A delegation from U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Office of Trade and Office of Field Operations, DHS Policy, Immigration and Customs Enforcement-Homeland Security Investigations, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the Department of State recently traveled to Thailand to assess the risk of forced labor in Thai seafood-supply chains and learn more about the country’s efforts to combat the use of forced labor. CBP Executive Assistant Commissioner Brenda Smith from the Office of Trade led the delegation. She met with Thai government officials, fishing industry associations, the Seafood Task Force, non-governmental human rights organizations, and European Union officials, both to provide an education on U.S. procedures and processes, and to gain a better understanding of the labor and seafood inspection and verification processes conducted in Thailand.
Thailand’s multi-billion dollar fishing industry came under global scrutiny in 2014 when reports of human trafficking, modern slavery and other illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing activity surfaced. These allegations led the European Union to issue a yellow flag for “shortcomings in [Thailand’s] fisheries monitoring, control and sanctioning systems.” In 2015, CBP also focused its attention on potential violations in the Thai seafood industry. Thailand has since made strides in teaching their fishing industry how to identify and address indicators of forced labor. As part of their visit to Thailand, the CBP delegation toured Thailand’s fishing vessel monitoring centers to learn how Thailand invested in the development of policies and directives and increased staffing to identify and monitor the potential use of forced labor. Additionally, the delegation visited the ports of Samut Sakhon and Prachuap Khiri Khan, where they spoke with crewmembers and witnessed the port inspection process.
“CBP strengthened our relationships with non-governmental organizations, other foreign government agencies, and the private sector to understand the efforts that have been made in the Thai fishing industry, and where the risks related to forced labor still exist,” said Executive Assistant Commissioner Brenda Smith. “We wanted to educate organizations about the type of information CBP needs to identify and respond to allegations of forced labor, and forced child labor, and establish ways we can best work together.”
The trip is part of increased efforts by CBP’s Office of Trade in fighting forced labor in global supply chains. With authorities provided by the Tariff Act of 1930 (19 U.S.C. § 1307) and strengthened by the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015 (TFTEA), CBP can detain goods produced with forced labor by issuing withhold release orders at the ports of entry. CBP has established a Forced Labor Division within the Office of Trade to focus solely on forced labor cases. CBP is also an integral component of the DHS-led Forced Labor Interagency Working Group, which also includes representatives from the Departments of Labor, State, Justice, and Treasury, the U.S. Trade Representative, U.S. Agency for International Development, the General Services Administration, and ICE/HSI. Each of these agencies and departments evaluate different aspects of forced labor issues and coordinate on education and enforcement efforts.
“We have a good handle on how products move through supply chains, and so we are looking to identify whether forced labor was used at any point in those supply chains,” said EAC Smith. “On the trip, we saw a number of efforts within the industry around education and traceability; as well as government investment in inspection, and targeting of risky behavior. The Thai government, private sector and NGO community have taken many actions, and we look forward to the sustainment of these efforts and further progress.”
The visit also highlighted the complexities of forced labor and how the U.S. government needs to face this challenge through multi-organizational solutions, information, education, risk assessment, and action.
“There’s incredible value in getting organizations on the same page with a serious problem like this,” said EAC Smith. “It is a complex challenge, requiring numerous stakeholders to work together to identify and address risks. We are pleased to be included in these efforts.”