220 Years Ago Today, Congress Banned US Vessels from Supplying Slaves to Other Countries

However, slavery was not banned in the US until 1862, 68 years later! It’s unfortunate that while the Congress of 1794 was enlightened enough to ban the spread of slavery, they were not progressive enough (or should I say benevolent enough) to ban slavery outright. The sad truth is that the forefathers of the robber barons new that cheap labour was the key to building their empire, and didn’t want to ban slavery as the cheapest labour was free labour.

And the lust for cheap labour continues until this day. The abolition of slavery didn’t do much to increase the average person’s quality of life as there were no minimum wage law until 1933 and no minimum wage law between 1935 and 1938 (as the first law was struck down by the Supreme Court). As a result, only those lucky enough to be protected by the unions in the mid-to-late 19th century had any guarantee of a decent wage until the minimum wage act came into force.

And what happened when the minimum wage reached its highest purchasing power ever in 1968? The new robber barons of the 1970’s started to look abroad for cheaper labour and by the early 1980’s, the biggest organizations were starting to outsource to China, Vietnam, and other low-cost locales. (And when those locales got expensive, outsourcing spread to other locales like India, Malaysia, and the Philippines and a blind-eye was turned when the supply chain used child labour.)

The lesson here is that 220 years ago the Congress of the United States embarked along the right path with a very ethical decision to ban US ships from supplying slaves to other nations, but didn’t follow up with an across-the-board ban on slavery. As a result, slavery endured for three more generations and gave the US a black eye from a historical human rights perspectives that it need not have gotten. Similar tardiness with respect to unions’ rights legislation, minimum wage laws, equal rights laws, and child labour laws have also resulted in black eyes either for the nation or some of its biggest corporations that spread its image around the world.

There’s no need for any of this, especially today when your organization can control its fate and its image (and have a positive effect on the image of its country). It’s time for you to put an end to “just do as I say, don’t do as I do” in your supply chain and take proactive efforts to make sure you’re socially responsible across the board and across the supply chain. Stand up and make the US a leader in global human and worker rights initiatives. Show the emerging markets what they have to achieve if they truly want to be a first world super-power. It’s not just about GDP.