week and is ready for the president's signature. He has indicated he will sign it surprise we all know where he stands on sex-trafficking.
The only sanity in the whole sad story was the bravery of one lone congressman to vote against this sham. He was one of the few who voluntarily limited his term in office and even kept his word not to seek re-election, so he was free to vote against this bad bill. Who says term limits make no difference and are not needed any longer?

Donald Devine, former director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, is a columnist and a Washington-based policy consultant.

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