U.S. Customs and Border Protection should investigate and block imports of cocoa made with forced labor and pursue criminal investigations if appropriate, two U.S. senators told Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan in a July 16 letter.

19 USC 1307 prohibits the importation of goods mined, produced, or manufactured wholly or in part in any foreign country by convict, forced, or indentured labor, including forced child labor. When information reasonably indicates that such goods are being imported, CBP can issue a withhold release order to prevent those goods from entering the U.S. market.

The letter urges McAleenan to work with CBP to quickly issue a WRO against cocoa products from the Ivory Coast that are not shown to be from sources free of child labor. The letter states that more than 20 years after the Department of Labor and Congress worked with large chocolate companies to develop a framework to eradicate child labor from their supply chains in West Africa, a recent investigative report by The Washington Post provides “overwhelming evidence” that “the widespread use of child labor in the sector persists.” As a result, the letter concludes that “at least some, if not a significant portion” of the hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of cocoa products the U.S. imports from the Ivory Coast are produced with forced child labor.

The letter also requests that CBP coordinate its enforcement efforts with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to determine whether a criminal investigation is warranted.

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