Federal officials were urged by lawmakers and private-sector representatives this week to strongly enforce a recently enacted law fully prohibiting imports of products made with forced labor. U.S. Customs and Border Protection has already been active in using its authority under the new law and has pledged further enforcement.

19 USC 1307 prohibits the importation of goods mined, produced or manufactured, wholly or in part, in any foreign country by forced labor, including forced child labor. Effective March 10 the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act closed a loophole in this law that had allowed imports of goods made with forced labor if they were not produced domestically in such quantities as to meet consumptive demands. When information reasonably indicates that goods within the purview of 19 USC 1307 are being imported, CBP may issue withhold release orders requiring detention of those goods at all U.S. ports of entry.

CBP has already issued three such orders, against goods manufactured by specific companies in China, and CBP Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske told a Senate panel in May that there are more to come. Other actions CBP has taken to enforce the new law include establishing a 24-member task force focusing on this issue, working to place more agents in other countries, reaching out to non-governmental organizations to find leads, and cooperating with State Department personnel posted overseas to monitor forced labor and other issues. Kerlikowske said CBP expects to be proactive in issuing detention orders when warranted by the information gathered from these sources, noting that the standard for reasonable suspicion is “pretty low.”

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., praised CBP for moving so expeditiously and said “the key to continuing our early success and making this prohibition as effective as possible is bringing together U.S. trade enforcers, human rights organizations, and the business community so that everyone is working in concert.” Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said that was the purpose of the June 14 meeting between the two senators, Kerlikowske, and representatives from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Department of Labor and NGOs.

Brown said that at this meeting federal officials were asked to provide greater transparency into the process of petitioning for investigations of alleged violations of the new law so that petitions are acknowledged and petitioners are informed of whether an investigation will be launched. They were also encouraged to self-initiate investigations when there is reason to believe a product has been made with forced labor. Brown added that he hoped the meeting “will spur improved collaboration” between federal officials and outside groups and “lead to ongoing conversations about our efforts to stop the importation of products produced by slave labor.”

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