T’ruah congratulates the Senate and President Obama for taking meaningful action to prevent products produced via forced labor from reaching the United States. The Senate voted last week to close a loophole in the Tariff Act of 1930, a law that prohibits goods made by forced, child or prison labor from entering the United States unless the United States doesn’t produce enough of those goods to meet consumer demand. This ‘consumptive demand’ exemption was finally eliminated—after more than 85 years of advocacy—as part of a larger bill on trade enforcement that President Obama has indicated he will sign this week.
Rambam teaches us that one may not buy from a known thief, because as consumers, our demand for illicitly produced goods creates a market for their production (Laws of Theft, Chapter 5). However, the rabbis understood that the mere concern of theft was not enough (takanat hashuk): if we had to be worried about every product we buy, the market would collapse. And yet, that is the world we live in today, with human rights abuses in the supply chains of so many of the products we buy regularly. We cannot opt out of the modern economy, but we can buy alternatives when we know they exist (such as Fair Food tomatoes, thanks to the Coalition of Immokalee Workers) and fight for systemic change to end the ability of goods produced by slave labor to reach our homes. The elimination of this loophole in the Tariff Act is a critical step in preventing products created through the sweat of exploited laborers from reaching the United States. We must work together to ensure that these rules are enforced, and to create meaningful measures to hold business accountable for forced labor in their supply chains.