Background

U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai announced Jan. 25 that USTR will develop its first-ever focused trade strategy to combat forced labor. The news came in conjunction with the first meeting of the Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, which released a fact sheet detailing other trade-related steps federal agencies are taking on this issue.

The USTR strategy will support the Biden administration’s National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking, which among other things directs USTR to consider all options to combat forced labor and enhance government and corporate accountability in the global market, including engaging with allies to achieve commitments to fight forced labor and increase transparency and accountability in global supply chains.

USTR said the development of this strategy will include a thorough interagency review of existing trade policies and tools used to combat forced labor to determine areas that may need strengthening and gaps that need to be filled. USTR will then use this analysis to establish objectives, priorities, new tools, and key action items to advance related goals. Tai said USTR will also create “an inclusive process that maximizes input from stakeholders, including labor organizations, civil society, survivors, and the private sector.”

The National Action Plan also directs other federal agencies to take actions to better enforce the existing ban on imports of goods made with forced labor. This includes providing key private-sector partners with information about forced labor in product supply chains and increasing transparency regarding enforcement of withhold release orders.

According to a task force fact sheet, steps that have been taken or are planned include the following.

- In 2021 the Department of Homeland Security detained more shipments of goods (in value and number) made by forced labor than in any previous year.

- DHS has initiated the first-ever criminal investigations to hold accountable companies and individuals who use forced labor to produce goods abroad.

- The Department of Commerce will develop training and guidance for U.S. companies and private-sector stakeholders on the use of forced labor in supply chains, including offering best practices to identify and address possible violations.

- The Department of Health and Human Services established a task force that, among other things, will focus on preventing forced labor in health care supply chains.

- The DOC, in collaboration with the departments of State and Labor, launched a new coordination group to develop innovative approaches to combating forced labor in the seafood industry.

Sandler, Travis & Rosenberg offers a comprehensive suite of services to help companies address forced labor concerns, including supply chain reviews, due diligence strategies, and proactive remediation. In addition, ST&R has launched a web page offering a broad range of information on forced labor-related efforts in the U.S. and around the world. ST&R also has an on-demand webinar on forced labor and supply chain transparency available online.

For more information on any of these initiatives, please contact Amanda Levitt (at (212) 549-0148) or via email), David Olave (at (202) 730-4960 or via email), or Nicole Bivens Collinson (at (202) 730-4956 or via email).

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