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U.S. Strikes a Blow Against Slave Labor in the Fishing Industry

The amendment will prohibit importing goods produced in inhumane conditions.

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia (cc)

The United States has a troubling relationship with slave labor overseas, especially when the working conditions of those producing our food, phones, and other goods are largely invisible to American consumers. From fast fashion to the fishing industry, the reality of slave labor is difficult to swallow and even more difficult to fix. Luckily, the American government has made recent strides to prevent inhumane working conditions in the fishing industry by restructuring the way seafood is imported into the country.


This week, President Obama will sign legislation that will effectively ban imported seafood caught by forced labor, according to The New York Times. The Senate-approved amendment will close a loophole in the Tariff Act of 1930, which bans imports produced under “convicted, forced, or indentured labor” but exempts goods produced through slavery if domestic production could not meet demand.

While the amendment does not directly ban slave labor aboard fishing ships—the United States does not have jurisdiction overseas—the policy will discourage slavery by capitalizing on the fundamental rule of supply and demand. More than 90 percent of seafood in the U.S. is imported, making it one of the largest markets for international fishers and one they cannot afford to lose. By restricting what enters its shores, the U.S. will enforce a higher standard for working conditions that promotes greater transparency and accountability on these boats.

“The changes we’re making here definitely will make a difference around the world for some fisheries and for many of the people that work on these boats, because the U.S. is a huge market for seafood,” John Hocevar, director of Greenpeace’s oceans campaign, told Motherboard.

The new legislation is the latest in a series of steps the government has taken to ensure legal and humane fishing conditions. Last week, President Obama signed the Port State Measures Agreement, which allows ports to prohibit ships suspected of illegal activity from entering. Also this month, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association introduced a comprehensive plan to track seafood from boat to market to prevent overfishing and unethical harvesting.

The U.S. government is undoubtedly a pivotal player in improving the fishing industry, but it is not the only one. Private corporations, such as food distributors and supermarket chains, will also need to ensure ethical and responsible food production. But with added pressure from the government and consumers, the food industry is set to see major institutional changes come to pass in the very near future.

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