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AP: Proposal to hide import data would shield labor abuses

FILE - A truck arrives to pick up a shipping container near vessels at the Port of Los Angeles, Nov. 30, 2021. An influential government advisory panel comprised of major U.S. businesses is proposing new rules that would roll back already limited public access to import data, a move that trade experts say would make it harder to trace labor abuse by foreign suppliers. The proposal, if adopted, would shroud in secrecy customs data on ocean-going freight responsible for about half of the $2.7 trillion worth of goods entering the U.S. every year in the same way it already is for rail, truck and air cargo. (AP Photo / Damian Dovarganes, File)

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AP Latin America correspondent Joshua Goodman broke the story of a proposal backed by leading U.S. corporations to hide key import data — data vitally important to researchers and investigative journalists seeking to hold corporations accountable for the mistreatment of workers in their overseas supply chains.

The story started with a Friday afternoon tip from a seafood industry source fighting to protect American fishermen from imported goods produced in slave-like working conditions. The source provided Goodman with a copy of a never-before-seen presentation by a group known as the Commercial Customs Operations Advisory Committee, which is seeking to make data collected from vessel manifests confidential.

Goodman teamed up with AP investigative reporter Martha Mendoza, canvassing trade experts and lawyers behind the recently passed Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act. Their opinion was unanimous: The proposal was an outrageous affront to corporate America’s promise of pursuing responsible sourcing practices.

Although the commercial advisory committee was new to Goodman, he worked fast to publish the story as the group — which includes executives of 20 companies including Walmart, General Motors and Intel — pitched its proposal in closed-door meetings with U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials in Washington.

The scoop prompted an outcry from members of Congress and groups advocating for greater transparency in global supply chains.

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