The United States has promised to crack down on goods made with forced labor, and the customs bill President Obama signed in February officially prohibited importing goods made that way, or with child labor, convict labor or indentured labor.
Now, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is exercising its right to seize any imports suspected of being made under unjust labor practices. CBP this week issued a detention order banning rayon manufactured by China’s Tangshan Sanyou Group and its subsidiaries. Any goods from the companies will be held at U.S. ports of entry.
CBP said it obtained information indicating that the Tangshan Sanyou Group was using convict labor to produce its merchandise.
Tangshan Sanyou Group is China’s largest producer of viscose fiber and the second largest in the world with a capacity of 450,000 tons per year, according to the company website. The firm employs 10,000 workers, has annual sales of 20 billion yuan ($3.1 billion) and exports its products (which also include soda ash, caustic soda and calcium chloride) to more than 90 countries.
What’s more, the company touts its awards and achievements, reportedly earning honors like “Best National Enterprise,” “Advanced Quality Management Enterprises of China,” and even one for “Harmonious Labor Relations.”
It’s not a secret that China has used convict labor to manufacture goods—human rights groups have been fighting against the fact for years, claiming that Chinese companies are making goods for export to the U.S. under inhumane conditions in prison camps, where some of those held are political prisoners.
Whole Foods was one such recipient of convict-made goods, and when word got out last year, it sent consumers into an uproar and the grocery chain said it would have all such goods off of its shelves by this April.
In defending its initial reasoning for selling food made by prisoners, Whole Foods said, “We felt that supporting suppliers who found a way to be part of paid, rehabilitative work being done by inmates would help people get back on their feet and eventually become contributing members of society.”
Tangshan Sanyou Group has yet to make any public statement about the detention order.
CBP Commissioner Kerlikowske said, “CBP is committed to vigorously enforcing the legal prohibition on the importation of goods manufactured with forced labor,” adding, “CBP will do its part to ensure that products entering the United States were not made by exploiting those forced to work against their will, and to ensure that American businesses and workers do not have to compete with businesses profiting from forced labor.”