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CBP cracks down on forced labor in supply chains

Customs and Border Protection issued holds on five products from five countries, requiring U.S. importers to re-export those products or provide additional information that they were not made with forced labor.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection increases enforcement against imported merchandise manufactured using forced labor. Photo credit: Shutterstock

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is making good on its mandate to detect and halt import products that include the use of child or forced labor during their manufacture. 

The agency announced October 1 the issuance of five “withhold release orders” covering five imported products from five countries. 

Brenda Smith, CBP’s executive assistant commissioner for trade, said during a morning press conference that withhold release orders are issued by the agency’s commissioner “when information reasonably, but non conclusively indicates that merchandise is produced by forced labor is being or likely to be imported into the United States.” 

U.S. prohibitions against the use of forced labor in trade dates to the 1930 Tariff Act. The passage of the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015 widened CBP’s capability to investigate and prohibit goods manufactured using forced labor from entering the U.S. 

The five imports subject to the withhold release orders include:

  •  Hetian Taida Apparel Co., Ltd. in Xinjiang, China, for garments produced with prison or forced labor.
  • WRP Asia Pacific Sdn. Bhd. In Malaysia for producing disposable rubber gloves produced with forced labor.
  • Gold from eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) mined in small mines with forced labor.
  • Rough diamonds from the Marange Diamond Fields in Zimbabwe mined with forced labor.
  • Bonechar Carvão Ativado Do Brasil Ltda in Brazil for manufacturing bone black with forced labor. 

Smith said the withhold release orders have been issued to CBP at the U.S. ports of entry targeting those imports.

“Shipments of merchandise subject to a withhold release order will be detained,” she said. 

Importers subject to withhold release orders have the opportunity under CBP regulations to either re-export detained shipments or submit additional information to the agency demonstrating that the goods are not in violation. 

Smith said the process of identifying child or forced labor used to manufacture merchandise is “difficult to trace through long, multi-tiered, opaque supply chains.” 

In the case of WRP Asia Pacific, the identification was clearer for CBP since its shipments are made directly for export to the U.S. The agency estimated that the disposable rubber glove manufacturer shipped $79.5 million of product to the U.S. last year. 

Hetian Taida Apparel Co. was identified by CBP as a supplier to Statesville, North Carolina-based Badger Sports Wear.

Gold from DRC and Zimbabwean diamonds mined using forced labor, however, are more difficult to detect due to their further processing in other overseas locations before being shipped to the U.S., Smith said. 

The Forced Labor Division within CBP’s Office of Trade leads agency enforcement efforts prohibiting the import of goods made using forced labor.

Investigations may be initiated in myriad ways, including through news reports and tips from the public or trade. CBP may also self-initiate an investigation into the use of forced labor in any given supply chain.

Smith said importers should closely examine their supply chains at all levels to ensure that their goods are not produced either wholly or in part using prohibited forced labor.

“It is my hope that by conducting thorough investigations, enforcing our laws, and issuing withhold release orders that we send a clear message that CBP is diligent in targeting and preventing goods made with forced labor from entering our market,” Smith said.

Chris Gillis

Located in the Washington, D.C. area, Chris Gillis primarily reports on regulatory and legislative topics that impact cross-border trade. He joined American Shipper in 1994, shortly after graduating from Mount St. Mary’s College in Emmitsburg, Md., with a degree in international business and economics.