Southern Shrimp Alliance critical of US Customs Working Group’s forced labor recommendations

The Southern Shrimp Alliance (SSA) has come out in support of U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CPB) new directorate to make forced labor a priority trade issue, while simultaneously opposing the recommendations of the Forced Labor Working Group of the Commercial Customs Operations Advisory Committee (CCOAP).

The working group is an advisory group consisting of private businesses and non-governmental organizations that aim to offer clarity and aid to CBP in its efforts to regulate U.S. imports.

The SSA said the CBP making forced labor a priority is a “vital step” for enforcement in the fight to keep goods produced through slave labor off of shelves in U.S. grocery stores. Current CBP policy is that goods with a reasonable suspicion of being produced through forced labor are not allowed in the U.S. However, recommendations made by the CCOAP Forced Labor Working Group will only serve to complicate those efforts, the SSA said.

“The Southern Shrimp Alliance noted that these recommendations, on the whole, appeared to be designed to complicate and limit CBP’s ability to enforce the prohibition on imports of goods produced through forced labor,” the SSA said.  “At a minimum, the recommendations of the working group were not reasonably calibrated to increase enforcement.”

The working group issued four recommendations to the CBP: First, take a collaborative and multi-agency approach to enforcement of the prohibition of goods produced by forced labor; second, the agency should expand its collaboration and communication with trade sectors/industries regarding industry efforts to minimize forced labor; third, it called for the CBP to develop an “objective methodology” to determine the success of the efforts to reduce forced labor, focused “on the improvement of the communities this illegal practice most impacts, rather than the number of withhold release orders and detentions issued;” and finally, the working group said the CBP should approach forced labor like it approaches other priority trade issues.

The alliance said that the mandate of CBP's Section 1307, which deals with issues of forced labor, is that goods not be allowed into the U.S., and that the “outcome metric” may serve to distract from that mission.

“By enacting a statutory provision prohibiting the importation of goods produced through forced labor, Congress tasked CBP with preventing such goods from entering the United States market. The only way that CBP’s implementation of that Congressional mandate can be measured is through reference to the actual enforcement efforts undertaken by CBP, inclusive of the number of withhold release orders issued and detentions made,” the SSA said. “The working group’s efforts to inject non-statutory 'outcome metrics' into CBP’s administration of Section 1307 constitutes a blatant attempt to sabotage the TRLED’s Forced Labor Division’s substantially improved enforcement efforts.”

The SSA called the move by the working group “part and parcel of an overall importer strategy to stall for time” on the forced labor issue, in order to “wait out public outrage at the extent to which slave and forced child labor has polluted foreign supply chains.”

Customs and Border Protection, along with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, have been stepping the enforcement of rules against goods produced by forced labor in recent years. Part of that shift is attributed to the 2016 removal of an exception for goods that are deemed vital to the U.S. market.

Since that time, the number of withhold release orders issued by CBP against goods have increased, with 15 orders issued in 2020 compared to just four in 2016.

“When Americans call out with a single voice saying enough is enough, we cannot allow the importing industry and its legions of lobbyists to argue that more study is needed,” SSA Executive Director John Williams said. “Through diligent investigation and the commitment of substantial agency resources, CBP’s TRLED has made promising progress in preventing goods produced through forced labor from reaching U.S. consumers. With greater, more aggressive enforcement from CBP, the possibility exists that at some point in the near future, shrimp purchasers will ask their suppliers who is peeling their shrimp, the conditions under which their shrimp is peeled, and why these labor-intensive steps are not undertaken within the packer’s processing plant.”  

Photo courtesy of JHVEPhoto/Shutterstock


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