Washington, D.C. – In a new report today requested by Chair Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.), the Government Accountability Office (GAO) finds that U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials have not effectively coordinated with partner agencies to reduce human slavery and illegal labor practices in the seafood industry and need to improve their investigative methods. The report makes clear that collaboration with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), affiliated nongovernmental organizations, and other stakeholders is ad hoc at best and cannot meet legal requirements without reform.
The report, available online at https://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-20-441, focuses on CBP enforcement of Section 307 of the Tariff Act of 1930, which gives the agency authority to detain shipments imported to the United States when it has information that reasonably indicates they were produced under forced labor. To date, the agency has only issued “withhold release” orders for seafood imports on two occasions—both for seafood coming from tuna longline vessels.
Illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing has long been a concern of the House Committee on Natural Resources. In addition to the environmental harm it causes, IUU fishing is associated with other illicit practices, including the use of slave or forced labor and human trafficking. According to the United Nations, nearly 25 million people in the world are involved in forced labor, about 11 percent of whom work in agriculture and fishing.
CBP works with officials at the NOAA Seafood Import Monitoring Program, among other partners, because CBP itself does not have agents stationed around the world to see evidence of forced labor in the fishing industry first-hand. GAO found that these stakeholders do not have a clear understanding of what information CBP needs to investigate forced labor cases for seafood and recommends that CBP better communicate to stakeholders the types of information that will help the agency initiate and investigate these kinds of cases related to seafood.
The Water, Oceans, and Wildlife Subcommittee held a hearing on NOAA’s Biennial IUU Report in November of 2019, which included an extended discussion on the links between IUU fishing and forced labor. The Committee intends to address the issue before the end of the 116th Congress.