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What is Forced Labor?


Some business practices are so detestably inhumane that the United States government feels compelled to act even in cases when other countries choose to stand by. However, the US government does not have the ability to regulate foreign companies who are profiting from controversial business practices behind the safety of their own borders.

Instead, legal actions are made once (or just before) the goods produced using illicit methods are brought into the US. Frequently, this methodology of enforcement results in goods being seized at ports and borders at the time of their arrival—to the detriment of the business shipping as well as to any organizations who sought to utilize those goods.

This enforcement method of seizing goods as they enter the country is one of the US government’s tools being used to put a stop to the horrifyingly pervasive use of forced labor across the globe.


What is Forced Labor?

Per the International Labour Organization (ILO), forced labor is “work that is performed involuntarily and under the menace of any penalty.” This includes coercion to “work through the use of violence or intimidation, or by more subtle means such as manipulated debt, retention of identity papers or threats of denunciation to immigration authorities.”

Essentially, forced labor is a form of modern-day slavery, and it occurs at alarming rates across the planet. According to ILO research, roughly 40.3 million people were involved in modern slavery at some point in 2016, with roughly 25 million of those being involved in forced labor. That’s “5.4 victims of modern slavery for every 1,000 people in the world.” Furthermore, 1 in 4 modern slavery victims are children.

Thankfully, the US government is steadfast in acting against perpetrators of forced labor crimes.


US Customs Seizes Shipments in Response to Suspected Forced Labor Conditions

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) states, “Section 307 of the Tariff Act of 1930 (19 U.S.C. § 1307) prohibits the importation of merchandise mined, produced or manufactured, wholly or in part, in any foreign country by forced or indentured labor - including forced child labor. Such merchandise is subject to exclusion and/or seizure and may lead to criminal investigation of importer(s).”

According to CNBC, Malaysia’s Top Glove, the world’s largest latex glove manufacturer, had its products banned in the U.S. in July of last year due to concerns of forced labor practices which include “debt bondage, excessive overtime, abusive working and living conditions, and retention of identity documents…”

Despite this ban, Top Glove’s products have continued to be in high demand due, in part, to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. On May 5 of this year, CBP seized 3.97 million nitrile gloves valued at $518,000. And then again, a week later May 12, a shipment of 4.68 million gloves produced by Top Glove valued at $690,000 was seized by CBP at the Port of Kansas City.

This reality makes purchasing from organizations that may be utilizing controversial labor methods a risky endeavor for US-based companies. Not only are the goods produced by means of forced labor subject to seizure, but importers found to be purchasing or dealing in these goods can face criminal charges themselves.

However, it is not always obvious to importers when the organizations they are dealing with are utilizing illicit methods for producing their goods.


Performing Due Diligence

Organizations are not expected to conduct global investigations and covert operations to assess every potential business partner prior to signing any contracts; however, they are expected to take some steps ensuring that the organizations they work with are not utilizing illicit practices.

One of the easiest ways you can check if an organization you are seeking to work with is using forced labor practices is by referencing the Bureau of International Labor Affairs (ILAB) list of goods produced in violation of international standards.

ILAB’s Comply Chain program provides a “practical, step-by-step guide on eight critical elements of social compliance…” Available online, or as an Android or iOS app, Comply Chain is designed to help companies establish or strengthen their social compliance system.

While certain practices may not be expressly forbidden or actively policed in some parts of the world, that does not mean taking advantage of those lax laws is something that should go unpunished. This is the belief held and enforced by governments and international bodies across the globe.

Taking steps to ensure your business partners are not involved in illicit activities is the best way to protect your own personal and business interests while also earning a bit of peace of mind. Contact us today for help navigating the murky waters of international trade.

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