U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency Cracking Down on Forced Labor Imports

U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency Cracking Down on Forced Labor Imports

Over the last five months, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency (CBP) has used new powers to block imports of specific goods from three separate Chinese companies.

The U.S. Tariff Act of 1930 prohibits the importation of goods mined, produced or manufactured by forced labor, including prison labor. However, the Act contained a loophole which permitted companies to circumvent this restriction by claiming there was a “consumptive demand” for the product, meaning national demand exceeded national production capacity.


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On February 24th, President Barack Obama signed into law the U.S. Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act which, among other amendments to the Tariff Act of 1930, closed the loophole. The CBP have since stated they are committed to “vigorously enforcing the legal prohibition on the importation of goods manufactured with forced labor.”

True to their word, the agency filed its first withhold release order (WRO) on March 29th. It has since issued two others.

The WROs include:

  • Tangshun Sanyou Group and its subsidiaries: soda ash, calcium chloride, caustic soda and viscose rayon fibre
  • Tangshan Sunfair Silicon Industries: potassium, potassium hydroxide and potassium nitrate
  • Pure Circle Ltd.: stevia

The Current Landscape

Previous to these three WROs (all issued to Chinese companies), no orders had been issued under this section of the U.S. Tariff Act of 1930 in over a decade. By its actions alone, the CBP has sent a clear message to importers to be aware of the products they are bringing into the United States.

The CBP is actively enforcing the Act and is encouraging individuals to come forward and file complaints if they know or suspect imported goods of being tainted by forced labor. The agency now has a task force dedicated specifically to identifying imports made with forced labor. Furthermore, the CBP continues to meet with NGOs and other stakeholders to gather information and answer questions about the law and how it is being enforced.

What Happens Now?

By identifying risk factors within their supply chains, importers can predict the level of scrutiny their imports will receive by CBP officials. Risk factors include, but are not limited to, country of origin, type of product, related industry, etc.

In order to ensure products are safe for import, companies should perform proper due diligence to determine whether or not the goods were manufactured using forced labor.

Not only are these processes helpful in reducing risk, they also provide essential information for companies who find themselves under investigation by the CBP. In the event the CBP issues a WRO, companies have 90 days to contend the article was not mined, produced or manufactured by forced labor.

To do that, companies must provide certificate of origin, signed by the foreign seller or owner of the article. In addition, importers must provide proof they made every effort to determine the type of labor used to produce the merchandise and each of its components, the results of their investigation and what their determination was at the end of the process.

The level of due diligence required to complete these steps is on par with many existing anti-human trafficking regulations. Assent Compliance offers an automated supply chain due diligence solution to help importers collect data from suppliers and demonstrate they have taken appropriate steps to ensure  their products are safe to import into the country. Collected data can then be used to provide the CBP with supporting documentation in the event a WRO is issued.

Importers of high-risk goods into the United States are under intense scrutiny by the CBP. For more information on how Assent Compliance can help, contact our regulatory experts at info@assentcompliance.com.

For more information on human trafficking, modern slavery and meeting global regulatory requirements, read our eBook Human Trafficking, Slavery & Your Supply Chain. 

Are you in scope of global anti-human trafficking laws? Read our Human Trafficking & Slavery Legislation Scoping Guide to find out. Download it here.

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