Southern Shrimp Alliance Asks the Department of Labor to Close Loopholes in the Identification of Seafood Produced through Slave Labor

Yesterday, in response to a request for information and invitation to comment from the Bureau of International Labor Affairs, Department of Labor (“ILAB”), the Southern Shrimp Alliance asked the agency to close loopholes that exempt entire categories of seafood from being identified as produced through child or forced labor.

Since 2009, ILAB has published a list of goods produced through child and/or forced labor annually, consistent with its obligations under the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act. ILAB’s lists have identified a number of seafood products – including shrimp produced in Bangladesh, Burma, Cambodia, and Thailand – as being produced with significant incidence of child and/or forced labor. ILAB’s lists have become an important tool through which distributors, retailers, and consumers identify varying levels of risk as to whether certain goods have slavery or child labor present in their supply chain.

In communications with advocacy groups, ILAB has recently disclosed that the agency will only identify seafood harvested within a country’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) as a good produced through forced or child labor. This narrow interpretation means that ILAB has created two broad category exemptions for seafood produced through forced labor. First, if a country’s fishing fleet operates in international waters or on the high seas, the seafood harvested by that fleet will be exempt from ILAB’s lists even if there is corroborated documentation of significant incidence of forced labor. Second, if foreign-flagged vessels operate in the EEZ of another country, the seafood harvested by those vessels will be exempt from ILAB’s lists even if the fleet uses slave labor.

Under these exemptions, if there was clear, documented evidence that foreign-flagged shrimp trawlers were using slaves to land shrimp in the EEZ of another country, ILAB would not account for this seafood in its identification of goods produced through forced labor even if this shrimp was ultimately exported to the United States. Currently, ILAB’s category exemptions mean that seafood produced by the distant water fishing fleets of Taiwan, China, and South Korea have avoided identification on the agency’s lists despite the fact that, through its annual Trafficking in Persons report, the U.S. Department of State has repeatedly documented that vessels within these fleets utilize forced labor practices.

“ILAB’s listing of goods produced through child and forced labor has been immensely helpful for consumers concerned about unwittingly supporting slavery,” observed John Williams, the Executive Director of the Southern Shrimp Alliance. “But I think everyone who uses ILAB’s lists would be as surprised as I was to learn that the federal agency has exempted seafood harvested by foreign vessels operating in the high seas or in another country’s waters. By not identifying this seafood, consumers are denied the information needed to make intelligent, ethical choices in their seafood purchases and the usefulness of ILAB’s lists are severely undermined.”

Read the Southern Shrimp Alliance’s January 13, 2020 submission to ILAB here:
Review the documents submitted in support of the Southern Shrimp Alliance’s January 13, 2020 letter to ILAB here:

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