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The Slave Labor Loophole

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The loophole allowing slave labor-made products into U.S. markets has to be closed:

Sadly, 150 years hasn’t proved to be enough time to eliminate the scourge of human trafficking. Slavery is now illegal in every nation, yet behind the scenes human traffickers are thriving, pulling in massive profits totaling $150 billion per year. For the sake of the more than 20 million victims of trafficking worldwide, we must make sure that slavery is not only illegal, but eliminated. Traffickers should be behind bars, not lining their pockets through exploitation.

As part of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2005, the Department of Labor (DOL) submitted its annual report disclosing products the DOL believes are produced by child or forced labor. The List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor offers an extensive accounting of what illicitly produced goods may make their way into American stores or American business supply chains. While it’s illegal to import goods produced with forced labor, as NBC News recently reported, a loophole has allowed them to slip through for over 80 years

It’s called the “consumptive demand” clause, introduced as part of the Tariff Act of 1930, which forbids importing products made through forced labor. The loophole allows U.S. companies to import goods made with forced labor when similar goods made in the United States can’t satisfy consumer demand. Over the years, courts interpreted this broadly, leading to more goods created through forced labor crossing into our domestic markets.

So which slave-made goods are in your local department stores?

According to the DOL’s list of goods produced through child and forced labor, products including cotton, garments, palm oil, cocoa, coffee, and electronics are the most ubiquitous. U.S. consumers would be hard-pressed to identify anything they have purchased in the past year that hasn’t included at least one of those components.

Closing the consumptive demand clause loophole has been a major goal of labor progressives in Washington like Tom Harkin for years now, but these loopholes openly benefit American corporations, especially in the age of supply chains, so nothing happens. This really should be the kind of concrete goal all progressives can get behind. I have no illusions of a repeal of this clause getting through a Republican Congress. After all, many of them would like to introduce child labor back into the United States today. But this specific goal should be part of the Democratic platform and really just a common-sense litmus test for any politician who wants progressive and union support.

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