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Turkmenistan Cotton Imports Hit With Detention Order Over Slave Labor Concern

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has issued a withhold release order against all cotton from Turkmenistan and all products produced at least in part with Turkmenistan cotton, over concerns the products are being produced with forced labor.

The order, posted on CBP’s website, although has not been formally announced, requires the detention of such goods at all U.S. ports of entry. According to a report from trade law firm Sandler, Travis & Rosenberg, CBP has said importers of detained shipments are given a chance to show that the goods were not produced with forced labor before formal action is taken.

Customs law prohibits the importation of goods mined, produced or manufactured, wholly or in part, in any foreign country by forced labor, including convict labor, forced child labor and indentured labor. If any imports are suspected to be made under such conditions, CBP can refuse the goods entry, seize them and even follow up with a criminal investigation of the importer.

The Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015 removed the “consumptive demand” exemption. For decades, Customs officials were prohibited from detaining imports if those products weren’t made in sufficient quantity in the U.S. to meet total U.S. demand. With the removal of the exemption, Customs was able to detain all imported products suspected of being made by forced labor based on due diligence.

Sandler Travis noted that “when information reasonably but not conclusively indicates that goods within the purview of [the law] are being imported, CBP may issue withhold release orders.” If CBP finds that the goods in question are subject to this provision, it will then publish a formal finding in the Customs Bulletin and Decisions and the Federal Register, which has not yet occurred Sandler Travis said.

CBP said the detention orders are handled on a case basis, acting on information concerning specific manufacturers, exporters and goods, and do not generally target entire product lines or industries in problematic countries or regions.

The U.S. imported 11.64 million square meter equivalents of cotton for the year through March 31, a 40.4% decline for the previous year, which put Turkmenistan at a 0.6% markets share of cotton products.