In an effort to stem the import of products made with forced labor, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security entered into partnership with Liberty Shared, a nonprofit organization with global reach, in a joint effort to combat forced labor in global commerce.
The organization will work closely with the DHS Homeland Security Investigations’ Global Trade Investigations Division to make it more difficult for companies to claim ignorance when importing products made by forced labor.
This alliance between DHS and the nonprofit world is seen as strengthening the U.S. government’s criminal enforcement efforts in investigating and prosecuting corporations who benefit financially from forced labor in the supply chain.
Liberty Shared seeks to stem human trafficking through legal advocacy, technological interventions and collaboration with nongovernmental organizations, governments and corporations.
DHS operates under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act and the Tariff Act of 1930 in its effort to stop goods made by forced labor from entering the U.S.
Under the TVPA, corporations face criminal liability when they benefit financially from human trafficking in “reckless disregard” that their business ventures engaged in such exploitation.
A U.S. corporation can be held criminally liable for corporate human trafficking even in situations where the exploitation occurs abroad. Companies can face up to $500,000 in fines, or twice the economic benefit derived from the violation
HSI’s investigations also can lead DHS’s Customs and Border Protection unit to block imports of products produced by slave labor from entry. Recently CBP banned products from China made as part of the Chinese communist government’s persecution of its Moslem Uyghur population.
The United Nations estimates China has confined more than a million Uyghurs to detention camps.
These human rights abuses present significant risks for U.S. companies who source products from China’s province of Xinjiang, where the Uyghur population is concentrated, according to attorneys Sarah Rathke, Ludmilla Kasulke and Jordan O’Connell of the law firm of Squire Patton Boggs.
Xinjiang produces the majority of China’s cotton. It can be mixed with cotton from other regions and thus may not be labeled as being from Xinjiang. As a result, Target Australia and other companies announced they will no longer source cotton from China. Other products from Xinjiang include tomato paste and sugar.
On Oct. 1., the CBP announced it issued a Withhold Release Order for garments produced by Hetian Taida Apparel Co., Ltd. in Xinjiang using prison or forced labor. Under a WRO, CBP can seize shipments unless the importer can prove they were not made by forced labor.
CBP also banned disposable rubber gloves from Malaysia, gold mined in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, diamonds from Zimbabwe and bone black (a black carbon pigment prepared from charring animal bones) manufactured in Brazil – all of which it said were produced with forced labor Acting CBP Commissioner Mark Morgan says CBP’s issuing of withhold release orders “shows that if we suspect a product is made using forced labor, we’ll take that product off U.S. shelves.”
At an Oct. 17 hearing of the Congressional Executive Commission on China, Rep. Thomas Suozzi (D-NY) named several companies whose products include materials originating from Xinjiang which he alleged may be produced by forced labor, including Adidas; Campbell Soup; Kraft Heinz; Coca-Cola; Gap, Inc.; H&M; Espirit; Calvin Klein; Tommy Hilfiger; Nike and Patagonia.