Section 307 of the Tariff Act of 1930 (19 U.S.C. §1307) prohibits the importation of any product that was mined, produced, or manufactured wholly or in part by forced labor, including forced or indentured child labor. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) enforces the prohibition.
U.S. customs law has contained prohibitions against importing goods produced by certain categories of labor since the end of the nineteenth century. Beginning in 1890, the United States prohibited imports of goods manufactured with convict labor. In 1930, Congress expanded this prohibition in Section 307 of the Tariff Act to include any (not just manufactured) products of forced labor. Although a few Members of Congress brought up humanitarian concerns during debate, the central legislative concern was with protecting domestic producers from competing with products made with forced labor. As such, Section 307 allowed the admission of products of forced labor if it could be shown that no comparable product was made in the United States or the level of domestic production did not meet domestic demand (“consumptive demand” clause).
Over the decades, lawmakers and civil society became increasingly concerned about forced labor in the context of human trafficking. The Victims of Trafficking and Violence Prevention Act of 2000 (P.L. 106-386), for example, included forced labor in its definition of human trafficking. In 2015, Congress removed the “consumptive demand” clause, as part of the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act (reflecting this interest in addressing human rights abuses in the context of forced labor).
Issues for Congress
Trade Policy and Forced Labor Provisions
The treatment of forced labor in U.S. trade policy and free trade agreements (FTAs) has been of long-standing congressional interest and has evolved in recent years. Consistent with negotiating objectives set by Congress in Trade Promotion Authority, recent U.S. FTAs commit countries to maintain laws on core labor rights/principles of the International Labor Organization (ILO). This includes the elimination of forced or compulsory labor.
For the first time in a U.S. FTA, the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) also commits parties to prohibit imports of goods produced by forced labor through “measures it considers appropriate,” and to establish cooperation for identifying such goods. The 116th Congress passed USMCA implementing legislation in early 2020. It created a Forced Labor Enforcement Task Force, chaired by the Secretary of Homeland Security, to monitor enforcement of Section 307, and reporting requirements.
In addition, eligibility criteria for U.S. trade preference programs, such as the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP), includes taking steps to maintain internationally recognized worker rights. Some eligibility reviews by the U.S. Trade Representative have involved concerns over labor practices. Recently, the Administration withdrew GSP benefits for Thailand over forced labor in the fishing sector.
Trade agreements and programs have expanded coverage of trade and labor issues in part because the World Trade Organization (WTO) does not cover such rules. However, Article XX(e) of General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), provides exceptions to a country’s obligations for measures related to imports of products of prison labor.IF11360
Christopher A. Casey is an Analyst in International Trade and Finance for the Congressional Research Service.
Cathleen D. Cimino-Isaacs is an Analyst in International Trade and Finance for the Congressional Research Service.
Katarina C. O’Regan is an Analyst in Foreign Policy for the Congressional Research Service.
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