A Withhold Release Order was issued on items produced by Hetian Taida Apparel Co

A Withhold Release Order was issued on items produced by Hetian Taida Apparel Co

Clothing from a manufacturer in China have been withheld by US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) over concerns the products were made using forced labour.

A Withhold Release Order (WRO) was issued on the items produced by Hetian Taida Apparel Co. in Xinjiang, China, this week. The CBP says evidence was found of forced work, excessive hours, isolation, abuse of vulnerability, little or no payment, restriction of movement and physical and sexual violence.

"Those indicators are laid out by the International Labour Organization (ILO) and we track very closely to the framework the ILO uses to assess instances of forced labour," said Brenda Smith, executive assistant commissioner at the CBP Office of Trade at a press conference.

"Forced labour is an important priority for CBP. The US should not have to compete with other countries that fail to play by the rules and seek an unfair advantage by turning a blind eye to labour abuses. Trade between nations should be fair and profits should not come on the backs of children, slaves or those otherwise forced to work."

Smith said that merchandise produced with forced labour can often be difficult to trace through "long multi-tiered opaque supply chains".

Hetian Taida Apparel Co. has been identified as a supplier to Statesville, North Carolina-based Badger Sports Wear. Earlier this year Badger Sports Wear dropped the supplier following the completion of a "multi-faceted" investigation, which included internal reviews and an investigation conducted by outside legal counsel working with a global forensic accounting firm.

WROs are issued by the Commissioner, or his delegate, when information reasonably, but not conclusively, indicates that merchandise produced by forced labour is being, or is likely to be, imported into the US.

The Forced Labour Division is part of CBPs larger trade enforcement mission. It has been investigating a number of instances of forced labour in supply chains used in making goods headed towards the US.

"Our message here is clear. If you are a trading partner that does not abide by, and uphold your commitments to end child or forced labour, the US will do what it takes to protect vulnerable workers from exploitation, safeguard American jobs, and create a fairer and level playing field for companies and countries that do play by the rules," Smith told attendees.

The WRO was one of four issued by the CBP this week. They also included disposable rubber gloves produced in Malaysia by WRP Asia Pacific, gold mined in artisinal small mines in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, rough diamonds from the Marange Diamond Fields in Zimbabwe, and bone black – a form of charcoal – manufactured in Brazil by Bonechar Carvão Ativado Do Brasil.

Importers now have the opportunity to either re-export the detained shipments at any time, or to submit information to CBP demonstrating that the goods are not in violation.

Asked whether the WRO issued against Hetian Taida Apparel Co. will complicate trade discussions with China, Smith said: "We are watching those discussions very carefully but our message here is one of the ways the US and China can collaborate together is to ensure forced labour isn't used in the supply chain."

Hetian Taida Apparel Co could not be reached for comment at the time of going to press.

Last month a report from global risk analytics company Verisk Maplecroft warned that all supply chains linked to China are at risk of having an association with forced labour and other abuses since raw materials produced in the Xinjiang region are being used in manufacturing in other countries.