Senators Tell CBP to Step Up ‘Insufficient Enforcement’ Facilitating Forced-Labor Clothing Imports

Date: Friday, November 17th, 2023
Source: Sourcing Journal

A bipartisan group of United States Senators on Monday called on U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to increase oversight and enforcement to ensure Chinese companies aren’t evading laws against forced labor.

The group, which includes Ron Wyden (D-Ore.); Bill Cassidy (R-La.); Tim Kaine (D-Va.); Thom Tillis (R-N.C.); Mark Warner (D-Va.); Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.); Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Tim Scott (R-S.C.), urged acting CBP commissioner Troy Miller to enforce the Dominican Republic-Central American Free Trade Agreement and the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement. Those agreements empower the agency to conduct supply chain oversight that includes visits to and audits of apparel factories.

The lawmakers pointed to the unfair advantage Chinese companies using forced labor have over U.S. counterparts making textiles and apparel, which they said has led to the loss of domestic jobs.

“Recent reports of textile and apparel mill closures in the United States raise serious concerns as the lack of effective customs enforcement has been cited repeatedly as a key factor contributing to declining demand,” they wrote.

The senators proposed several immediate steps to improve enforcement, including significantly increasing on-site and surprise verifications of textile facilities in CAFTA-DR and USMCA regions. They pointed to a decline in on-site trade preference verifications since 2018, when CBP staff dropped in on 139 factories versus just 38 last year. “These public statistics also suggest a decline in audits, laboratory analysis, and special enforcement operations,” they wrote.

Senators also asked CBP to provide technical assistance and information sharing with customs authorities in the regions to root out materials made with forced labor, while also improving targeting of illicit or fraudulent shipments by providing a Spanish language version of e-Allegation.

Senators also asked the CBP to conduct a comprehensive review of existing enforcement authorities and penalties for textiles and apparel. The agency should then create a strategic plan that outlines how it will maximize existing tools and resources to ensure full compliance with trade regulations.

“Insufficient enforcement can create a pathway for banned Xinjiang cotton to infiltrate regional supply chains and undermine efforts to enforce the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act,” the senators said. “For this reason, robust and consistent enforcement of the origin and content rules in U.S. trade agreements, along with the longstanding U.S. ban on products made with forced labor, is essential to securing this supply chain and guaranteeing workers, businesses, and consumers the benefits bargained for in CAFTA-DR and USMCA.”

China has come under fire for forced labor in Xinjiang where detained Uyghurs—a Turkic ethnic group—are held in internment camps where it is suspected they are forced to work in numerous industries, including cotton and textile production. In 2021, President Joe Biden signed the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act into law, which made it U.S. policy to assume that all goods linked to Xinjiang are produced with forced labor unless proven otherwise.

Multiple apparel companies have come under fire for allegedly selling goods with ties to Xinjiang, including Shein and Zara.

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