Forced labor tolerated by the Mauritanian government was called a decisive factor in the U.S. decision this week to end favored nation trade status for the country as of January 1.
“Forced or compulsory labor practices like hereditary slavery have no place in the 21st century,” said Deputy U.S. Trade Representative C.J. Mahoney. “This action underscores this Administration’s commitment to ending modern slavery and enforcing labor provisions in our trade laws and trade agreements.
“We hope Mauritania will work with us to eradicate forced labor and hereditary slavery so that its eligibility in the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) may be restored in the future.”
President Donald Trump, according to a press release from the executive office, had determined that Mauritania was not making sufficient progress toward establishing the protection of internationally recognized worker rights.
It went without saying that such criticisms from United States were least expected from a nation built on slavery, challenged over voting rights and currently dismantling the rights of workers to unionize, to safe working conditions, to freedom from discrimination, among others.
At a public hearing last August, a representative of the AFL-CIO federation of unions in the U.S. affirmed that Mauritania was in violation of established worker rights to association and to bargain collectively. A ruling by the African Union earlier this year found that anti-slavery laws were not enforced and slave owners received lenient sentences for violating human rights.
Mauritanian government spokesman Mohamed Ould Maham called the decision by President Trump “a betrayal of the friendly relations between our countries and a denial of our efforts” to roll back slavery practices.
The West African nation insists the country is no longer home to slavery, but to “the vestiges of slavery”, including poverty, social and economic exclusion and unequal access to education for members of the country’s former slave class, known as Haratin.
An estimated 90,000 people in the country of about 4.3 million still live in modern slavery conditions.
Haratins are the largest minority group in Mauritania and among the most economically and politically marginalized, according to UNPO – the Underrepresented Nations & Peoples Organization.
Public comments and hearing testimony related to the eligibility review are available online at www.regulations.gov under docket number USTR-2018-022.