President Signs Bill to Close Loophole on Import of Goods Made with Forced Labor
Washington, D.C. – Human Rights First today applauded the president’s signing of the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act, which includes a provision to strengthen prohibitions on the importation of goods produced by forced labor. The bill passed the House of Representatives on December 11, 2015 and passed the Senate on February 11, 2016.
“We strongly support this provision, which will close a dangerous loophole in U.S. trade policy that for 86 years has allowed for the import of goods known to be likely made with forced labor when the production domestically did not meet the demand,” said Human Rights First’s Annick Febrey. “We applaud the President for swiftly signing this provision into law and urge Congress to ensure there are adequate resources dedicated to enforcing this critical policy. Without strong enforcement, the United States will continue supporting criminals that profit from human trafficking by importing goods that use exploitative labor practices in their supply chains.”
Section 910 of the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act would strengthen restrictions on the import of goods produced with forced labor. Existing restrictions do not include the importation of some goods that are not produced at high enough quantities domestically to meet demand. Human Rights First advocated for a strengthening of these trade protections in its recent blueprint, “How to Dismantle the Business of Human Trafficking.”
The bill also includes a provision to amend the Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities and Accountability Act to allow countries given the lowest ranking in the State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report to receive expedited trade consideration when the president issues a public letter to Congress detailing the country’s progress to combat trafficking. The amendment also specifies that if a country is ranked as Tier 3 and then is elevated to the Tier 2 Watch List, the president must submit credible evidence supporting the country’s elevated ranking. This requirement was added on the heels of the release of the 2015 Trafficking in Persons report where Malaysia, a country included in the pending Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, was upgraded from Tier 3 to the Tier 2 Watch List with little supporting evidence.
Human Rights First believes that human trafficking must be a priority at the highest level of decision making in the administration and in bilateral relationships with foreign governments at all times. Consistent with this, exercising presidential waiver provisions within trade agreements must be rare and well-supported by evidence of increased efforts by those countries to combat trafficking. Supporting efforts to eliminate human trafficking is critical for the United States to continue to be a world leader in the fight to end slavery, as well as to create a level playing field for responsible businesses that are diligently working to eliminate forced labor in their supply chains.