Loophole Allowing Fish Imports From Forced Labor To Be Closed

The United States is taking action to ban imports of fish caught by forced labor in Southeast Asia. An amendment has been proposed that would close a loophole in the Tariff Act of 1930, which bars products made by convict, forced or indentured labor. For the past 85 years, the Tariff Act has exempted goods derived from slavery if American domestic production could not meet demand.

Senator Sherrod Brown, Democrat of Ohio, and Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, sponsored the amendment. The amendment was passed by the Senate with bipartisan support on Thursday. President Obama has announced that he will sign the legislation this week.

The New York Times published an article exposing the horrors of forced labor on Thai fishing boats back in July. The article focused on the lives of several dozen indentured Cambodian migrants working on the ships, most of them boys. One reportedly spent most of his time on the boats shackled by the neck to prevent his escape. All of the boat slaves cited in the article are now free.

The amendment to be signed focused on all types of forced and child labor, not just that used to produce seafood. It has long been a goal of human rights advocates to have the loophole blocked. The amendment is just part of a flurry of recent actions to better protect offshore workers and the marine environment taken on by the White House, federal agencies, international trade unions and foreign governments.

Last week, two of the world’s largest trade unions filed a complaint with the United Nations’ labor agency over about the use of forced labor to produce Thai seafood. The International Transport Workers’ Federation and International Trade Union Confederation, filed the complaint at the International Labor Organization, which is part of the United Nations. The transport union represents 4.7 million rail, trucking and maritime workers worldwide. The trade union confederation includes the A.F.L.-C.I.O., which is the world’s largest union, representing 176 million workers.

Also last week, the United States agreed to abide by the Port State Measures Agreement, becoming the 20th country to ratify the pact. The agreement empowers officials to prohibit foreign vessels suspected of illegal fishing from receiving port services and access in the United States. About 90 percent of seafood for human and pet consumption in the United States is imported.

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