This week, President Obama signed the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act, which in part closes an 86-year-old loophole that now bans the importation of food and other goods produced by slave labor.
According to the Associated Press, the new legislation eliminates existing language contained in the Tariff Act of 1930. While the act allowed for the seizure of goods where forced labor was suspected, it contained a provision dubbed “consumptive demand” which allowed any good to be imported no matter how it was soured or produced if there was not enough domestic supply to meet demand.
Eliminating “consumptive demand” permits customs and border agents to strictly enforce the law.
From the AP, “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 labor.”
Last year, Nestlé released the results of a year-long investigation exposing widespread forced labor and human rights violations within the Thai seafood industry. Nestlé found these abuses within its own supply chain and warned that, because of the general vulnerabilities of migrant workers in Thailand, virtually all European and US food companies that purchase seafood from Thailand are at risk of having the abuses in their supply chains as well. The results of this investigation echoed abuses reported by news organizations including the AP which found similar conditions aboard Thai fishing boats. The AP report placed the majority of the blame on loopholes in, and the poor enforcement of, the US law that bans the import of goods produced by forced labor.