U.S. government violating UFLP Act with seafood purchases

U.S. government violating Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act with seafood purchases

  • Published on
    November 21, 2023
  • News Source Image
  • Category:
    Forced Labor, Supply Chain
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China’s distant-water fishing fleet, the world’s largest with up to 6,500 ships, operates in murky waters, both literally and figuratively. A four-year investigation by The Outlaw Ocean Project sheds light on the dark reality of forced labor in China’s seafood supply chain.

These ships, often far from shore, pose challenges for monitoring labor practices, confounding even the American government it seems. 

A Sea of Shadows

Investigators closely monitored Chinese fishing ships, linking their catch to processing plants using Uyghur and North Korean labor. Bills of lading, customs information, and product packaging unveiled the supply chain, connecting the seafood to grocery stores, restaurants, and even government contracts in the United States and Europe.

In the ongoing saga of Uyghur forced labor, a longstanding yet obscured reality persists — the systematic transfer scheme. For years, the Chinese government has covertly relocated tens of thousands of Uyghurs across China, including to seafood processing plants in Shandong province on the eastern coast.

Uyghur workers find themselves loaded onto trains, planes, and buses, becoming unwitting contributors to a vast seafood supply chain. This concealed coercion not only exploits human rights but also strategically distances the laborers from international scrutiny.

Ian Urbina, writing for Politico, reports,

Seafood imports have largely slipped oversight, however, partly because the plants relying on these workers are located far from Xinjiang, a western area of the country that is among the farthest from the sea of anywhere on the planet. The Chinese government has instead forcibly relocated tens of thousands of these workers, loading them onto trains, planes and buses, and sending some to seafood processing plants in Shandong province, a fishing hub on the eastern coast. These findings were based on Outlaw Ocean Project reporting conducted using cell phone footage from factories and other places in China posted to social media, seafood company newsletters that mention meetings with government officials about solving labor shortages, state media reports, more than three dozen worker testimonies and direct surveillance of some plants.

Murky supply chains bypass auditing attempts

The seafood supply chain’s complexity and lack of traceability have spurred calls for stricter regulations. Lawmakers, ocean conservationists, and human rights organizations advocate for tracking seafood from bait to plate, ensuring it doesn’t fund labor or environmental crimes or violate sanctions.

Existing auditing mechanisms, however, struggle to navigate the intricate supply chain designed to keep labor abuses hidden. Despite claims of rigor, the investigation exposes critical flaws in the auditing system. For instance, several U.S. companies, including Lund’s Fisheries and Sysco, rely on self-reported catch certificates and independent audits of processing plants that lack verification mechanisms. The catch certificates, often filled out at the processing stage, offer a convenient but unreliable account of the seafood’s journey.

The U.S. Government’s complicity

This may explain why the American government is infringing on its own legislation prohibiting the importation of forced labor goods. The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, enacted in 2021, aims to prevent goods produced with forced labor from entering the U.S. However, federal agencies continue to import millions of dollars worth of seafood linked to Uyghur and North Korean forced labor.

The U.S. government’s seafood purchases find their way into the hands of unsuspecting consumers, including school children.

This is unacceptable!

The Freedom United community continues to advocate for the dismantling of the Uyghur forced labor system. Take action today and stand with us against Uyghur forced labor.

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