Obama to sign law banning US imports of fish caught by slave labor
Barack Obama is set to sign a law that would ban all US imports of fish caught by slave labor in south-east Asia, closing a loophole that has allowed seafood from forced labor to enter the country for decades.
Legislation passed by Congress last week would bar all imports of products that use convict, forced or indentured labor. The bill, which the president will ratify, ends an exemption in the US Tariff Act of 1930 that allows goods made by slaves to be imported if consumer demand cannot be met without them.
“It’s an outrage this loophole persisted for so long,” said Oregon senator Ron Wyden, who sponsored the bill. “No product made by people held against their will, or by children, should ever be imported to the United States.”
Widespread abuses of workers have been uncovered over the past year, including children who mine gold in Africa and women who stitch garments in Bangladesh. Particularly egregious treatment has been endured by persecuted Rohingya who have been trafficked through jungle camps to work on Thai fishing vessels as slaves, the Guardian revealed last year. The forced labor has helped produce seafood sold across the world.
Hundreds of people are thought to have been traded as slaves to support Thailand’s $7.3bn seafood industry. Costco and CP Foods are facing a lawsuit, filed in California, to prevent the sale of Thai prawns/shrimp tainted by slavery. In January, European Union investigators visited Thailand to see whether it had made enough progress on the issue of slavery to avoid an EU-wide ban on seafood imports from the country.
US-sold goods including shrimp and pet food have recently been linked to slavery. About 90% of the seafood consumed in American households is imported from overseas.
According to a WWF study from last year, more than 85% of the world’s fish stocks are at significant risk of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. As well as being harmful to the marine environment, unregulated fishing is associated with slave labor and drugs and arms smuggling.
The Obama administration has made a number of recent moves to tackle exploitation on the high seas, signing up to the Port State Measures Agreement last week. The agreements bars foreign vessels from accessing ports if suspected of illegal fishing.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which regulates fishing, also announced new reporting requirements for US companies to gain a better understanding of where seafood imports are sourced.
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Source: the Guardian