Senate Closes Legal Loophole, Bans Importing Items from Slave Labor
The U.S. Senate voted last Thursday to close a loophole in the Tariff Act of 1930, which prohibited importing goods made by convict, forced or indentured labor, in an effort to minimize slave labor in the global supply chain. According to the United Nations, nearly 21 million people are enslaved for profit worldwide, providing $150 billion in profit each year.
The act gave U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) the power to seize shipments with which officials suspect forced labor was involved. However, according to Yahoo News, it has only been done 39 times over the act's 85-year history, mostly due to an exemption that allows goods made by children, prisoners or slaves into the U.S. if consumer demand cannot be met otherwise.
By closing this loophole in the legislation, the provision would ban U.S. imports of garments sewn by abused women in Bangladesh, fish caught by slaves in Southeast Asia and gold mined by children in Africa. The change is part of a bill to revamp trade laws and bar Internet taxes, which passed with a vote of 75-20 in the Senate last week. The House of Representatives passed the bill last year, and President Barack Obama plans to sign it.
"The old system that leaves the door open to child or slave labor if it's used to make a product that isn't made here in the U.S.—that system absolutely must end, and it will," U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), said in a statement to Bloomberg.
Kenneth Kennedy, a senior policy advisor for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, told Bloomberg that one product that has made its way into the U.S. due to this loophole is cocoa.
"If we know cocoa is being produced on plantations in West Africa using slave labor, and then being imported into the U.S., we still have to allow it in because the U.S. cannot produce enough cocoa to meet U.S. demand," Kennedy said to Bloomberg.
Lawsuits inspired by California's supply-chain transparency law, which requires companies with more than $100 million in revenue to publicly disclose their efforts to end slave labor, have emerged since the law's passing in 2012, according to Bloomberg.
Specifically, lawyers have filed lawsuits in California against companies, like The Hershey Co., Mars Inc. and Nestle, for ignoring slave labor in their African cocoa plantations. Nestle set up monitoring programs on its Ivory Coast farms, and plans to expand the program to all of its suppliers by the end of this year. The Hershey Co. and Mars Inc. claim that the lawsuits are meritless, but nonetheless spent hundreds of millions to eradicate the practice from supply chains. CBP will be responsible for seizing illicit items on arrival, according to Yahoo News, but Homeland Security Investigations agents also will investigate illegal trade in 46 countries worldwide.