It Just Became Illegal to Buy Slave-Produced Goods—Wait, What?
So it turns out that, until yesterday, it was very much legal for child- and slave-produced goods to be imported into the US. Yes, really. President Obama has just signed a new bill into effect, a provision of which prohibits the imports of fish caught by slaves in Southeast Asia, gold mined by children in Africa, and clothing made by abused women in Bangladesh. That such imports were even allowed in the first place was due to a loophole in an 85-year-old law aimed at prohibiting the export of slave-produced goods, but did effectually nothing regarding their import.
The issue was brought to light last year when an exposé by the Associated Press recounted the huge amounts of seafood caught and processed by enslaved workers and shipped from Thai companies to US shores.
But wait, you might ask, aren’t there already customs laws that prohibit slave-produced goods from being imported? Well, yes, actually, but they haven’t been being enforced, and the reason why is infuriatingly simple. The 1930 Tariff Act’s “consumptive demand exception” stated that if there was ever not enough supply to meet domestic demand, goods were allowed to be imported from anywhere and regardless of how they were produced. Which basically means, “Hey, these goods are illegal… but if you really want some we can get you some.”
So finally, “consumptive demand” is dunzo, which is amazing. But what other implications does this have? Well, for one thing, it could mean that fast fashion might experience a bit of a decline. Or at least a hiccup. Clothing brands who are in the habit of doing so will no longer be able to easily outsource their labor to countries like Bangladesh, where it’s not hard to find women working in dangerous conditions for less than 25 cents an hour.
Granted, the US hasn’t been the driving force in this market—that title still belongs to China. However, the passage of this new bill might send a very important message to other countries, and to brands that employ unethical labor practices. It’s a small victory, and one that should have been made a very long time ago. But it is nonetheless a step in the direction of a more ethical world.
Images via the Malay Mail, the International Business Times, the Daily Beast and Platform PR.