Goods from five countries flagged for forced labour
The US government is blocking shipments from a Chinese company making baby pyjamas 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 US, 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 US water systems, diamonds from Zimbabwe and gold from eastern Democratic Republic of Congo were stopped as well.
US 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 labour. The orders are used to hold shipping containers at the US 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 US subsidiary of Ansell, an Australian protective gloves manufacturer. The companies said they were not aware that their products were being made with forced labour.
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 labour, 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 labour conditions. Domestically, some US 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 labour. In recent years, investigations by media organizations and advocacy groups have tracked products suspected of being made by forced labour 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 labour advocates at Humanity United and Freedom Fund in a joint statement. “We know that myriad imported goods US consumers enjoy every day—from clothing to electronics to chocolate, fruits and vegetables, and other foods—are likely tainted by forced labour 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.”