Grijalva, Bordallo Lead Letter to Cabinet Officials Urging Focus on Seafood Industry Slavery in SE Asia – Grijalva Requests GAO Study

Washington, D.C. – Ranking Member Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and eight House Democratic colleagues, including Del. Madeleine Bordallo (D-Guam), sent a letter today to Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen urging them to crack down on human trafficking in the seafood industry. The authors note that despite multiple activist and media exposés in recent years and a heightened level of public interest, little has been done to ensure that seafood from slave labor does not make it into the United States.

The issue is especially pervasive in Thailand, where – as the authors note – forced labor and human trafficking have persisted despite increased international scrutiny.

The authors write in part:

In some cases, vulnerable people have been smuggled out of their home countries, coerced into taking illegal narcotics as stimulants, and forced to fish around the clock out of fear for their lives. Given the United States imports over $800 million of shrimp from Thailand annually, we urge your Departments to ensure that the United States does not import any seafood associated with human trafficking, from Thailand or any other country.

The lawmakers offer a series of policy recommendations to each secretary, including the creation or identification of a point person on human trafficking at the Department of Commerce, increased diplomatic pressure on the Thai government, and an expansion of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Seafood Important Monitoring Program to cover risk factors for human trafficking.

In addition, the lawmakers urged the Department of Homeland Security to fully utilize a new authority - a 2016 measure called the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act, which closed the so-called consumptive demand loophole of the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act of 1930 - to prevent imports to the United States of seafood that has been produced with forced labor from any country.

Separately today, Grijalva requested a Government Accountability Office (GAO) assessment of U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s enforcement of the Tariff Act – which prohibits the importation of products generated with slave labor – as it relates to the seafood supply chain. His letter to GAO is available at http://bit.ly/2MONAay.

Grijalva has made combating human trafficking in the seafood industry a priority for years. In December 2016 he led a letter to the U.S. Coast Guard and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration urging stricter enforcement of anti-trafficking laws in Hawaiian waters, where a 2016 Pulitzer Prize-winning series by the Associated Press identified surprisingly widepsread human slavery in the seafood industry.

That same month, Grijalva convened an expert panel on the issue on Capitol Hill and publicly broadcast the event. You can watch the full panel at https://naturalresources.house.gov/hearings/_fishing-for-justice-slavery-and-human-rights-abuses-at-sea  and video highlights of the event here.

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