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U.S. Cracks Down on Imports Made with Slave Labor

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iStock/Aleksei Nikolaev

Just as it can be hard to discern whether those Nike trainers or that Louis Vuitton handbag aren’t counterfeits, it can be tough to determine if otherwise legitimate products have a dark backstory. And for companies that want to make sure their supply chains are free of human rights violations, that can create problems with consumers who are increasingly concerned about these matters and will support their values with their dollars.

The challenge was underscored recently when the top U.S. anti-human trafficking official said the country is stepping up its blocking of imports of goods made in Xinjiang, China. Complicating matters for both the private and public sectors in the West is that forced labor by the Chinese government has spread beyond Xinjiang to other provinces.

“It is increasingly difficult for well-intentioned international companies to track exactly which products in their supply chain are made with forced labor,” said Ambassador-at-Large John Richmond, as reported by the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “U.S. companies do not want to unwittingly support forced labor and neither do U.S. consumers.”

Recently, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) said it had detained 32 cartons of women’s leather gloves from Xinjiang on the suspicion they were made with forced labor. Thomson Reuters noted that CBP has issued 13 orders to block goods it suspected of being made with forced labor in FY2020, including eight on goods from China alone.

China has become infamous in recent years for the forced labor of tens of thousands of ethnic Uighurs, a practice that reportedly is growing. For what it’s worth, Thomson Reuters reported that a Chinese government representative claimed, “Such a rumor has not a shred of fact in it.”

A report issued this week by Ambassador Richmond’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons estimated that nearly 25 million people around the world are exploited by traffickers. This summer, a separate report said human rights abuse infests the supply chains of government agencies, too.

Other concerns about human rights violations by suppliers were amplified this month when a report put the number of children working in cocoa production in the west African countries of Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana at approximately 1.5 million.

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