Two-hundred and forty—that’s the number of name-brand stores and institutional suppliers that we all depend on. Through them, we all buy seafood from importers who sell what forced laborers process in Chinese factories and vessels. We do it as families, as schools, as businesses. What is not in that number are the ways we buy forced-labor seafood as governments, mostly through five federal agencies and local school food authorities.
The Outlaw Ocean team, led by Ian Urbina, made transparency happen. They aren’t the first to reveal Xinjiang supply chains. But what distinguishes their seafood reporting is that they literally chased outlaw vessels across the seas, surveilled trucks at the port, and monitored internet traffic in multiple languages. James Bond would be impressed. And they didn’t stop with the report. They created power tools for tracing supply chains, purchasing seafood, and fixing policies that unwittingly enable an empire of exploitation. Now we can trace our own families’ supply chains for products we buy every week.
The international Coalition to End Forced Labour in the Uyghur Region has added the Outlaw Ocean reporting to its online library to show the complex puzzle of affected industries—aluminum, apparel, automotive, cotton, food, vinyl, polysilicon, solar, and more.
I appreciate your invitation to address one piece of this puzzle—the role of governments as wholesale buyers of seafood. I will briefly respond to several procurement questions:
- Which U.S. government agencies purchase seafood?
- Is the Buy American Act an antidote to forced-labor goods?
- Does the prohibition on purchasing forced-labor goods work?
- What is on the to-do list for fixing related gaps in policy?
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