Ban on goods made with forced labor slows clothing imports

Kendall Tietz, DCNF

Increased enforcement of a ban on imported products made with forced labor has led to cargo stoppages and complaints from importers, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers are charged with enforcing the ban on goods, such a cotton and tomato products from the Xinjiang region of China, where Uyghurs are detained in forced labor camps. The bans were first put in place during the Trump administration in an effort to remove forced labor from import supply chains, the WSJ reported.

The ban on cotton from the region has had an impact on retailers who rely heavily on the commodity and must prove their supply chains don’t rely on slave labor, the WSJ reported. Importers have three months from the time of detainment to prove products pass CBP standards, if not, cargoes will be exported or abandoned.

Retailer Uniqlo Co, had a shipment of men’s shirts detained in January at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach because customs officers suspected it violated the December ban on Xinjiang cotton, according to internal CBP documents, the WSJ reported.

Uniqlo objected, providing documents that showed the cotton came from Australia, Brazil and the U.S., the WSJ reported. But CBP still did not release the cargo, citing that the company was unable to prove the shirts weren’t made using forced labor.

Representatives for the retail industry say the burden of proof is too high and that expectations are unclear, the WSJ reported.

“It turns U.S. jurisprudence on its head. As opposed to innocent until proven guilty, it is now guilty until proven innocent,” said Nate Herman, senior vice president of policy at American Apparel & Footwear Association, the WSJ reported. ”Companies don’t know what they are trying to prove because they don’t know what part of the shipment triggered the detention or why it was in violation.”

One possible factor for the lack of transparency and stalled imports could be a shortage of CBP staff, which “limits its ability to pursue forced labor investigations,” a Government Accountability Office report said in October.

Trade lawyers and business groups said they expect more import bans and disputed shipments, due to an increasing focus on human rights, the WSJ reported.

“As President Biden made clear at the recent G7 summit, the United States will not tolerate modern-day slavery in our supply chains,” said Secretary of Homeland Security, Alejandro N. Mayorkas in a press release Thursday. “This Withhold Release Order demonstrates we continue to protect human rights and international labor standards and promote a more fair and competitive global marketplace by fulfilling the Biden-Harris Administration’s commitment to ending forced labor.”

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