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Oil, corruption, international policies, and human trafficking - Part 2

by aden Thu Nov 3rd, 2005 at 02:05:36 PM EST

From the front page ~ whataboutbob

This is the second of three posts on countries that are important to the oil industry and also recognized as having a significant amount of human trafficking activity.

This effort is an attempt to expand the context of the dialogue in which human trafficking is placed. A version of this diary will be cross posted on the tradio21 web site.

In reading the posts on peak oil and the critiques of The Financial Times' bias towards the "Anglo Saxon" labor paradigm, I have wondered how to integrate the human trafficking subject into these discussions.

For me there is a connection, albeit indirect.

Human trafficking, irregular migration, prostitution, exploitation of labor exist within the shadows of our society. I perceive the public dialogue on these matters to parallel this.

In 2001, the US House of Representatives passed a bill with an amendment that would provide funding to the FDA to create a "no child slave labor" label for chocolate products. At the time several articles had been published about the use of forced child labor on cocoa plantations in the Ivory Coast.

The idea was to bring the subject of forced labor into the public dialogue. The proposal did not go over very well with the chocolate industry, which gets much of its cocoa from the Ivory Coast. In the end, the label never came into being.

Four years down the road, corporate behavior nor public consumption have been much affected.

With the cocoa industry there is a direct link between the use of forced child labor and the product. In these posts, I am writing about "potential" links between economies dependent on oil and the human cost in many of the countries that produce oil. The focus of my work is on human trafficking, so I highlight that subject.

Oil, corruption, international policies, and human trafficking -Part 2

United Arab Emirates and Qatar
In September of this year the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Qatar escaped US sanctions because the Secretary of State determined that the governments of these countries had made "significant efforts" to bring themselves into compliance with the US defined minimum standards for combating human trafficking.

Both the UAE and Qatar were placed in a tier 3 rating -non-compliant, in June of this year.

Countries in the tier 1 rating are in full compliance; countries in tier 3 have failed to comply and are making a minimal effort to do so; tier 2 countries are somewhere in between. Only countries rated as tier 3 are eligible to be considered for sanctions. Also, as the rating and assessment system is relatively new, eligibility for sanctions went into effect only upon the 2003 assessment. See the end of post 1 for more info on this.

Most of the UAE and Qatar's efforts to combat trafficking have focused on the release and repatriation of child camel jockeys.

Wired magazine is running an article about robots that are being used to replace the child camel jockeys. The Wired magazine article describes how research and development for the robots has been taking place since 2003. During this time the UAE and Qatar have been rated in such a way that they have not been eligible for sanctions.

In 2001 and 2002, before countries were eligible for sanctions, both Qatar and the UAE were ranked as tier 3 countries; no compliance nor any effort to do so.

The UAE and Qatar neighbor each other. Both are part of OPEC. My understanding is that the UAE sits on approximately 10% of the known oil reserves in the world.

The UAE's per capita GDP is on par with those of leading West European nations. The UAE has seen a significant economic boom. Dubai is home to the world's only seven star hotel; Burj Al Arab. It is estimated that 85% of the UAE's population are migrant workers. Articles are regularly written about the poor working conditions for these workers.

A report by the International Organization for Migration -pdf, that focused on the trafficking of women from Azerbijan, stated that

"the authorities in the UAE make no distinction between prostitutes and victims of trafficking, all of whom bear equal criminal responsibility for involvement in prostitution."

The introduction to the US State Department's 2005 Trafficking in Persons report, released in June, added detail to this practice in telling the story of a 17 year old woman who was abducted from Uzbekistan into the UAE for the purpose of sex trafficking. After she was found and removed from the brothel she was put in prison as an illegal immigrant.

It is my understanding that those who are trafficked for labor purposes, if "caught", will be jailed as illegal immigrants.

There are conflicting stories about the conditions of the prisons in the UAE. Some state the conditions are terrible, others disagree. I have yet to find an internationally recognized human rights organization that has visited the victims of trafficking held in the prisons. The UAE seems to keep the door pretty tight when dealing with outside human rights organizations.

Several human trafficking experts believe that of any country in the Middle East, trafficking into the sex industry is most prevalent in the UAE. Though again, few organizations have been able to conduct studies within the UAE to assess the situation.

Many of the victims of trafficking in the UAE seem to come from countries in Eurasia; an area with developing oil capacity.

In July 2001 the New Yorker magazine publish "The Price of Oil" by Seymour Hersh. The article describes a collection of "oil swaps" and "oil laundering" schemes between Kazakh officials, including the president of Kazakhstan, and Mobil Oil. The article stated:

"Kazakhstan and the other former Soviet Republics in the Caspian Sea region (Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, and Turkmenistan) have become notorious for exploitation, corruption, and seemingly bottomless fields of oil whose bounty seldom benefits the average citizen".

Uzbekistan received much media attention after the massacre in Andijan. Previous to this it would get some notice for human rights violations and forced labor in its cotton industry.

Up until early October, Uzbekistan housed the Karshi-Khanabad(K2) air base, used for the war in Afghanistan. In July 2004, the U.S. government cut most direct government-to-government assistance, including military aid, to Uzbekistan because of the country's poor human rights record. The U.S. Defense Department was continuing to provide some counter-terrorism assistance to Uzbekistan. I do not know if that has formally ended, since the base was closed.

Although recognized by human trafficking experts, familiar with the region, as the largest source country of victims of trafficking in Eurasia, Uzbekistan has held a tier 2 or tier 2 "watch list" rating. It will be interesting to see if that rating falls to a tier 3, now that relations with the US have soured.

My understanding is that Uzbekistan is the eighth-largest producer of natural gas in the world, as well as provides an important link to access vast gas reserves in Turkmenistan

Former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray has been relentless in his criticism of both the US and Britain's relationship with the Uzbek government.

It was former Ambassador Murray, who with the assistance of UK forensics experts concluded that a political prisoner was boiled to death in an Uzbek prison. During this time the US had been giving Uzbekistan hundreds of millions of dollars.

Turkmenistan, another country with an important US military base, has yet to be rated in the US' yearly human trafficking report.

Turkmenistan was rated as one of the eight most repressive societies in the world in Freedom House's 2005 report. Uzbekistan received an honorable mention.

Turkmenistan is part of a large infrastructure of pipelines that access different oil and gas resources. This is the story for many countries in Eurasia. These pipelines provide access to oil and gas for different global players including Iran, Russian, China, Pakistan, the EU, and the US.

Two organizations founded by George Soros; Eurasianet and Revenue Watch, regularly write articles on the "great game" currently being played out in Eurasia. Revenue watch is broader in its focus.

"Caspian Oil Windfalls: Who Will Benefit?" is not the most recent Revenue Watch publication, but provides a good overview on this matter.

I have already, mentioned the International Organization for Migration's publication "Shattered Dreams: Report on Trafficking in Persons in Azerbaijan" -pdf for information on human trafficking out of Azerbaijan.

End Part 2

A few points of context:

  • Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan are indeed significant hydrocarbon producers (mostly natural gas), but that production has only one outlet: the Russian system. That gas never reaches the international markets and these countries are not readily accessible to foreign players. Turkmenistan is a totally closed country rules by a crazy dictator. Uzbekistan has more links to the West, but that's linked to the War in Afghanistan, and its use as a military air base. so whatever damning compromises the West makes in that region are more linked to Afghanistan than to oil or gas. (That doesn't make it less shameful, but it's not oil)

  • Kazakhstan is a different case, as it is indeed open to Western oil majors and does have large reserves that attract them. It's also not as bad as the above two countries, but it's not very pretty. It's generally considered better run than Russia, not that this is very high praise, but it is notable for the region...

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Tue Nov 1st, 2005 at 06:04:35 AM EST

Thanks for the comment.

My question is about this idea of the "new great game". While an Uzbek or Turkmenistan base is for the war efforts in Afghanistan, and the gas from a particular country may not be going to foreign players, what of this issue of the struggle between Russia, China, Iran, & the US for a presence and influence in the region -which is ultimately because of oil and other natural resources.

I did a search on Uzbek and oil pipelines after your post, there are a lot of big US companies present there -and hiring...

My understanding is that Russia and the US reacted very strongly when Turkmenistan made a pipeline agreement w/ Iran.

My point/ question is not on the specifics of the oil per se -which I am not an expert in, but on how much of a blind eye is required to become involved in these countries? Or what policies that border on complicity are required?

by aden on Thu Nov 3rd, 2005 at 02:51:28 AM EST
[ Parent ]

do you come to Brussels once in a while? Tell me if you do. I could arrange a couple of meetings with some friends of mine,

  • as is David, the president of the European chocolate industries association who might explain you their activities against child slave labour in the Ivory Coast,

  • Jaap, the EU Commission DG FJS administrator for the coordination between the police forces in the EU neighbourhood countries with Europol in The Hague to fight human trafficking and

  • Dirk, who coordinates the EU Commission energy policies in the neighbourhood countries and has a major stake in the strategical planning and implementation of the oil and gas infrastructure networks towards the EU Member States.

  • Jan, who is the general secretary of the European industries which produce juices. Jan can tell you first hand stories about child slave labour in Florida and California and why things got better on the Brazilian plantations.

"The USA appears destined by fate to plague America with misery in the name of liberty." Simon Bolivar, Caracas, 1819
by Ritter on Wed Nov 2nd, 2005 at 05:01:26 PM EST
Thanks Ritter. That is a very kind offer. I greatly appreciate it and would love to learn more about your friends' work. Maybe I could correspond at greater length with you through email aden[at]pobox[dot]com

I don't come to Brussels regularly but have been wanting to come back to visit the group I spent some time w/ in Antwerp. They are a very grass roots organization, controversial, and seemed to me to be often on that edge of disappearing. Plus with Vlaams Belang, it is becoming more difficult for them. Still I wouldn't be able to come until next year.

Thanks again

by aden on Thu Nov 3rd, 2005 at 02:31:57 AM EST
[ Parent ]

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