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April 21, 2016

CBP Enforces the Ban on Goods Produced with Forced Labor with Two Withhold Release Orders

By Meghan Hampsey

The U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) recently issued two “withhold release” orders, blocking goods from entering the country under suspicion that they were made with forced labor. These are the first such orders since the passage of the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act (H.R. 644), which President Obama signed in February of this year. Section 910 of the act prohibits the importation of goods made with forced labor into the United States, closing a loophole in the Tariff Act of 1930 that allowed importing such goods if the product was not made in high enough quantities domestically to meet the U.S. demand.

According to David Salkled of Arent Fox LLP, these are the first withhold release orders made in regards to forced labor in over a decade. The first order came on March 29th against imported soda ash, calcium chloride, caustic soda, and viscose/rayon fiber that was manufactured or mined by Chinese company Tangshan Sunfar Silicon Company. CBP believes that these products were made by forced convict labor. The second order, on April 13th, was against imported potassium, potassium hydroxide, and potassium nitrate that is believed to be mined and manufactured by the same company using convict labor.

CBP Commissioner Kerlikowske commented that CBP is committed to keeping products made with forced labor out of the United States: “CBP will do its part to ensure that products entering the United States were not made by exploiting those forced to work against their will, and to ensure that American businesses and workers do not have to compete with businesses profiting from forced labor.”  

These orders are an important part in enforcing the new ban and ensuring we are not supporting criminals who profit from human trafficking. The government needs to effectively enforce this provision so that businesses have more incentive to protect their supply chains from forced labor to guarantee all of their imports are cleared for entry into the United States.

If the U.S. government and American businesses set a precedent that forced labor will not be tolerated, other countries are likely to follow suit. However, how U.S. government follows through on implementing the new ban and being transparent in their enforcement actions is essential to this effort. Accountability procedures should be clearly stated and enforced through all trade agreements to ensure that our partners fulfill their commitments to fight human trafficking. These two withhold release orders are hopefully just the first signs that the U.S. federal government is committed to enforcing the Tariff Act of 1930.

For more information about forced labor and strengthening trade protections please see our blueprint.