Remarks by Under Secretary Lago at the President’s Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Human Trafficking (PITF) - February 13

Washington, DC
February 13, 2024

As Prepared for Delivery

Thank you so much.

As Administrator Power noted, there are very many personal stories. And Deputy Secretary Marten, I was so impressed how you brought your experience, so I think I’ll share that I’ve spent 49 years living in the warm embrace of Ukrainian parents. Both of [my husband’s] parents, at age 15, were taken into forced labor under the Nazis. They were freed by U.S. G.I.s — as you can imagine, no more loyal Americans. I heard their stories, but I also witnessed the lifelong trauma that was impossible to hide.

It is such a privilege to be here representing Commerce Secretary Raimondo on this topic. As many of you may know, Commerce is comprised of different bureaus with widely ranging authorities.

It’s appropriate to be going after Under Secretary Nelson, because I’ll start out by noting that Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security has the authority to impose export controls, which often go hand in hand with sanctions. These ensure that foreign governments and companies that exploit forced labor are constrained in their ability to access U.S. goods, software — but importantly — technologies that can be used to carry out their nefarious purposes.

Another branch of the Department of Commerce relates to comments that were made by Ambassador Tai and Under Secretary Nelson: fisheries. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration — NOAA — continues to build on this public-private initiative that it launched in 2022 called the Collaborative Accelerator for Lawful Maritime Conditions in Seafood. It brings together U.S. government agencies, but also business representatives, to develop best practices for industry accountability for legal and safe working conditions. This initiative importantly also improves the conditions, the safety, and the labor conditions on U.S. vessels by incorporating the all-important worker voices.

The final initiative that I’ll touch upon — it may be third, but certainly not least — is the work of the International Trade Administration that I lead. We have very longstanding relationships with the private sector, and these relationships continue to serve as an important channel to raise the issue of forced labor in supply chains. Through all of our supply chain work, including our newly established Supply Chain Center, we provide businesses with best practices. We make them aware of the breadth of government resources that are available to them to mitigate forced labor wherever it might arise within their supply chain decisions.

I’ll end by noting that enforcement of our existing laws is absolutely critical, so — like Ambassador Tai — we are so pleased to be part of the government’s Forced Labor Enforcement Task Force holding others to account. Thank you.