Friday, November 4, 2016

Cheryl Mills, Corruption, Infrastructure and Sweatshops

If there were a generic Republican who was running for President and we learned that this person had not only assisted foreign companies in setting up sweatshops in third world countries but also that this person's top advisor was doing the same while they were on the government dime many people would have an issue with that. Some people have argued and really believe that sweatshop labor is just what third world countries need to bootstrap themselves into prosperity. Other people argue that no one ever got rich providing slave labor for corporations. In my view the second view is closer to being correct. The business model simply doesn't allow for that. So it's a fair question as to why Clinton lawyer, advisor and former government employee Cheryl Mills has been helping a low wage textile firm to set up shop in Haiti while simultaneously using the company's expertise to pursue her own low wage business dreams in Africa and the Caribbean. 

As chief of staff and counselor to Hillary Clinton at the State Department, Cheryl D. Mills worked ceaselessly to help a South Korean garment maker open a factory in Haiti, the centerpiece of United States government efforts to jump-start the island nation’s economy after the 2010 earthquake. Ms. Mills took the lead on smoothing the way for the company, Sae-A Trading, which secured millions of dollars in incentives to make its Haiti investment more attractive, despite criticism of its labor record elsewhere. When she presided over the project’s unveiling in September 2010, she introduced Sae-A’s chairman, Woong-ki Kim, as the most important person at the ceremony, which included Mrs. Clinton and the Haitian prime minister. Mr. Kim would later become important to Ms. Mills in a far more personal way — as a financial backer of a company she started after leaving the State Department in 2013. The company, BlackIvy Group, is pursuing infrastructure projects in Tanzania and Ghana, the only African nations in the “Partnership for Growth,” an Obama administration initiative that Mrs. Clinton helped introduce that promotes investment in developing countries. 
Since teaming up through BlackIvy, Ms. Mills and Mr. Kim have maintained close business ties, appearing together last year for the opening of a new Sae-A factory in Costa Rica where they cut the ribbon alongside Costa Rica’s president, Luis Guillermo Solís. In Africa, representatives of the United States Agency for International Development have consulted with BlackIvy and Sae-A about efforts to expand the textile trade in Ghana, where BlackIvy says the country’s 23-cents-an-hour minimum wage “compares favorably” to higher wages in China, Bangladesh and Vietnam. 

Federal officials are barred from using their positions to negotiate future employment or exchange services for something of value, and no evidence has emerged to suggest that occurred with BlackIvy. Both Ms. Mills and Mr. Kim deny that his investment was influenced by the substantial assistance she provided his company while serving as Mrs. Clinton’s right hand at the State Department. 

BlackIvy’s rationale did not sway labor advocates like Scott Nova, the executive director of the Worker Rights Consortium, who had criticized the Haiti project as a misguided American relief effort that glossed over Sae-A’s labor-relations history. “When you urge garment manufacturers producing in countries like Bangladesh, where wages are far too low for workers to adequately support their families, to move production to countries with even lower wages, it undercuts the efforts of apparel workers across the Global South to persuade governments, employers and major apparel brands to lift wages to a decent level,” Mr. Nova said. FULL STORY

If this sort of thing were going on in China or Russia or anywhere in the Middle East then we'd point and laugh and talk about those funny foreigners and their funny accents and their cultures of corruption or crony capitalism or so on and so forth. But it's happening right here, right now. And this is not a partisan problem. Both parties do this, have done it and will continue to do it. The only party difference may be which industries are favored. But that's not really a difference is it. I don't mind if government workers are well paid. I do mind if they are using government contacts to set themselves up for lucrative private business in the future. I do mind if they are using government power to assist private industry with the unspoken expectation that they'll get a little something something as soon as possible. I do mind if US government agencies are helping to outsource labor to cheaper markets.There is nothing illegal with what Mills has done but frankly that's the problem. Government policy should be based on what's best for the people of the United States, not what is best for a well connected cabal of wealthy lawyers, financiers, bureaucrats, corporations and lobbyists. The fact this group's membership may be more diverse than previous years is hardly something that should make any difference to the rest of us. I don't see that government assisted searching for sweatshop labor to make Mills and her friends richer does all that much for me. Black faces in high places means nothing if we have the same patterns of exploitation. This sort of both sides do it malarkey is exactly why the "tear the temple down" feeling is spreading in different ways on both the left and right. 
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