Good Law Enforcement Move, Terrible Terminology

By David North on October 21, 2021

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) people just did something highly useful in terms of fighting bad working conditions abroad, but they described it using bureaucratic lingo that is totally confusing.

CBP forbade the import of fresh tomatoes from a specific large farm in Mexico, on the grounds that the farm used forced labor and engaged in “withholding of wages, debt bondage and abusive working and living conditions [for the workers]”.

This is useful not only because it may cause the farm and others nearby to treat the workers better, but it also indirectly may make working conditions better on competing U.S. farms. We routinely allow the importation of too many low-cost fruits and vegetables which, in turn, hurts U.S. farm workers and their employers. These useful social goals are not mentioned by the agency.

Furthermore, it should have provided data on the number of truckloads of tomatoes that went to waste — if they did — and the financial blows to the exploitative farm. The release should have gone into detail on the abusive wages and working conditions.

Did our government divert the produce to the teeming migrant camps on the other side of our border, where it would have been welcomed? There is nothing to suggest it did.

Above all else the agency should have avoided the terminology used in its headline: “CBP Issues Withhold Release Order on Tomatoes Produced by Farm in Mexico”.

“Withhold release order” may well be the formal language used in some regulations, but on the face of it the term is unclear. The words “issues” and “release” are in tension with “withhold”, for instance. What the pressies are trying to say is “ban”. Ban is three letters, withhold release order is 20 letters; shorter is always better than longer.

As I have suggested from time to time, CBP needs an editor.