Southern Shrimp Alliance wants Labor Department agency to close slave labor loophole

Published on
January 16, 2020

The Southern Shrimp Alliance is requesting the U.S. Department of Labor to revise policies the trade group claims allow certain seafood imports to avoid being associated with child and forced labor practices.

SSA Executive Director John Williams sent the letter to the department’s Bureau of International Labor Affairs on Monday 13 January. For more than a decade, the bureau has been responsible for producing a list of products that are produced through exploitative labor practices. That does include some seafood products, like shrimp harvested in such countries as Bangladesh, Cambodia, and Thailand.

However, the bureau has revealed it will only identify seafood products reliant on child and forced labor if the seafood is caught in a country’s exclusive economic zone. That admission presents loopholes importers could easily exploit, Williams noted in his letter.

The designation means a fishing boat trolling in international waters would not have its products associated with child or forced labor by the bureau. The same goes for foreign ships fishing in other countries’ exclusive economic zones.

The decision means the bureau has not placed fleets from Taiwan, China and South Korea on its watchlist.

The group’s letter comes about a month after numerous environmental and human rights groups joined with labor organizations and others, including Whole Foods Market, in asking the bureau to close those loopholes.

Seafood caught or processed with slave labor or other exploited workers is considered illegal. By drastically reducing the cost of labor, importers who use such practices sell their products in the U.S. at costs far below domestic suppliers, putting American shrimpers at a stark disadvantage, Williams said.

“The continued use of forced and child labor in the foreign production of seafood exported to the United States has a significant detrimental impact on the U.S. commercial seafood industry, including shrimp fishermen,” Williams said in a statement. “For this reason, the Southern Shrimp Alliance offers these comments in the hopes of augmenting the federal government’s response to the corruption of seafood supply chains through forced labor and child labor.”

Photo courtesy of Kevin Hellon/Shutterstock

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