Customs and Border Protection leads in the fight against forced labor
Few issues in recent memory have received more bipartisan support from Congress, or from the American people, than the fight against forced labor.
Approximately 25 million men, women, and children across the globe are victims of forced labor and human trafficking, which can involve abusive working and living conditions, withholding of wages, isolation, physical and sexual violence, and other appalling exploitation and abuse. The United States has taken a strong stand against forced labor because it is antithetical to our values and core beliefs.
The reality is that no one wants a sweater that costs a person their life or liberty. But if any element of that sweater originated in Xinjiang, China, chances are, it has, and unfortunately, the complexity of today’s global supply chains provides ample opportunities for those who profit from forced labor to hide their activity. Harrowing testimonies from survivors of Xinjiang detention camps describe workers held in horrific conditions and subjected to torture, forced sterilization, rape, and countless other shocking abuses.
Knowingly or unknowingly, goods made with forced labor finance transnational criminal organizations and corrupt entities that abuse workers and threaten America’s economic security. At U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), we know threats to economic security are threats to national security, and we have made it a priority to eliminate forced labor from American supply chains.
CBP seized or detained over $485 million worth of forced-labor goods globally in FY21, including seafood, cotton clothing purchased online, and baked goods containing prohibited palm oil. Our efforts have created a ripple effect across the globe. Many countries are working to ban forced labor from their supply chains and improve their labor practices. Because of these efforts, producers have improved living and working conditions for thousands of workers. One company even reimbursed workers for over $30 million in recruitment fees that were trapping them in debt bondage. All of this was a direct result of CBP’s robust forced labor enforcement.
CBP’s enforcement efforts will be bolstered by the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act (UFLPA). One key provision of the Act, which took effect on June 21, is a “rebuttable presumption” that any goods mined, produced, or manufactured wholly or in part in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) are tainted by forced labor. This means all goods directly from or connected to the XUAR are prohibited from entering the United States unless the importer can demonstrate by “clear and convincing evidence” that its imports do not include any goods made from forced labor.
CBP facilitates legitimate trade every day and will continue to ensure that goods can enter at our ports and reach American businesses and consumers as quickly as possible. But this law strengthens and expands CBP’s enforcement capabilities and shines a spotlight on the PRC government’s use of forced labor.
This new law is also critical because forced labor creates unfair competition for domestic industry. It puts American jobs at risk by forcing law-abiding companies and businesses to compete with bad actors who use forced labor to increase their profits by abusing human rights. It can also lead to greater dependence on foreign goods, while limiting economic opportunities here at home.
Upholding our values and protecting the ability of American businesses to compete on a level playing field, innovate, and engage in fair global trade is at the forefront of CBP’s mission. As CBP implements the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, we will continue to pursue any entity, anywhere in the world, that attempts to introduce forced-labor goods into the United States. Those who seek to circumvent the Act will face consequences. But we would strongly prefer to work closely with industry partners — big or small — working to comply with this law.
Consumers can also play an important role by demanding transparency in the supply chains of their purchases and by supporting ethically sourced goods. Ask retailers about their supply chains and take advantage of free resources like ImportYeti and Federal documents like the Department of Labor’s List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor to understand which products are at higher risk of having ties to forced labor.
At CBP, we want American workers and businesses to thrive through access to a secure global supply chain and the free flow of international trade. We are confident we can effectively balance that goal with our commitment to eliminating forced labor from supply chains and shining a spotlight on this global human rights imperative.
Chris Magnus is Commissioner of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection.