The US Department of Homeland Security has published its first five-year strategy to prevent the import of goods produced with forced labour – a move that comes as the issue of forced labour in China’s Xinjiang cotton-growing region comes under close scrutiny from US authorities.

The new strategy sets out the Department’s priorities to combat the growing threat of human trafficking, the import of goods produced with forced labour, and child sexual exploitation by focusing on preventing exploitative crimes, protecting victims, investigating and prosecuting perpetrators, and enabling the Dhs to combat the illicit activities.

“Let me be clear: this strategy isn’t just about leveraging resources, it’s about ending human trafficking,” says Chad Wolf, acting secretary of homeland security. “DHS’s strategy…is our formal recognition of this issue as a departmental priority. This strategy is a framework to communicate the Department’s priorities, ensure resources are allocated, and to monitor progress, so that we can save more lives and bring criminals to justice.”

Going forward, the DHS will take the following steps:

  • Expand its capacity to assess civil penalties and pursue criminal prosecutions against US importers for violations of forced labor authorities.
  • Consider streamlining regulatory frameworks guiding the process for enforcement actions.
  • Coordinate, consolidate, and publicise allegation and intake reporting channels and other information to ensure quality and actionable leads, gain information for ongoing cases, and verify forced labor allegations.
  • Educate industry on the threat of goods produced with forced labor destined for US importation.
  • Improve trade alert reporting, due diligence policies, and compliance assistance tools.
  • Raise awareness among foreign partners of US trade laws, limitations, and innovations.
  • Encourage international adoption and enforcement of reciprocal safeguards that combat forced labour.
  • Obtain agreements to support investigation and verification of forced labour allegations.
  • Work with international partners on a two-way system for issuing trade alerts when enforcement actions go into effect.

The Congressional-Executive Commission on China has repeatedly urged the US to impose trade sanctions on China over the ongoing human rights situation in Xinjiang, where it believes Chinese authorities may be committing crimes against humanity against the Uyghur people and other Turkic Muslims.

US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) last year blocked the import of garments produced by the Hetian Taida Apparel Company over forced labour links.