U.S. Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”) has recently begun to issue notices advising the importing public about their obligation to ensure that forced labor is not used to make imported products. In addition we have seen instances where CBP has issued questionnaires to importers relating to the use of forced labor to make their goods. These actions stem from two recent changes in the law. First, under the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act, CBP’s authority to detain goods suspected of being produced using forced labor has been made broader. Second, Congress recently passed the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, which, among other things, specifically prohibits the importation of merchandise that was produced using forced North Korean labor, whether the labor was provided inside or outside of North Korea. Goods suspected of being made (even in part) by forced labor in violation of these statutes will be detained and the importer will have the burden to prove that their goods should be released. In some instances where the importer cannot prove that the goods are not tainted, the goods can be exported, but in other cases seizures and forfeitures will take place.
Recent CBP publications have identified garments, footwear, mineral imports (especially from conflict-affected areas) and agricultural products as areas where CBP believes that forced labor is often used, but all industries are subject to scrutiny. These inquiries often require quick and meaningful responses to obtain the release of your merchandise. As a result we recommend that importers have compliance programs in place so that they can ensure that their goods are not made using forced labor and so they can provide fast and properly documented information to CBP to end any doubts that Customs may have about your goods and/or any of your vendors.