US de­tains im­ports from five coun­tries tied to forced la­bor

The Morning Call - - NATION & WORLD - By Martha Men­doza

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion is block­ing ship­ments from a Chi­nese com­pany mak­ing baby pa­ja­mas sold at Costco ware­houses, after the for­eign man­u­fac­turer was ac­cused of forc­ing eth­nic mi­nori­ties locked in an in­tern­ment camp to sew clothes against their will.

The gov­ern­ment is also block­ing rub­ber gloves sold by in­dus­try leader Ansell whose cus­tomers in­clude sur­geons, me­chan­ics and sci­en­tists around the U.S., ac­cus­ing a Malaysian man­u­fac­turer of staffing its fac­to­ries with mi­grants from Bangladesh, Nepal and other coun­tries who went into crush­ing debt from pay­ing ex­or­bi­tant re­cruit­ment fees. Im­ports of bone char­coal from Brazil that firms like Ply­mouth Tech­nol­ogy and ResinTech Inc. used to re­move con­tam­i­nants in U.S. wa­ter sys­tems, di­a­monds from Zim­babwe and gold from eastern Congo were also stopped.

U.S. Cus­toms and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion on Oct. 1 slapped rare de­ten­tion or­ders on goods im­ported from an un­prece­dented five coun­tries in one day based on al­le­ga­tions that peo­ple pro­duc­ing those items might be chil­dren, or adults sub­jected to forced la­bor.

The or­ders are used to hold ship­ping con­tain­ers at the U.S. ports of en­try un­til the agency can in­ves­ti­gate the claims of wrong­do­ing.

CBP did not re­lease in­for­ma­tion about the com­pa­nies that were im­port­ing the goods cov­ered by last week’s de­ten­tion or­ders.

But The As­so­ci­ated Press tracked items to sev­eral buy­ers, in­clud­ing Costco and the U.S. sub­sidiary of Ansell, an Australian pro­tec­tive gloves man­u­fac­turer. The com­pa­nies said they were not aware that their prod­ucts were be­ing made with forced la­bor.

Act­ing CBP Com­mis­sioner Mark Mor­gan said the or­ders, the most is­sued in a sin­gle day, “shows that if we sus­pect a prod­uct is made us­ing forced la­bor, we’ll take that prod­uct off U.S. shelves.”

Cus­tom’s ac­tion last week is send­ing rip­ples glob­ally, with ex­porters now on no­tice to im­prove la­bor con­di­tions. Do­mes­ti­cally, some U.S. im­porters were shaken to learn their prod­ucts might have been made by peo­ple forced to work against their will or un­der threat of pun­ish­ment. Hu­man rights ex­perts warn as many as 25 mil­lion peo­ple glob­ally are vic­tims of forced la­bor. In re­cent years, in­ves­ti­ga­tions by me­dia or­ga­ni­za­tions and ad­vo­cacy groups have tracked prod­ucts sus­pected of be­ing made by forced la­bor as they travel from man­u­fac­tur­ers, through bro­kers and deal­ers, into the hands of Amer­i­can con­sumers.

“CBP’s an­nounce­ment is sig­nif­i­cant be­cause of the un­prece­dented num­ber of ac­tions and for the mes­sage that it sends across corporate sup­ply chains,” said la­bor ad­vo­cates at Hu­man­ity United and Free­dom Fund in a joint state­ment. “We know that myr­iad im­ported goods U.S. con­sumers en­joy ev­ery day — from cloth­ing to elec­tron­ics to choco­late, fruits and veg­eta­bles, and other foods — are likely tainted by forced la­bor in their sup­ply chains. Mak­ing real progress to change this will re­quire a con­certed ef­fort across and out­side of gov­ern­ment, in­clud­ing through strong en­force­ment of ex­ist­ing laws like this.”

Un­til re­cently, the de­ten­tions or­ders used to block the ship­ments last week would have been al­most im­pos­si­ble.

Be­fore 2016, the Tar­iff Act — which gave Cus­toms and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion the au­thor­ity to seize ship­ments where forced la­bor was sus­pected and block fur­ther im­ports — had been used only 39 times over its first 85 years, largely be­cause of two words: “con­sump­tive de­mand” — mean­ing if there was not suf­fi­cient sup­ply to meet do­mes­tic de­mand, im­ports were al­lowed re­gard­less of how they were pro­duced.

After an AP in­ves­ti­ga­tion found that seafood caught by slaves in South­east Asia was end­ing up in restau­rants and mar­kets around the U.S. with im­punity be­cause of the loop­hole, Con­gress and Pres­i­dent Barack Obama changed the law. Since then, un­der both the Obama and Trump ad­min­is­tra­tions, CBP has used its de­ten­tion au­thor­ity 12 times to stop ship­ments.

NG HAN GUAN/AP

The Hotan City ap­parel em­ploy­ment train­ing base, home to a fac­tory ac­cused by the U.S. of us­ing forced la­bor.

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