Skip to content

The Combating Human Rights Abuses Act introduced by Senator Peters has no teeth and it doesn’t scrutinize or hold accountable US business abuses in the US or abroad

February 27, 2023

On Friday, Michigan Senator Gary Peters announced that he has re-introduced bipartisan legislation to help American businesses combat human rights abuses. 

The Combating Human Rights Abuses Act, SB4101, the bill would also direct the Commerce Department to offer guidance to U.S. exporters to help them avoid doing business with foreign entities that may be implicated in forced labor or human rights violations, according to a Press Release by Senator Peters.

At first glance, the idea seems solid, but after reading the language of the bill I have lots of questions about The Combating Human Rights Abuses Act, SB4101.

First, the language of SB4101 only names one country that violates human rights or labor rights, which is China. Most countries on the planet violate some form of labor or human rights, such as Israel, which violates the human rights of Palestinians on a daily basis. (See reports from the Israeli Human Rights group B’Tselem) If one spends any time on the websites of Human Rights Watch or Amnesty International you will find dozens and dozens of human rights and labor abuses in countries that US business have dealings with.

Second, in Senator Peters’ Press Release he names China and Russia as human rights abusers. This is instructive, since the Biden Administration has been ramping up anti-China and anti-Russian rhetoric over the past two years. Again, why only identify these countries and not countries that the US has close relations with such as Israel, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Colombia, Mexico, etc.?

Third, at the end of SB4101, “the language states, make clear that the guidance is for advisory purposes and that the Department of Commerce is not responsible for certifying the accuracy or completeness of the information provided in the guidance.” Therefore, there will be no enforcement or certification, it is mere an information sharing mechanism for US business that do business abroad. In other words it is just for show or a performative piece of legislation that has no teeth.

Fourth, why doesn’t the proposed legislation include US businesses that violate human rights or labor abuses abroad? We know that most apparel companies utilize sweatshop labor abroad, as do sneaker companies such as Nike, which United Students Against Sweatshops have been documenting for years. What about US corporations that engaged in harmful environmental degradation abroad, whether it is toxic waste, clearcutting rainforests or fossil fuel pipelines that have tremendous negative impact on ecosystems and humans in countries across the globe? Why isn’t Senator Peters speaking out or proposing legislation that prevents US businesses for human rights and labor abuses abroad? 

Fifth, why are there no real standards on how US businesses violate human rights here in the United States? Look at the harm done by companies like Norfolk Southern in Ohio recently, or US businesses that use prison labor, discriminate against the LGBTQ community, or have a legacy of racial discrimination. 

Like so much of US policy, the legislation that Senator Peters has introduced only blames other countries for human rights abuses, doesn’t have an enforcement mechanism, doesn’t name countries the US has cozy relationships with and doesn’t apply the same intended scrutiny on US businesses in general, whether they do business abroad, within the US or both, this legislation appears to be both biased and meaningless in its execution. 

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: