Background

Imports of goods that may have been made with forced labor are under increasing scrutiny by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which has accelerated its issuance of orders to detain such imports at U.S. borders and has even begun issuing penalties. CBP recently issued guidance to help importers avoid or address forced labor issues, but the trade community is seeking additional measures as well.

19 USC 1307 prohibits the importation of goods mined, produced, or manufactured, wholly or in part, in any foreign country by forced labor, including convict labor, forced child labor, and indentured labor. Such goods are subject to exclusion and/or seizure and may lead to criminal investigation of the importer. When information reasonably but not conclusively indicates that goods within the purview of 19 USC 1307 are being imported, CBP may issue a withhold release order requiring the detention of specified goods at all U.S. ports of entry. Importers of detained shipments then have the opportunity to export those goods or submit proof to CBP that they were not produced with forced labor.

CBP’s Commercial Customs Operations Advisory Committee said recently that while there is broad consensus across U.S. government, business, civil society, and elsewhere that all efforts should be pursued to prevent and remedy instances of forced labor, slavery, and human trafficking, enforcement alone will only go so far. Instead, COAC said, a more holistic effort is needed where government partners with industry and civil society to enhance and improve information collection, prevention, enforcement, and remediation.

Toward that end, COAC urged CBP to take the following steps.

- assist U.S. importers with deeper visibility into the supply chain by sharing experiences, resources, and tools utilized to access information about forced labor risk in upstream levels of the supply chain that may be less accessible to importers

- exercise discretion when considering how and when to carry out enforcement responsibilities, particularly prior to issuing a WRO; e.g., taking into account when the importing community is making genuine efforts to conduct due diligence and active remediation and utilizing grace periods during which CBP provides alerts and/or guidance before issuing a WRO

- implement a risk-based approach, including targeting enforcement actions against known high-risk areas, to address the worst abuses

- fully engage all relevant stakeholders (affected individuals, U.S. government agencies, private sector, civil society, etc.) prior to issuing a WRO to help avoid unintended consequences

- enhance collaboration with industry experts, civil society, and other U.S. government agencies to identify, prioritize, communicate, and partner on known forced labor risks

For more information on forced labor and related COAC efforts, please contact Elise Shibles or Lenny Feldman.

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