On January 13, 2021, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) issued a new regional withhold release order (WRO) on all cotton and tomato products grown and produced by entities operating in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. Through its investigation, CBP found reasonable indications of the use of detainee or prison labor or other situations of forced labor. Specifically, CBP identified forced labor factors including debt bondage, restriction of movement, isolation, intimidation and threats, withholding of wages, and abusive living and working conditions.
The order directs CBP personnel at all U.S. ports of entry to detain cotton products and tomato products grown or produced by entities operating in Xinjiang. These products include apparel, textiles, tomato seeds, canned tomatoes, tomato sauce, and other goods made with cotton and tomatoes.
CBP had issued a company-specific WRO in early December that covered only the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps. This WRO, CBP’s fourth since the beginning of fiscal year 2021, targets an entire area instead of one specific company, which broadens the scope CBP can work under. All WROs are publicly available and listed by country on CBP’s Forced Labor WROs and Findings web page.
The goal of the WRO is to stop these shipments to the United States and push China to abandon the harmful practice of slave labor, CBP Acting Commissioner Mark A. Morgan said. “DHS will not tolerate forced labor of any kind in U.S. supply chains,” said Acting DHS Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli. Morgan added, “CBP will not tolerate the Chinese government’s exploitation of modern slavery to import goods into the United States below fair market value.”
Federal statute 19 U.S.C. 1307 prohibits the importation of merchandise produced, wholly or in part, by convict labor, forced labor and/or indentured labor, including forced or indentured child labor. CBP detains shipments of goods suspected of being imported in violation of this statute. Importers are responsible for ensuring the products they are attempting to import do not exploit forced labor at any point in their supply chain, including the production or harvesting of the raw material. Importers of detained shipments, however, have the opportunity to demonstrate that the merchandise was not produced with forced labor in order to secure release of a shipment.