Senate Votes to Close Slavery Loophole

Capitol Building

For decades, American companies have legally been allowed to import goods made with child or slave labor —mainly due to a loophole in federal regulations. A bill being sent to President Obama’s desk may finally close that loophole for good.

The Tariff Act of 1930 bars imports into the US that are made with slave, indentured, or convict labor. However, it contains a loophole allowing companies to import goods—like cocoa made by child slaves in Côte d’Ivoire or shrimp caught by enslaved fishermen aboard Thai ships— without penalty, provided those goods aren’t available in the US in sufficient quantities to meet demand.

Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) authored an amendment to the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015 that would finally close this slave-labor loophole. The US Senate voted 75-20 to pass the bill, including the Wyden-Brown amendment.

A similar bill passed the House last year, and President Obama plans to sign the bill into law next week.

“My friend Senator Brown … and I believe that in 2016 and beyond, Congress cannot allow for the perpetrators of slave or child labor to have any place in the American economy,” Sen. Wyden said in a Senate floor speech just before the bill’s passage. “So the old system that leaves the door open to child or slave labor if it’s used to make a product that isn’t made here in the US—that system absolutely must end, and it will.”

Liz Jardim, Green America’s campaigns director, says that fair-labor organizations have long been working to close this “criminal” gap in import regulations. Green America and our allies submitted official comments to the US Department of Labor (DOL) asking for the closure of this loophole and for the DOL to begin requiring companies to prove that products they import were not made with forced labor.

“The Senate voting to close this loophole is very welcome news,” she says. “We are hopeful that once the President signs this bill into law, the impacts it will have on removing forced labor from global supply chains could lead to major improvements for enslaved workers all over the world.”

US retailers still need to hear from us: Sign Green America’s petitions demanding that Costco stop buying shrimp caught by slaves on Thai boats and that Godiva stop buying cocoa grown using child labor.

For the latest news from our Fair Labor campaign, sign up for Green America’s e-mail newsletter.