3 Oct 2019
Certain Apparel from Mainland China Subject to New Detention Order
U.S. Customs and Border Protection on 30 September issued five new withhold release orders banning imports of certain products believed to have been produced with forced or prison labour. The affected products include garments made by Hetian Taida Apparel Co. Ltd in mainland China allegedly with prison or forced labour, along with certain goods from Malaysia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Zimbabwe and Brazil.
19 USC 1307 prohibits the importation of goods mined, produced or manufactured, wholly or in part, in any foreign country by forced labour, including convict labour, forced child labour and indentured labour. Such goods are subject to exclusion and/or seizure and may lead to criminal investigation of the importer. The Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015 closed a loophole in this law that had allowed imports of certain forced labour-produced goods if they were not produced domestically in such quantities as to meet consumptive demands. Following the issuance of a withhold release order, U.S. importers have the opportunity to either re-export the detained shipments at any time or submit information to CBP demonstrating that the goods are not in violation.
An Associated Press article published on 17 December 2018 had first indicated that Hetian Taida was producing university logo clothing for a U.S.-based supplier from a plant located inside the Hotan vocational education and training centre in Xinjiang province. After the article reported that prisoners were cutting and sewing the garments, U.S. universities that had been stocking such clothing immediately removed it from their stores and websites. The U.S. supplier declared in January 2019 that it had cut all ties with Hetian Taida and vowed not to ship any apparel still in its possession made by that company. Hetian Taida’s chairman, Wu Hongbo, insisted that his firm was alleviating poverty by employing trainees from the centre and a spokesman from mainland China’s Foreign Ministry claimed that the training centre is “totally different from so-called forced labour.”
Acting CBP Commissioner Mark Morgan said in a statement that the issuance of the withhold release orders “shows that if we suspect a product is made using forced labour, we’ll take that product off U.S. shelves.” CBP’s website includes information suggesting that the trade community needs “to closely examine their supply chains” to ensure that they do not include goods produced by forced labour, while maintaining that CBP “does not generally target entire product lines or industries in problematic countries or regions.”