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Eight Decades Later, Congress Closes Loophole that Allowed Slave-Made Products into the US

Have you ever wondered if your favorite chocolate bar was made with forced labor in the Ivory Coast? Or if the shrimp at your local grocery store were peeled by slaves in Thailand? Or if children in Uzbekistan were forced to pick the cotton in your shirt?

For the past 85 years, US tariff law has failed to keep slave-made products out of the country. But last week, significant steps were taken to change that.

Why did US Law Allow Slave-Made Products to Pass Customs Inspections?

The Tariff Act of 1930 prohibits the importation of goods made with forced, child, or prison labor.  However, a loophole in the law allowed companies to import slave-made goods if producers in the United States couldn’t meet consumer demand. Under this “consumptive demand” exemption, the US has been importing goods like cocoa, shrimp, and cotton made with forced and child labor for nearly eight decades.

What Have We Done About It?

Last week, the Senate followed the House in voting to close this 85-year-old loophole as a part of a larger trade enforcement bill. The bill now sits on President Obama’s desk for signature. Closing this loophole is a vital step in addressing slave labor throughout the world. The US Department of Labor estimates that more than 136 products from 74 countries were produced with forced or child labor in 2014.

Polaris applauds Congress’s actions to close this egregious loophole that allowed goods tainted with exploitation into our country—and urges President Obama to sign the bill into law. By doing this, the US government will send a strong message that forced and child labor is unacceptable in all circumstances.

What’s Next?

Polaris is eager to work with the government to implement this new legislation and ensure that imports are free of forced and child labor. But in order for this new provision to be successful, Congress needs to dedicate adequate resources to enforcing it. Furthermore, Polaris encourages Congress to build on this progress by passing the Supply Chain Transparency Act, requiring businesses to disclose their efforts to address human trafficking in their supply chains.

These steps can empower American consumers to make informed decisions and help advance fair working conditions around the world.

Photo credit: Flickr / Irene Scott, AusAID

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Need help? Polaris operates the U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline.