The passage of the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015 (signed in February 2016) seems to have prompted a renewed effort by CBP to enforce regulations regarding the importation of “Merchandise Produced By Convict, Forced, or Indentured Labor.” We have seen many instances over the last few weeks where importers have received CF28s asking about steps the importer has taken to ensure that their supply chains are free of child, forced, or convict labor. Some of the demands are exceedingly broad:
- Please list all names, contact information, and addresses of your manufacturers and their suppliers along all levels of your supply chain
- Please provide the contact information of your company buyers who place orders with foreign manufacturers and suppliers
- Please provide certification from manufacturers, direct suppliers, sub-suppliers, or third party contractors that materials used in your products comply with the laws regarding slavery and human trafficking of the country or countries in which they are doing business.
Importers have long been involved in corporate social responsibility programs aimed at rooting out inhumane working conditions and the use of forced labor, and eradicating slavery and human trafficking from their supply chains, but this initiative from CBP serves as a reminder of how important it is to make inquiry of suppliers regarding their labor practices, ask the hard questions, document the work, and make sure foreign sellers understand that they will only be considered as suppliers if they reject the use of all forms of forced labor. Business tools that can assist importers who are reviewing the labor practices in their supply chains are available through the US Department of Labor’s Office of Child Labor, Forced Labor, and Human Trafficking, Verite, and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Many large importers have published their social responsibility statements and practices online, and they, too, provide guidance on how to structure such programs.
Of particular note is the last question we have seen in these reviews:
How does the importer identify whether or not their supply chains include good [sic] made wholly or in part by North Korean laborers, wherever located?
No other countries have been so explicitly called out, but given the recent attention being attracted by that country, together with the concern that goods are being manufactured in North Korea and shipped as if their origin was China, should alert importers of goods from the region to be especially vigilant about the actual source of the goods they are buying, as well as the labor used to produce them.
Importers have yet another area to include in their due diligence efforts, reaching way back to before the goods are even made. It is what we call a heavy lift, but if it eliminates one sweat shop or slave farm, and protects society’s most vulnerable, then it will be worth the effort.