Legislation with Strong Measures Addressing Forced Labor in Seafood Supply Chains Passes Senate

Last night, by a 68 to 32 vote, the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act (S. 1260) was passed in the Senate.  The bipartisan bill, previously known as the Endless Frontier Act, includes a section titled “Trading Consistent with American Values” that improves and increases the federal government’s capacity to prevent the importation of foreign goods produced through forced and child labor.

If enacted, the legislation would permanently create a “Forced Labor Division” within the Office of Trade of U.S. Customs and Border Protection responsible for receiving and investigating allegations filed pursuant to 19 U.S.C. § 1307, the U.S. law that prohibits importation of goods made from forced or child labor.  The Forced Labor Division would also be responsible for providing briefings, every ninety (90) days, to the Senate Finance Committee and the Ways and Means Committee of the House of Representatives regarding the agency’s administration of the law and the conduct of forced labor investigations.

Of particular importance to the U.S. shrimp industry, the legislation would also require U.S. Customs and Border Protection to issue regulations providing for the verification of seafood imports “to ensure that no seafood or seafood product harvested or produced using forced labor is entered into the United States in violation of” 19 U.S.C. § 1307.  The adoption of verification proceedings is an important step forward in addressing the complex and opaque supply chains for imported seafood designed to exploit the lowest labor costs available throughout the globe.

The importance of the development of such regulations was made clear earlier this year by the U.S. International Trade Commission’s report following an investigation of Seafood Obtained via Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing: U.S. Imports and Economic Impact on U.S. Commercial Fisheries, finding that eleven (11) percent of all seafood imported into the United States in 2019 was the product of illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing.  The report noted the close relationship between IUU fishing and forced labor:

“The Commission found that these labor violations were closely associated with IUU fishing violations; in other words, there is likely substantial overlap of IUU fishing and labor violations for many of the producers and countries that engage in IUU fishing.” 

With respect to shrimp imports, the Commission estimated that roughly seven (7) percent of all imported farmed warmwater shrimp and twenty (20) percent of all imported wild-caught shrimp was the product of IUU fishing, explaining that forced and child labor had been identified in the harvesting of fish used to produce the feed for pond-raised shrimp, in the pond-rearing of shrimp, and in the processing of shrimp products.

The U.S. Innovation and Competition Act would also require U.S. Customs and Border Protection, in consultation with NOAA Fisheries, to develop a strategy for the utilization of data provided under that agency’s Seafood Import Monitoring Program to identify seafood imports at risk of being harvested or produced using forced labor and directs the Office of the United States Trade Representative to engage with trading partners to end trade in seafood produced through IUU fishing and through forced labor, as well as seafood that poses a risk of fraud.

The legislation will now move to the U.S. House of Representatives for further consideration.

The provisions of the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act related to imported seafood reflect the concerns of a broad group of U.S. Senators of both parties regarding the failure of the U.S. seafood industry to meaningfully confront the corruption of imported seafood supply chains by forced and child labor practices.  Senator Bill Cassidy (R-LA), in particular, has led the Senate’s efforts to respond to increased reliance on countries where labor abuse is common, such as China and India, for the seafood sold in the U.S. market.  While the exploitation of forced and child labor has improved profit margins for seafood importers, these practices have significantly harmed the majority of the commercial fishing industry in the United States, along with American seafood processors.

The Southern Shrimp Alliance applauds the Senate’s approval of the “Trading Consistent with American Values” legislation included within the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act and continues to be grateful for Senator Cassidy’s leadership in ensuring that Louisiana shrimpers and commercial fishermen throughout the United States compete on a level playing field.

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