Someone Should Ask Biden Cabinet Candidate Ursula Burns If She Supports Child Labor in Africa

Yves here.Tom Neuburger describes how Biden Commerce Secretary candidate Ursula Burns has hitched her wagon to a series of corporate ethical train wrecks. If anything, Tom soft-pedaled Nestlé’s child slavery. You can find more sordid details at Slate:

The [Supreme Court] case involves a class-action lawsuit filed by six citizens of Mali.These individuals were allegedly trafficked to the Ivory Coast between the ages of 12 and 14. Once there, they were allegedly forced to work on cocoa plantations for no pay and little food. They say they were regularly whipped and tortured by overseers who routinely inflicted sadistic punishments. One plaintiff tried and failed to escape; when he was caught, his overseers allegedly cut the soles of his feet, rubbed chile pepper into the wounds, then tied him to a tree and beat him until he sustained severe, permanent injuries. Such atrocities on the Ivory Coast’s cocoa plantations are well documented.

The plaintiffs also claim that two U.S. corporations, Nestle and Cargill, aided and abetted their enslavement. They assert that both companies knew their suppliers enslaved children yet continued to provide “financial and technical assistance to cocoa plantations.” The companies allegedly exerted substantial influence over the plantations to maintain the supply of cheap cocoa even after discovering human rights abuses.

By Thomas Neuburger. Originally published at God’s Spies at Substack

Ursula Burns is a candidate for Biden’s Commerce Secretary. She sits on the board of Nestlé, which uses child labor to harvest cocoa and recently defended the practice before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Buried amid the coverage of yet another horrible person being considered for a Biden cabinet post — in this case, ex-Xerox CEO Ursula Burns for Secretary of Commerce — is a nugget that’s so stunning in magnitude, so steeped in irony, and yet so common an egg in the nest of neoliberal thinking as to be entirely unremarkable.

But let’s remark on it anyway.

Ex-Xerox CEO Ursula Burns for Commerce Secretary?

The Commerce secretary coverage comes from Alexander Sammon writing at the American Prospect:

The “apolitical” option, as Axios calls it, seems to be former Xerox CEO Ursula Burns. As a woman of color, she would satisfy the Biden administration’s diversity mandate; and as a onetime executive, decidedly pro-corporate, she would satisfy the one area where there is no taste for diversity. …

But adding Burns to the mix would be anything but apolitical. Given her legacy from her time atop Xerox, Burns could very well undermine Biden’s credibility on a number of his most important priorities, and bring with her a ton of baggage from some of the most high-profile scandals in the corporate world.

Sammon goes on to detail the horror stories, including Xerox’s acquisition of Affiliated Computer Services (ACS) in 2009. What is ACS? It’s these guys (emphasis added):

ACS … had as part of their portfolio one of the most notorious student loan servicer operations in the country. Just this year, the American Federation of Teachers and the Student Borrower Protection Center released a scathing report detailing over five million ACS servicing errors that helped undermine the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program, intended to allow graduates who pursued public-service jobs in government or nonprofits to have their loan balances canceled after ten years of payments. “Rather than alleviating the debt burden of students committed to public service, ACS ran roughshod over them, making careless errors and pushing them into forbearance and onerous repayment plans,” said AFT president Randi Weingarten in a statement.

The failure of PSLF exacerbated the already shameful state of the student loan crisis, after nearly every single person who applied for federal loan forgiveness was denied. Thirteen years after its establishment, over 98 percent of PSLF applicationsfrom teachers, firefighters, police, and other public servants have been rejected, good for a 1.7 percent approval rate. Student loan debt nationwide now tops an incomprehensible $1.6 trillion.

Biden already lacks credibility on the student debt problem, having worked so hard to exacerbate it. Appointing someone who helped make it even worse would be a masterstroke of insensitivity.

Ursula Burns, Nestlé and Child Labor in Africa

Sammon details much else that would be wrong with a Burns appointment, but that’s not the nugget I wanted to remark on. This is:

And remember that recent controversy that had former Obama lawyer Neal Katyal arguing before the Supreme Court that a company shouldn’t be held responsible for using child labor? Katyal was defending Burns’s Nestlé in that hearing.

After leaving Xerox, Burns found seats on three corporate boards that no one should sit on ever: Uber, a Saudi-funded scam, a “long con” that will never be profitable until public transportation is destroyed and all cars driven by AI; Exxon, a massive carbon pollution manufacturer that has known since the Seventies that its profit would come from the disaster it creates; and Nestlé, one of the most predatory corporations in the world.

How predatory is Nestlé? Search on the phrase “nestle evil” to get a sense of the range of its deeds. The largest food company in the world, Nestlé steals and sells water while simultaneously promoting the idea that water as a human right is an “extreme” position to hold, even though the U.N. holds it. And despite propaganda to the contrary, Nestlé uses child labor in Africa to harvest cocoa for its signature chocolate products. It’s clear that the treatment of these children is tantamount to slavery.

Was the Obama administration on board with all these practices? We can’t be sure. But former Obama solicitor general (and MSNBC Resistance hero) Neal Katyal recently argued before the Supreme Court that Nestlé should be protected from a U.S. lawsuit alleging this practice. From an excellent piece by Alex Pareene:

In his argument before the court, [former Solicitor General] Katyal espoused a view of corporate immunity so expansive that even the conservative judges seemed skeptical. If you took him at his word, he was effectively asking the Supreme Court to make it impossible for any foreigner to sue any company for any harm done to them, up to and including kidnapping and enslavement.

See the link in the quotation above for detail on the lawsuit itself.

These are the children Nestlé is exploiting:

Everyone involved in enabling this practice should be vilified to the end of their days, including and especially businesswoman Ursula Burns. Hypocrisy steeped in irony. What a world.

(To watch the film at You Tube, click here.)

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  1. Maritimer

    There is a Pfizer-Nestle connection from the infant formula business indicated here:

    “In May 2007, the 30th anniversary of the original Nestlé boycott, the London Guardian published an investigation focusing on Bangladesh that found evidence that companies such as Nestlé were still engaging in questionable infant-formula marketing practices.

    In April 2012 Nestlé deepened its involvement in the market by agreeing to purchase Pfizer’s infant formula business for more than $11 billion.”

    $11 billion, that’s a lot of baby slurps.

    At that same site you can look up the criminal records of Saviour vaccine pushers Pfizer, AstraZeneca and J&J.

    1. KLG

      Back in my day as the young socialist in the lab (~1977) I had a “Boycott Nestlé” bumper sticker on the window beside my desk. My labmates just smiled their indulgent smiles. According to contemporary reports Nestlé was even then sending their “sales ladies” dressed as nurses (back when nurses were readily identifiable by their white dresses, shoes, stockings, and caps) out into the world to convince new mothers they should stop breastfeeding and switch to powdered Nestlé baby formula. IIRC the preferred method was to give away the formula at first. This is areas where clean water was an issue and probably still is. Results were predictable, for the infants and Nestlé. 40+ years later I still miss the occasional Nestlé Crunch bar.

      Oh, and about Biden, unlike his patron with the house on Martha’s Vineyard, he never even said “Force me to do it” to his erstwhile supporters on the so-called Left. So he isn’t a liar, about that…And the topline on my presidential ballot still has a 3-cycle empty string going. If I weren’t so old, look out Cal Ripken!

      1. Sharron

        Nestle also sent expired formula to 3rd world countries in the 80’s. Another issue with formula in countries without potable water is you can’t use water this to dilute the formula, so the dirty water sickens the infants. Of course by the time the mothers realized they couldn’t get clean water or afford the formula their milk had dried up.

        1. rosemerry

          They put empty Nestlé formula tins on the graves of their babies that died, as if trying to say they did their best to look after the babies in a modern, efficient way.
          The magazine “New Internationalist” was a frontrunner in exposing the actions of Nestlé and others in reducing child survival in poor countries.

  2. Randall Flagg

    Why is major media not all over these cabinet picks like they would be if they were proposed by a Republican? Don’t waste time on the answer, I already know it. Just venting. I am continually trying to understand if the Biden supporters were for him because they truly believed in him and that things are going to be different, or if they just hated Trump and who cares about his replacement as long as Trump is gone. Are Biden supporters satisfied with this nonsense (It’s a family publication so I’ll keep my construction worker language gentle)? Maybe someday folks will wake up to the fact that both political parties as now structured are really two sides of the same corrupt coin, and it’s basically screw you little guys. I see commentary by folks saying the big reset is coming. It may not be what they are thinking of. The anger is out there, fermenting…

    1. Lex

      74 million voters went to the polls and voted for Trump. To employ some Rumsfeld language here: Trump is a known known. We know what kind of President he is. 81 million voters went to the polls and voted for Biden. Biden is an unknown known(?). We know what kind of Vice-President he was but not as President, and he probably won’t seek a second term.

      For now I think of Biden as a time-wasting placeholder. ‘Not Trump’ is an awful reason for voting for the other guy, but Trump was awful, with awfuler to come if he retained the office. Biden will also be awful, possibly awfuler, but that remains to be seen and then criticized next year. Something to look forward to in 2021.

      1. Pat

        But if he is “awfuler” will our media notice?

        We had years of overwrought and outraged coverage of Trump. We had even more years of of largely complacent coverage of the truly awful Obama. We have now had a primary where the media choose to ignore, even outright conceal or deflect, deeply troubling things about Biden. Now they are being so obsequious, they cannot even bring themselves to question out there cabinet pick Pete Buttigieg. If It had been Trump treating a voter coalition like Biden did Civil Rights groups it would have been a negative story on every evening news cast and a subject for every talk show. Instead we had cheerful stories about it and then it took days for how off putting Biden lecturing them on what they could expect and how to behave to come out.

        It isn’t just voters becoming ostriches that is a problem.

        1. Cas

          To answer your question: no, the media won’t “notice” or at least won’t report on Biden’s awfulness. The media are the propaganda arm of the establishment/oligarchy/ruling class, whatever one wishes to call it. There were voices sounding the alarm about the consolidation of the media, but they couldn’t stop it. Clinton’s Telecommunications Act certainly moved things along. Trump was too much of a loose cannon for the media to support him (although they loved making money off him). I hate to say it, but I fear the Biden administration will successfully gut Social Security and bring us more wars.

          1. Alex Cox

            Biden will try to gut Social Security, for sure. But why will he succeed where Clinton, W and Obama failed?

            1. Anthony Noel

              Well Clinton failed because he couldn’t keep his d**k in his pants and Newt couldn’t wait for Clinton’s term to end naturally and decided he’d start his presidential run with an impeachment.

              Didn’t work out well for him.

              As for W, no republican can cut social security, they’ll talk the talk but they’ll never pull the trigger because only Nixon can go to China. It has to be a democrat who cuts social security to make the media and the taste makers swallow it. After all the democrats are the party of the working class don’t you know. If they say it has to be cut you know it’s true.

              Obama only failed due to the amazing irony of the tea party caucus rolling in and, believing the GOP talking points that O was a socialist, atheist, Muslim, refused to play ball with him and Mitch. A cutting off of noses to spite their faces.

              Biden’s got a clear lane on this one, him and Mitch will do a dance for their bases, but they both want it and this time there will be no one to stop it.

              I’m sure AOC and the “squad” will make many tweets about how it’s reallllllly bad, but they can’t do anything about it because if they actually push for their stated goals and beliefs then they’ll be frozen out of positions on all those committees, and therefore won’t be able to enact any of their goals and beliefs, so they can’t push for those goals and beliefs… I’m dizzy from the circles.

              Anyone who tries to hold them to those stated goals and beliefs is obviously a raciest, sexist, misogynist, cis white monster man. (But send us some cash anyway in retribution for your sins against the IDpol of the week.)

              1. HotFlash

                Anthony Noel, thank your for this most excellent synopsis of the past 20 (or so) years, as well as the next 4, 8, or 12. And, in the spirit of the season, God bless us, every one.

  3. wellclosed

    Paraphrasing Alexander Cockburn – the Census Bureau may soon be longing for the good ole days of the doddering Wilbur Ross.

  4. Larry

    It’s just that Biden doesn’t care. Victory in itself absolves him from any political mistakes. He defeated the left by saying nothing would change, and boy is he delivering on that promise!

  5. petal

    Ahhh yes, Ursula. It totally figures. She fits in so perfectly with the rest of Biden’s picks. A close family member worked at Xerox for decades, and witnessed first hand her “rise” through the company. It supposedly wasn’t due to merit, but I’ll stop there lest I get in trouble(mods, please delete my comment if you think it should be). My family member had nothing positive to say about her, and yes, they had interacted with her directly. I am disgusted to see she is up for Commerce Sec. Just disgusted.

    1. Tom Doak

      Today’s corporate boards exist mostly to (a) rubber-stamp the CEO’s stock options and (b) make a public display of diversity. They are full of ex-CEO’s who managed to stay in the seat several years and exit unscathed with their own Golden Parachute.

      But I’ve gotta admit, Uber, Exxon and Nestle is quite the trifecta.

      All hail four more years of Commerce as Usual.

  6. Synoia

    I suggest considering who actually captured and sold the slaves in West Africa to the slave transporters.

    And perhaps read “Ladder of Bones.”

    In addition, one could reflect on the Slave trade in East Africa, which is less well publicized, and consider just who those buyers were.

    The Slave trade was just a business at the time.

  7. Ep3

    Yves, before i get into your article, i would like to mention Nestle is currently stealing fresh water from Michigan (thanks to the “nerd” Rick Snyder) while kids in Flint drink lead-tainted water.

    1. John Anthony La Pietra

      Snyder was neither the first nor the latest Michigan governor to let Nestle’s taking of Michigan water (for a pittance) slide. Nestle started pumping in the Stanwood area in 2000, so it’s dealt with the administrations of John Engler and Jennifer Granholm before the “tough-on-us nerd”, and Gretchen Whitmer since.

      1. drumlin woodchuckles

        Here is an article which mentions a few of Nestle’s many named-brands of bottled water. Perhaps other commenters could find and supply the total list of all of Nestle’s bottled-water aliases. Here is the link.

        Some people don’t drink bottled water at all. They drink good old tap water. But for those people who Must Have bottled water, perhaps they still have the option to buy No Nestle bottle water and help extermicott every Nestle-alias brand.

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