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8 Apr 2020

Meg Roggensack & Anasuya Syam, The Human Trafficking Legal Center

USA: The Tariff Act is a powerful tool to sanction forced labour, experts say

"Withhold Release Orders, in Three Acts: Heralding A New Enforcement Era", Mar 2020 

The Tariff Act of 1930 included a little-known and rarely used weapon to combat importation of goods made with forced labor, Section 307. But the act included an exception – the “consumptive demand” exception – that eclipsed the rule...

...Advocates fought for decades to repeal the exception to Section 307 of the Tariff Act. In 2015, they succeeded...

...Since the amendment, these orders, or WROs, have targeted seven countries, covering more than 16 different products. This prohibition under the Tariff Act, a promising tool to combat forced labor, poses both new possibilities and challenges...

...Section 307 has tremendous promise to serve as a sanction against the use of forced labor. The Tariff Act’s new relevance is a reminder of trade remedies’ potential to compel respect for worker rights in global supply chains. 

One thing is certain: the coronavirus-induced economic collapse will harm workers. It already has. Forced labor may increase in medical equipment supply chains, as factories demand overtime to meet urgent demand. At the same time, governments’ appetite for enforcement may shrink. But, as the Malaysia rubber gloves case shows, advocates can seize this opportunity to demand additional protections for workers. Supply chains are under greater scrutiny than ever before. Now is the time to end forced labor. Now is the time to demand greater rights for workers.