Remarks by Ambassador Katherine Tai at the Launch of the U.S. – Japan Task Force to Promote Human Rights and International Labor Standards in Supply Chains under the U.S. – Japan Partnership on Trade

WASHINGTON – Today, United States Trade Representative Katherine Tai and Japan's Minister for Economy, Trade, and Industry Nishimura Yasutoshi signed a Memorandum of Cooperation (MOC) to launch a Task Force on the Promotion of Human Rights and International Labor Standards in Supply Chains.  

In her opening remarks, Ambassador Tai underscored the importance of working with trading partners and stakeholders to promote a race to the top by defending workers’ rights and combatting forced labor throughout our supply chains.  Ambassador Tai also expressed her gratitude to the Government of Japan for its continued partnership and to U.S. Government agencies for contributing their expertise under the U.S. – Japan Partnership on Trade.

Ambassador Tai’s remarks as prepared for delivery are below:

Happy New Year and good afternoon, everyone.

It’s great to be here with all of you today, in this historic room, for a historic moment in our trade relationship with Japan.  I would like to welcome Minister Nishimura Yasutoshi and his colleagues to Washington.  Thank you for making the journey, and I’m glad to see you here in person.

Japan has been a key economic partner to the United States for decades, and it’s fitting that we are utilizing our close relationship to advance a core belief – that trade should be used as a force for good, to protect and to promote our shared democratic values.

This is at the heart of the Biden Administration’s worker-centered trade policy.  Trade must deliver tangible results to everyday people.  It must bring more people in, and it must improve livelihoods for more of our citizens.  We’re here today to not only sign a Memorandum of Cooperation, but to renew and to recharge this mutual goal.

Forced labor and human exploitation continue to present challenges to the global trading system.  In fact, the International Labor Organization’s recent estimate found that 28 million people globally are still subjected to forced labor.

To make the global trading system more resilient and sustainable, we must address forced labor at each stage of our supply chains.  Whether it’s the cotton in the clothes we wear or metals in the cars we drive, such abuses threaten to undermine the very foundations of our system.

Under President Biden's leadership, the United States has been very focused on this issue.  President Biden has been clear that forced labor must not be tolerated in the United States or anywhere around the world.  And just at the turn of the new year, the President issued a proclamation declaring January as National Human Trafficking Prevention Month in the United States.

The Task Force we’re launching today is a piece of our strategy to continue this resolve with our trading partners, to place workers at the center of our trade policy.  This is also how we’re advancing the U.S. National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking and bolstering the work of the Forced Labor Enforcement Task Force.

This is truly a whole-of-government effort, with several agencies involved.  I want to thank the Department of Commerce; the Department of Health and Human Services; the Department of Homeland Security, including U.S. Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement; the Department of Labor; the Department of State; the U.S. Agency for International Development; and my team here at USTR.

Each of these agencies has unique mandates and skillsets to help us realize our vision on trade.  These include (1) laws and policies to address human trafficking and forced labor in product supply chains; (2) in-depth, worldwide reporting on workers’ rights limitations, including child labor, forced labor, and human trafficking; (3) tools to provide producer and importer guidance on due diligence, social compliance, and responsible sourcing; and (4) training for businesses, including small and medium enterprises, on reducing the risk of worker exploitation at each stage of supply chains.

It’s not a coincidence that today’s announcement stems from our partnership with Japan.  Over the past year, under the U.S.-Japan Partnership on Trade, our two governments have prioritized discussions on how we can cooperate to combat forced labor and collaborate on due diligence standards.

Doing trade the right way means strength in numbers – having our allies and partners work alongside us.  So, it gives me great pleasure to have this Task Force as a concrete outcome of the U.S.-Japan Partnership on Trade, and the Government of Japan as our teammate as we move ahead with this crucial endeavor.  This is an important step that will turn our shared ideals into shared action.

But the United States and Japan cannot do this alone.  To make this work, we must partner with all relevant stakeholders – worker organizations, businesses, and civil society – to bring about lasting and meaningful change.  We must also invite other governments to join us as we push ahead to safeguard the dignity of workers everywhere.

So, we intend to do just that in the months ahead.  The Task Force will meet to exchange information and share best practices as we continue our work to protect workers and to provide due diligence guidance for businesses.

Thank you, Minister Nishimura, for being the trusted partner that you are and for joining us in this effort. This is just the beginning – and I look forward to seeing what we can achieve together. Thanks again, and the floor is now yours.