Robust enforcement of the law prohibiting the importation of goods produced through forced labor, found at 19 U.S.C. § 1307, has proven to be the most important tool available to counter the continued existence of slavery in overseas supply chains, including seafood supply chains.
Although this law has been on the books since 1930, in the seventy-eight (78) years between its enactment and 2017, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) issued just thirty-seven (37) withhold release orders (WROs) preventing the importation of goods believed to be produced through forced, slave, or prison labor. However, based on a 2016 amendment to the law adopted with the strong support of the U.S. shrimp industry, the Trump Administration greatly strengthened enforcement after the President took office. Between 2018 and the President’s departure in mid-January, CBP issued twenty-five (25) WROs, including four (4) barring the importation of seafood harvested on foreign fishing vessels implicated as utilizing forced labor. These WROs represented the first formal enforcement action taken by the federal government to address the proliferation of slavery in seafood supply chains.
Continued strong enforcement of Section 1307 by CBP is essential to eliminating slavery and child labor from seafood supply chains. With CBP’s increased emphasis on this law, civil society groups have attempted to increase the amount and quality of information regarding forced labor made available to the agency. For example, last year The Human Trafficking Legal Center, with the support of Humanity United, published a comprehensive practice guide to Section 1307, titled Importing Freedom: Using the U.S. Tariff Act to Combat Forced Labor in Supply Chains. This practice guide provides a comprehensive description of CBP’s processes for investigating forced labor claims and includes insightful recommendations as to how to best prepare submissions for the agency regarding forced labor identified in supply chains. Beyond providing an introduction to Section 1307, its history, and CBP’s practice, the guide notes that The Human Trafficking Legal Center offers technical assistance to anyone that might need help in collecting evidence or in preparing a petition for CBP.
The Human Trafficking Legal Center has also released a three-and-a-half minute video to accompany its practice guide that provides a quick, valuable overview of the law and its importance in the context of seafood supply chains. That video can be accessed at this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yew7JCisUGQ&t=4s
The Southern Shrimp Alliance continues to work with organizations around the world to eliminate slavery and forced child labor in shrimp supply chains. As we endeavor to document and expose labor abuse, robust enforcement of Section 1307 is vital to ensuring that seafood importers and buyers in the United States begin to take this issue seriously and aggressively implement steps to eradicate slavery from their supply chains.
The Human Trafficking Legal Center’s practice guide is available here: https://www.htlegalcenter.org/wp-content/uploads/Importing-Freedom-Using-the-U.S.-Tariff-Act-to-Combat-Forced-Labor-in-Supply-Chains_FINAL.pdf
Additional information and resources regarding slave and forced child labor in shrimp supply chains is available here: https://shrimpalliance.com/take-action/foreign-food-safety-resources/forced-labor/