While politics in the U.S. is becoming more polarized by the day, a new law with bipartisan support was recently passed by Congress. The law bars imported goods that have been made by convict, forced, or indentured labour from entering U.S.
In essence, slave-made goods – like carpets made by child labourers in India or fish caught by enslaved workers in Thailand – are no longer welcome.
The law closes a loophole that has been exploited since 1930. The Tariff Act of 1930 mandated that slave-made imports would not be permitted unless American demand for that product couldn’t be met domestically. In other words, if Americans wanted something beyond their own ability to make it themselves, slave-made goods were given the green light. Despite human rights groups raising the alarm, this loophole has been the modus operandi for 85 years.
It has made it difficult for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Department to do their job. One of their responsibilities is to prevent slave-made products from entering into the U.S., but the loophole limited their ability to do this well:
“Once we found out…that Cambodian boys were being used as slaves to catch seafood being imported into the U.S., we still [had] difficulty intervening or blocking the fish from entering the U.S. if it could be shown that enough of this seafood [could not] be caught domestically to meet American demand.”
According to the International Labour Organization:
- Forced labour in the private economy generates $150 billion (USD) in illegal profits per year
- An estimated 14.5 million people are exploited for labour by individuals and private enterprises. This does not include those being exploited for sex.
- Migrant workers and indigenous people are particularly vulnerable to forced labour
- Children make up around one quarter of all victims
- It is estimated that victims spend on average nearly 18 months in forced labour before rescue or escape
- More than half of all forced labour victims are in Asia
- Almost half of all victims have migrated within their country or across borders before ending up in forced labour, confirming that movement increases vulnerability
“Without any question, it is morally wrong for the perpetrators of slave or child labor to have any place in the American economy. So 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 US – that system absolutely must end, and it will.”
Some of the goods that may be more closely monitored include:
- Textiles from Bangladesh
- Seafood from Thailand
- Coffee from Colombia
- Cocoa from Ivory Coast
- Gold from Ghana
- Palm oil from Malaysia
Get the full list of items that may be tainted by slavery here.
I’m impressed and surprised that this amendment passed with bipartisan support, especially because it has the potential to have a significant impact on American companies that use foreign suppliers. I would’ve expected more pushback from these corporations because the law will no doubt affect their bottom line. But since the strength of this amendment lies in its enforcement – a daunting and complex task – time will tell how effective it will be in curbing the low of slave-made goods.
One thing is for sure – after 85 years, it was time for this loophole to be closed. Well done Congress, way to work together on something!