Retailers in Washington state who do business in Washington and have a worldwide gross receipt of more than $200 million may be required to report on modern slavery in their agricultural supply chains if new legislation gets passed.
Senate Bill 5693, sponsored by Sen. Rebecca Saldaña, aims to take on debt bondage and human trafficking in the agriculture industry. It passed from the Labor and Commerce Committee to the Senate Rules Committee on Feb. 21.
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“It’s my job, I believe, as a consumer to make sure that I’m asking the hard questions around and supporting industry to be able to help us eradicate slavery and to make sure that people are having their human rights protected and respected,” Saldaña said.
“This is really a step in that direction.”
Many industry leaders are hitting back, however, reports the Columbia Basin Herald:
Carolyn Logue of the Washington Food Industry Association testified in opposition to the bill.
“We think what this will do is create a paperwork nightmare with significant liabilities for a lot of our businesses without dealing really effectively and efficiently with the very real problem of human trafficking and the other problems listed here,” Logue said.
Agricultural product is defined in the bill as cocoa, dairy, coffee, sugar and fruit products. The bill also defines what are not considered agricultural products, which is wheat, potato, onions, asparagus or other vegetable products.
Tom Davis with the Washington Farm Bureau noted that 95 percent of the farms in the state are family farms and that the “accusations” made in this bill towards them are “outrageous.”
“It presupposes that slavery, peonage and human trafficking are taking place on our family farms,” Davis said.
Dan Wood with the Washington State Dairy Federation also condemned the bill, calling it one of the worst bills he has ever seen.
The proposed bill would require companies to disclose human rights violations, to outline how they are addressing the risk of modern slavery, and actions taken to respect workers’ human rights.
If a supplier fails to report this information, it would allow the State Attorney General’s Office to take civil action. Statutory damages could range from $500 to $7,000.
A hearing is not yet scheduled for SB 5693.