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Remarks by Commerce Secretary Wilbur L. Ross at the 2020 Meeting of the President’s Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons Virtual Meeting


Introduced by Deputy Secretary Stephen Biegun, U.S. Department of State

Thank you, Stephen. And thank you also to Ivanka for your leadership combatting the horrors of human trafficking and forced labor.

My thanks to the Advisory Councils and all of our federal agencies for your hard work and contributions to ending modern slavery. My Department stands together with you in full support of this important effort. And we are deploying our authorities and resources to rid our supply chains around the globe of these anathemas.

Notably, the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry Security (BIS) has imposed export controls on entities demonstrating consistent abuses to human rights or whose surveillance technologies are enabling such activities. Since October 2019, BIS has added 48 China-based entities to the Entity List involved with the repression, mass arbitrary detention, forced labor, and high-tech surveillance of Muslim minorities in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.

Furthermore, we joined the Departments of State, Treasury, and Homeland Security in issuing a Xinjiang Supply Chain Business Advisory on July 1, alerting the public of the reputational, economic, and legal risks to involvement with entities that engage in human rights abuses, including forced labor in the manufacture of goods.

Also in July, BIS published a Notice of Inquiry in the Federal Register seeking public comment about the possible expansion of controls over items used by police, intelligence, and security services to facilitate human rights abuses – including surveillance technologies. We have received 20 comments that we are evaluating for export control action.

And in October, BIS published two new rules, allowing the Department to review and deny any license application on the basis of human rights concerns, and adding a new control on water cannons when used for riot or crowd control. This is partly in response to actions against protestors in Hong Kong.

Turning now to my Department’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Marine Fisheries Service is working with federal and international partners to end the forced and enslaved labor in the seafood industry that is often linked to Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing (IUUF).

To that end, NOAA will soon publish a proposed rule updating certain provisions of the IUUF Enforcement Act of 2015 and the Ensuring Access to Pacific Fisheries Act. The proposed rule would amend the definition of IUUF in the regulations that implement the High Seas Driftnet Fishing Moratorium Protection Act. Once applied, the new rule will provide the Administration with additional tools to combat IUUF and reduce revenue derived from these illegal activities.

NOAA is also working with the seafood industry to develop due-diligence standards and pursue market-based solutions that eliminate economic incentives to forced labor in the fishing industry.

The Commerce Department’s International Trade Administration (ITA) also is critically engaged in the fight against human exploitation. ITA’s U.S. Commercial Service Officers are working steadfastly with their State Department colleagues at our embassies and consulates around the world to convey critical information about entities engaged in human trafficking and human rights abuses to American businesses working in foreign markets.

Collaborating with our federal government partners and other relevant groups, my Department will continue to counter activities that run contrary to our American values.

Protecting freedom and human life is intrinsic to who we are. And as such, we will persistently identify additional actions the Commerce Department can undertake in support of those principles that the Taskforce holds paramount.

Thank you.