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U.S. blocks import of goods from five nations in rare anti-slavery crackdown

by Kieran Guilbert | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Wednesday, 2 October 2019 12:20 GMT

ARCHIVE PHOTO: A U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer inspects a package arriving at the International Mail Facility at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago, Illinois, U.S. November 29, 2017. Picture taken November 29, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Lott

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Seized goods included clothing from China, diamonds from Zimbabwe and rubber gloves from Malaysia

(Adds detail about origin of products in par 3)

By Kieran Guilbert

NEW YORK, Oct 1 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The United States has blocked the import of goods suspected to have been made with forced labor from five countries, including clothing from China and diamonds from Zimbabwe, officials said on Tuesday following a rare crackdown on slave labor abroad.

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) said it seized five different products this week based on information indicating the goods were made using slave labor overseas.

The items included rubber gloves made by a company in Malaysia, gold from artisanal mines in Democratic Republic of Congo, clothes produced by a firm in Xinjiang, China, diamonds from the Marange Diamond Fields in Zimbabwe, and bone black - charred animal bones - manufactured by a business in Brazil.

Under a 2016 law, it is illegal to import goods into the United States that are made entirely or in part by forced labor - which includes prison work, bonded labor and child labor.

"A major part of CBP's mission is facilitating legitimate trade and travel," said Acting CBP Commissioner Mark Morgan.

"CBP's issuing of these five withhold release orders shows that if we suspect a product is made using forced labor, we'll take that product off U.S. shelves," he said in a statement.

A company hit with a withhold release order can decide to reroute the shipment and try to sell their products elsewhere or persuade CBP to change its decision by providing documents to demonstrate due diligence and argue the goods are slavery-free.

More than $400 billion worth of goods likely to be made by forced labor enter the U.S. market each year, according to estimates by the Human Trafficking Institute, a non-profit.

Yet reporting by the Thomson Reuters Foundation in April found that only $6.3 million worth of goods had been blocked since the law banning slave-made imports was passed in 2016.

Prior to the latest crackdown, the CBP had issued seven detention orders since 2016, including chemical compounds, peeled garlic and toys from China and cotton from Turkmenistan.

"It's exciting to see CBP's progress towards robust enforcement of this law," said Annick Febrey, head of government and corporate relations at the Human Trafficking Institute, who in April described the agency's impact until then as "minimal".

"This is a clear signal to companies that they need due diligence procedures in place that prevent forced labor in their supply chain if they want to sell in the United States."

Neha Misra, senior specialist in migration and human trafficking for advocacy group Solidarity Centre, welcomed the "significant step" and said economic pressure could boost the drive for full labor rights for workers in global supply chains.

The U.S. Department of Labor said last year it was boosting its fight against slave-made goods "to safeguard American jobs" for its 325 million citizens and that it was playing a key role in protecting vulnerable workers from abuse worldwide.

About 25 million people globally are victims of forced labor, according to the U.N. International Labour Organization. (Reporting by Kieran Guilbert, Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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