US Agency Backs Deal With Company Accused Of Slave Labor

Despite the harsh accusations tied to some of these companies, the U.S. Export-Import Bank says oversight just isn’t available in these cases.

To  many, the United States Export-Import Bank is an obscure U.S. government agency. But to those who have been paying attention, the organization is nothing but corporate welfare at its finest, taking money from the American public to back huge corporations, such as Boeing. Now, we also know it backs companies accused of slave labor.

Between 2007 and 2015, The Guardian reports, the New Jersey-headquartered Connell Company was granted 48 insurance policies provided by the Export-Import Bank while pursuing deals with 17 mining companies in sub-Saharan countries. One of these policies went to the Bisha copper mine in Eritrea, a firm under investigation by a Canadian court.

If the investigations carried out by the Guardian and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism’s Energy and Environment Reporting Project are correct, Bisha is the target of Canadian officials for employing slavery in its mines. In addition, Nevsun Resources, the Canadian company behind Bisha, is also facing a lawsuit for using the Eritrean army to force “hundreds of military conscripts to work there under abhorrent conditions,” the Guardian reports.

In other words, the U.S. federal agency was providing insurance policies for a deal with a company involved neck-deep in two major legal battles revolving around exploitation and abuse.

To Doug Norlen, the director of economic policy for the U.S. branch of Friends of the Earth, some of the projects backed by the Export-Import Bank “are associated with some pretty serious human rights abuses,” he told the Guardian. Norlen said he believes that it’s important for U.S. agencies to act with responsibility, carrying “out human rights due diligence.” Unfortunately in this case, the agency seems oblivious to the human rights abuses these companies are being accused of committing.

On top of these harsh human accusations, Connell has also done business with mining companies from the Democratic Republic of Congo, where mines are located close to villages in the Katanga region. As a result, thousands of locals are exposed to fumes, noise, dust, and even effluent water, putting their health and lives in danger. Needless to say, the transactions between Connell and these mines were insured by the Export-Import Bank.

Because of the U.S. agency’s involvement, the risk of doing business in troubled areas of the world are transferred to the American public. Nevertheless, the bank’s insurance deals with companies like Connell are not subject to environmental or social due diligence procedures, the agency’s senior vice-president for communications, Caroline Scullin, said. The Guardian reports that because these policies are short-term deals, they are not subject to oversight.

This shameful exploitation of communities in troubled areas of the globe on the U.S. taxpayer dime isn’t just absurd — it’s immoral. Unless agencies like the Export-Import Bank are targeted and criticized for their lack of oversight, this type of transaction will continue to take place — and on our behalf.

Banner and thumbnail credit: Reuters, Finbarr O'Reilly

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