U.S. Customs Cracks Down on North Korean Forced Labor Imports

U.S. Customs Cracks Down on North Korean Forced Labor Imports

The United States (U.S.) Customs and Border Protection Agency (CBP) is cracking down on imports tied to forced labor from North Korea after new legislative measures were introduced as part of the U.S. government’s sanctions strategy.

Companies importing to the U.S. are now at heightened risk of supply chain disruption if they cannot prove their suppliers are not using forced labor from North Korea.

Concerned about North Korean labor in your U.S.-bound products? Learn how to mitigate risk in our free guidebook on human trafficking and slavery.

Collecting slavery and human trafficking data from your supply chain is the first step to avoiding these disruptions. Integrating seamlessly with Assent’s Human Rights Module, the Slavery and Trafficking Risk Template (STRT) enables companies to collect vital data from their supply chains, equipping them with the tools to prove compliance and avoid enforcement action.


Although laborers from North Korea sent abroad by the government often work under conditions of forced labor — particularly in seafood and other production lines in China — estimates regarding the extent of the issue vary, and enforcement action from foreign governments has been limited to date. This is beginning to change, as signaled through recent legislative and enforcement actions by the U.S. government and CBP.

On August 2, 2017, the U.S. government passed the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA). This step signaled the CBPs engagement in the government’s sanctions program by making it easier for the Agency to take action against goods produced with North Korean labor and, in all likelihood, elevating the issue on their enforcement agenda.

Previously, the knowledge that a good was made with North Korean labor was insufficient to warrant action by the CBP. Now, however, the Agency has been given the green light to operate under the assumption that North Korean products are associated with convict, forced and/or indentured labor, unless the associated importer is able to provide explicit evidence to the contrary. In this way, it has shifted the burden of proof to importers.

Shipments To U.S. Put On Hold

The CBP has begun using a range of enforcement tools to prevent goods produced with forced labor from reaching the U.S.

Recently, six shipments en route to the U.S. were put on hold by the CBP’s regular detention authority rather than through the standard withhold release order (WRO) process. This method allowed the CBP to act quickly and stop the shipments before they reached land.

How the STRT Helps

The STRT enables companies to collect data on a supplier’s use of migrant workers, like those from North Korea. It also employs a risk algorithm that draws on data from the U.S. Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report and the Strengthening Protections Against Trafficking in Persons in Federal & Corporate Supply Chains Report, which both specifically consider risk factors related to North Korean labor.

In the event a company’s merchandise is detained by the U.S. CBP, companies have 90 days to respond with proof of conformity. In such cases, companies can use data collected through the STRT to support their case to the CBP that their merchandise was not made with forced labor.

The STRT works in tandem with Assent’s Human Rights Module. When combined, these tools equip companies to effectively assess, mitigate and manage human rights risk in supply chains.

To learn more about Assent’s Human Rights Module or to get in touch with our regulatory compliance team, email info@assentcompliance.com. For details about the STRT, visit www.sraglobal.org.