|Ranking Member Connolly (left) and Chairman Lankford (right).|
By NICK SCHWELLENBACH
The Chairman and Ranking Member of a House subcommittee on federal procurement expressed anger after holding an oversight hearing on labor trafficking by U.S. government contractors and subcontractors in war zones and other contingency operations.
I represented POGO as one of the witnesses on the first panel of the hearing. One of my co-panelists was David Isenberg, an expert on private military contractors and my co-author on a POGO report on alleged trafficking by a U.S. subcontractor in Iraq.
“These labor practices violate every human value that we have as a country,” said Chairman James Lankford (R-OK) of the House Oversight Subcommittee on Technology, Information Policy, Intergovernmental Relations, and Procurement Reform in a written statement.
The labor practices Lankford referred to include crushing recruitment fees that create conditions of debt bondage for some workers, fraudulent recruitment practices where laborers are lured by false promises of good pay, and other indicators of labor trafficking. U.S. tax dollars are fueling many of these abuses through contracting to a bewildering array of foreign subcontractors and labor brokers working indirectly on behalf of the U.S. government.
“Even though they often are housed on-base at Department of Defense facilities and within secure perimeters for embassies operated by the State Department, many of these [third country national] TCN workers live in sub-human conditions, are subjected to sexual abuse and even prostitution, have wages stolen by subcontractors, and have passports stolen in order to prevent them from leaving,” said Ranking Member Gerry Connolly (D-VA). “These workers are promised good jobs with good wages and comfortable living conditions only to find a terribly different reality when they arrive to begin their jobs.”
The U.S. government is a leader in many ways in combatting trafficking in persons through the passage of laws that criminalize trafficking. However, the absence of enforcement despite the plethora of allegations regarding contractors working for the U.S. government overseas is seen as a notable weak spot in U.S. efforts.
“Our Departments of State and Defense stand up and fight for human rights around the globe but have turned a blind eye to these foreign workers. We believe that all men and women are created equal, and the United States must not stand idly by as these injustices occur on a daily basis under our nose,” said Lankford.
Nick Schwellenbach is POGO's Director of Investigations.
Photo via Congressman Darrell Issa.