Obama revives anti-slavery law to target Thailand's seafood exports

Obama revives anti-slavery law to target Thailand's seafood exports

2 March 2016

A legal loophole on importation of goods produced by children or slaves is to be closed after a Guardian investigation helped to expose the use of forced labour to crew boats

Seafood produced by slaves in Thailand will be among goods banned from sale in the US as Barack Obama revives laws targeting industries that use forced and child labour.

A Guardian investigation uncovered extensive role of authorities, fishermen and traffickers in enslaving thousands of Rohingya, who were held in deadly jungle camps. Federal officials are preparing to enforce an 86-year-old ban on importing goods made by children or slaves under new provisions of a law signed by the president. “This law slams shut an unconscionable and archaic loophole that forced America to accept products made by children or slave labour,” said Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat who worked on the legislation.

The Tariff Act of 1930, which gave Customs and Border Protection the authority to seize shipments where forced labour was suspected and block further imports, was last used in 2000, and has been used only 39 times in all, largely because of two words: “consumptive demand” – if there was not sufficient supply to meet domestic demand, imports were allowed regardless of how they were produced.

The Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act signed by Obama on Wednesday eliminated that language, allowing stiffer enforcement.

Fish and shrimp from Thailand, peanuts from Turkey, gold from Ghana and carpets from India are featured on a US Labor Department list of more than 350 goods produced by child labour or forced labour.

Reporting by the Guardian, Associated Press, New York Times and others has continued to highlight inhumane working conditions in the Thai seafood sector and the US legal loophole that allowed continued imports.

As a result of reports about workers being trapped and enslaved by Thai companies, thousands of slaves have been rescued, traffickers arrested and millions of dollars’ worth of seafood and vessels seized.

“If the US government works to really keep out goods made with forced labour, this change will have a profound ripple effect on supply chains worldwide,” said David Abramowitz, who advocated for the change as vice-president for Humanity United.

To start an investigation, customs needs to receive a petition from anyone — a business, an agency, even a non-citizen — showing “reasonably but not conclusively” that imports were made at least in part with forced labour.

Neha Misra of the Solidarity Center, another nonprofit that worked for the legal change, said petitions remained hard to file and proving a case was complicated but she was still encouraged. “Before US law said that we would tolerate forced labour if we really wanted a product for domestic consumption. Now we are saying that we will not tolerate forced labour for any reason. This is a major step forward.

Gavin Gibbons, a spokesman for National Fisheries Institute, which represents about 75 percent of the U.S. seafood industry, said Thursday their members want to see the ban enforced.

“We support the closing of this anachronistic loophole and look forward to fair and judicious implementation,” he said.

This article is taken from The Guardian, printed on 26 Feb 2016