U.S. President Donald Trump intends to end trade benefits for Mauritania on Jan. 1 for not making sufficient progress on ending slavery and forced labour practices.
According to the U.S. Trade Representative’s Office (USTR), Trump has determined after an annual eligibility review that Mauritania is not in compliance with requirements of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), which provides duty-free treatment for certain goods.
“Forced or compulsory labour practices like hereditary slavery have no place in the 21st century,” Deputy U.S. Trade Representative C.J. Mahoney said.
“We hope Mauritania will work with us to eradicate forced labour and hereditary slavery so that its AGOA eligibility may be restored in the future,” Mahoney said.
Mauritania, a West African country with a population of 3.4 million is the notorious last bastion of slavery.
Some estimates put the number of enslaved population at between 10 and 20 per cent, between 340,000 to 680,000, all of them the country’s black people, enslaved by the Arabs.
Although the country abolished slavery in 1981 and made it a crime in 2007, the practice continues.
The Guardian profiled in June this year, some Mauritanians, who have fled slavery, and are being rehabilitated by an NGO SOS Slaves.
The slaves are mostly from the minority Haratine or Afro-Mauritanian groups. They live as bonded labourers, domestic servants or child brides. They are forced to work on farms or in homes with no possibility of freedom, education or pay.
Slavery has a long history in this north African desert nation.
For centuries, Arabic-speaking Moors raided African villages, resulting in a rigid caste system that still exists to this day, with darker-skinned inhabitants beholden to their lighter-skinned “masters”.
Slave status is passed down from mother to child, and anti-slavery activists are regularly tortured and detained.
Yet the government routinely denies that slavery exists in Mauritania, instead it praises itself for eradicating the practice.