Malawi: Customs and Border Protection issues withhold release order on tobacco from Malawi on allegations of forced labor

Author: Geneva Sands, CNN, Published on: 6 November 2019

'US suspends tobacco imports from Malawi over forced child labor allegations' 1 November 2019

The United States on Friday suspended imports of all tobacco and tobacco products from Malawi for alleged forced labor practices -- including child labor. Customs and Border Protection, which holds the authority to detain imports, has recently ramped up its efforts to hold companies and suppliers accountable for forced labor practices. The agency issued a "Withhold Release Order" on tobacco from Malawi on Friday, allowing it to detain goods believed to have been produced with forced labor.

… Forced labor in Malawi has been well documented. Despite some advancement in preventing child labor, children in Malawi are still engaged in the worst forms of child labor, including in the harvesting of tobacco and in commercial sexual exploitation, according to the US Department of Labor. Children working with tobacco risk illness from nicotine absorption, including "green tobacco sickness," the Labor Department states. They are also exposed to pesticides, chemicals, and harsh weather conditions. This type of enforcement is rare for the US, but has significantly increased over the past few years.

"One of the things we learned early on is, naming and shaming is a tool you want to use very carefully," said the official, pointing out that there are business reputations at stake and potential economic and diplomatic repercussions. CBP needs information that reasonably, but not conclusively, indicates that merchandise being imported had used forced labor for it to be banned. Investigations can be triggered in several ways, including through news reports and tips from the public or trade community, according to the agency.

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