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  • Author: Elizabeth Kirchhoff
  • Publication Date: 01-2017
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Center on Human Rights Education, University of Denver
  • Abstract: We are living in a tremendously important time in history, and the decisions being made by our social, economic, and political leaders today will go on to affect the trajectory of our societies for generations. With this in mind, the protection and promotion of human rights are even more crucial. And yet, while the Trump Administration’s cabinet already contains many problematic figures, Trump’s choice for U.S. Secretary of Labor is especially disturbing. Simply put, from a human rights perspective, there are many reasons why the Trump Administration’s nomination of Andrew Puzder as U.S. Secretary of Labor is the wrong choice.
  • Topic: Human Rights, Labor Issues, Domestic politics, Socioeconomics
  • Political Geography: United States, North America
  • Author: Fawn Bolak
  • Publication Date: 02-2017
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Center on Human Rights Education, University of Denver
  • Abstract: Last September, thousands of incarcerated individuals in the United States launched an organized protest on the 45th anniversary of the Attica Prison Uprising, in an effort to protest racial discrimination, excessive force, and demand an end to the current state of legalized slavery within the U.S. prison system. Across the nation, prisoners in state and federal correctional facilities are exploited for their labor in industries related to agriculture, clothing production, machinery, and technology. While prison officials who strike up deals with large corporations like AT&T and Walmart share in the profits of cheap production, the incarcerated laborers themselves make mere cents per hour for full time work. Additionally, those locked up in federal institutions, who are physically capable of full time work, are mandated to do so as prescribed by Title 29 of the Crime Control Act of 1990. Over 2 million people are currently incarcerated in the United States, making the U.S. the #1 jailer in the world, surpassing Cuba, Russia, and China. Moreover, inmates in the U.S. are disproportionately people of color. According data from the Sentencing Project, black men are incarcerated at a rate 5.1 times the rate of white men, and in 12 states, predominately in the south and east coast, more than 50% of the total state prison population is black. There is a prevailing conservative narrative that asserts that the disproportionate incarceration of black individuals in our criminal justice system is a product of a “culture of violence” centered in “inner cities” and predominately black neighborhoods, rather than a product systemic institutional racism. However, a quick glance at U.S. history indicates that the mass incarceration of black men, current use of exploitative prison labor, and our past economic system built on slavery, is not a mere coincidence.
  • Topic: Human Rights, Race, Labor Issues, Prisons/Penal Systems, Slavery
  • Political Geography: United States, North America
  • Author: Joanna Beletic
  • Publication Date: 02-2017
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Center on Human Rights Education, University of Denver
  • Abstract: US economic strategy has been rooted in the belief that the benefits of liberal policies outweigh the associated growing pains. The new Administration’s stance on dismantling trade deals will have a ripple effects throughout society. Global trade has allowed lower income consumers in the US to purchase cheaper goods. Goods are now produced across the globe; without trade deals the costs of inputs needed for US exports will increase, threatening US competitiveness. As global consumers purchase products elsewhere this may lead to further job loss and economic destabilization. Therefore, liberalized trade is fundamental to the US economy. From the get-go liberal economic strategy should have been coupled with efforts to redistribute the benefits to counter the impact on the ‘losers’. This is where the US has failed. There is not only an economic need but a rights obligation to tackle these challenges. Across the aisle ideas have included: the implementation of apprenticeship programs, fortifying workers’ unions, and worker relocation assistance. Hilary Clinton’s plan was rooted in the creation of a clean energy economy in locations that were previously manufacturing heavy, including infrastructure expansion and job training. None of these options have managed to pick up steam because none of them are easy and none of them act as a ‘cure-all’. What is needed is a thorough discussion on how to utilize a combination of such strategies. The Trump Administration introduced an easy solution: bring back exported jobs. Sadly, it is unrealistic for several reasons. First, many manufacturing jobs are not exported, rather disappear due to increases in automatization. Further, as companies consolidate, jobs are often relocated within the US rather than abroad.
  • Topic: Human Rights, Labor Issues, Employment, Labor Rights
  • Political Geography: United States, North America
  • Author: Claudia Castillo
  • Publication Date: 02-2017
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Center on Human Rights Education, University of Denver
  • Abstract: Colorado’s need for a flexible labor force capable of surging during certain seasons without creating a significance increase in the immigrant population is the crux of the problem for the state. The realization that there may be trafficked laborers into forced labor on Colorado farms is not a novel idea but the difficulty of obtaining evidence that proves to what extent these human rights violations occur has proven to be extremely challenging. With such a huge population of undocumented agricultural laborers and the lack of oversight throughout Colorado, one can only surmise that violations of the Colorado immigration, human trafficking and forced labor laws implemented in 2006 exist. The lack of research and data of Colorado’s agricultural labor force coupled with the scarce numbers of prosecuted human trafficking and forced labor cases in the agricultural sector is not indicative that the problem does not exist; it just makes the argument for developing a research initiative to determine the extent of the problem. It is not enough to extrapolate human trafficking and forced labor data from national reports or adjacent states to try and identify Colorado’s level of trafficking and forced labor activity in the agriculture sector.
  • Topic: Agriculture, Human Rights, Labor Issues, Labor Rights
  • Political Geography: United States, North America, Colorado
  • Author: Kate Morgan
  • Publication Date: 04-2017
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Center on Human Rights Education, University of Denver
  • Abstract: In the United States modern prison industrial complex (PIC), there are about 2 million inmates, marking the U.S. as the largest prison population in the world and the second highest incarceration rate per capita. The U.S. has 25% of the world’s prison population, but only 5% of the world’s population. With historical roots involved in using inmates as labor for agriculture, textiles, and other manufactured goods, this practice still continues by means of privatizing labor. Under the 13th amendment, forced labor is legally allowed when a person is imprisoned. Prisoners will never have “family emergencies”, ask for a pay raise, or refuse work without the threat of solitary confinement. This makes them the ideal economically conservative employee. Private companies and organizations will lease work out to prisons, and the prisons will then use their inmates to perform the needed work, whether it be mining, agricultural work, making military weapons, or making garments and clothing for Victoria’s Secret. The pay grade for an inmate doing this work can range from nothing to $3 per hour varying per state, with Texas and Georgia legally not having to pay anything to their inmates/employees.
  • Topic: Human Rights, Privatization, Labor Issues, Prisons/Penal Systems, Manufacturing
  • Political Geography: United States, North America
  • Author: Jo Beletic
  • Publication Date: 05-2017
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Center on Human Rights Education, University of Denver
  • Abstract: The cover story of The Atlantic’s June 2017 issue, “My Family’s Slave”, has flurried around social media over the last couple of weeks. The heart wrenching story sheds light on the enslavement of Eudocia “Lola” Tomas Pulido. If you haven’t already done so, do yourself a favor and click through on the link above to read it. Most stories of this sort do not have such a warm ending. Most stories of this sort are never written. What is most disheartening of Lola’s situation is the fact that her story is more common than many Americans realize. Lolas are hidden in urban centers and tucked away within organized suburbia across the US. Domestic workers—people engaged in an employment relationship for work performed within a household—are vulnerable in their invisibility. In the US, over 2 million individuals are engaged in domestic work. Nannies, housekeepers, and healthcare workers are cooking, cleaning, ironing, caring for children, the sick, and the elderly behind closed doors. Many of these workers, generally women and girls, are immigrant women and women of color. As advocates for improved rights of these workers attest: domestic work makes all other work possible.
  • Topic: Human Rights, Labor Issues, Health Care Policy, Labor Rights
  • Political Geography: United States, North America