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US blocks import of goods suspected to have been produced with forced labour

US-CBP-photo-by-Mobilus-in-Mobili-via-Flickr

On 30 September 2019, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) issued five Withhold Release Orders (WROs) covering five different products, imported from five different countries. This action was based on information obtained and reviewed by CBP that indicates that the products are produced, in whole or in part, using forced labor.

The following WROs were issued:

  • Garments produced by Hetian Taida Apparel Co., Ltd. in Xinjiang, China; produced with prison or forced labor.
  • Disposable rubber gloves produced in Malaysia by WRP Asia Pacific Sdn. Bhd.; produced with forced labor.
  • Gold mined in artisanal small mines (ASM) in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC); mined from forced labor.
  • Rough diamonds from the Marange Diamond Fields in Zimbabwe; mined from forced labor.
  • Bone black manufactured in Brazil by Bonechar Carvão Ativado Do Brasil Ltda; produced with forced labor.

 Related news and commentaries are linked below.

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Article
13 January 2020

Malaysia: Glove manufacturer WRP Asia receives emergency funds to pay wages owed to migrant workers, following liquidation

Author: Geraldine Tong, Malaysiakini

"Glovemaker WRP get emergency funds to pay workers", 2 January 2020

An emergency shareholders injection of RM3.25 million was today channelled to the liquidators of glovemaker WRP Asia Pacific Sdn Bhd to enable the beleaguered company to pay its workers.

The firm... issued an internal memo to announce a temporary suspension of operations.

The emergency cash by shareholders was pumped by private equity fund TAEL Partners, WRP's board of directors said...The firm's board has also drawn up a plan to revive the firm and offered a "turnaround team" to assist the interim liquidators...

This comes three months after WRP was banned by the US Customs and Border Protection... agency on suspicion of using forced labour.

Last January, nearly 2,000 of WRP's Nepali migrant workers held a three-day strike over months of unpaid wages...

Read the full post here

Article
22 November 2019

Clean Gloves, Dirty Practices: Debt Bondage in Malaysia’s Rubber Glove Industry

Author: Peter Bengtsen, The Diplomat

On October 1, the [...] U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency announced an import ban on WRP’s gloves due to “evidence of multiple indicators of forced labor.” Previous media investigations of WRP found migrant workers subjected to passport confiscations, illegal withholding of pay, restricted freedom of movement, and more.

The wake-up call prompted swift reactions in Malaysia... 

The Diplomat questioned major American corporate buyers [...] if they knew about these allegations and how they monitor suppliers...

None reported publicly about supplier due diligence audit findings...

Brands that outsource production to low-cost countries trust audit firms to check working conditions at suppliers. Public and private healthcare procurers trust the brands’ trust in the auditors. Hospitals trust the procurement organizations’ trust in the brands’ trust in the auditors...

Professionals involved in social audits of glove manufacturers [...] said that huge debts due to recruitment fees is a well-known issue, but not considered a forced labor indicator traditionally. Industry sources also said that zero-cost recruitment, i.e. ensuring that workers are actually compensated, might be policy but not practice before 2019, overall speaking.

Social audits are increasingly scrutinized by civil society groups demanding transparency by, and liability of, corporate-controlled auditors...

Healthcare procurers hold significant purchasing power to leverage for decent supply chains conditions...

[The full article includes comments from companies.]

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Article
13 October 2019

Australia urged to follow US, ban shipments of rubber gloves over forced labour concerns

Author: Nassim Khadem, ABC

14 October 2019

Australia is being urged to follow the Trump administration's lead in blocking shipments of rubber gloves sold by manufacturer Ansell, after one of its suppliers, WRP Asia Pacific, had its products detained by US customs over allegations of forced labour.

[...]

An Ansell spokesman said the company was informed that WRP was issued a ban by the US based on concerns WRP's products are produced, in whole or in part, using forced labour.

"Ansell takes the labour practices of these third-party suppliers seriously, and any allegations of forced labour among the company's suppliers are of the highest concern," the spokesman told ABC News.

He said Ansell requires that all suppliers comply with its Supplier Code of Conduct, which prohibits suppliers from using child, forced or involuntary labour of any kind.

[...]

"However, due to various reasons, including WRP's limited progress in correcting audit issues, Ansell has been progressively reducing its purchases from WRP," he said.

[...]

He said the company would continue to audit outsourced manufacturers in its supply chain to ensure that the rights and safety of workers is protected.

In March Ansell chairman Glenn Barnes said the company was investigating whether its other main supplier, Top Glove, was abusing worker rights and would dump any supplier it found was exploiting workers.

It is due to report on the results of that review at its annual general meeting in November, but Ansell's spokesman told ABC News that in relation to Top Glove, Ansell was "pleased that measurable progress is being made".

But migrant workers' rights researcher and human rights activist Andy Hall said...Ansell should not have severed ties with WRP, but instead used its influence to ensure compliance with Australia's modern slavery laws and global guidelines that aim to protect worker rights.

[...]

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Article
10 October 2019

US government blocks shipments from companies alleged of using forced labour in China, Malaysia, Brazil, Zimbabwe and Congo

Author: Martha Mendoza, Associated Press

“Company making Costco pajamas flagged for forced labor”, 8 Oct 2019

The Trump Administration is blocking shipments from a Chinese company making baby pajamas sold at Costco warehouses, after the foreign manufacturer was accused of forcing ethnic minorities locked in an internment camp to sew clothes against their will.

The government is also blocking rubber gloves sold by industry leader Ansell… accusing a Malaysian manufacturer of staffing its factories with migrants from Bangladesh, Nepal and other countries who went into crushing debt from paying exorbitant recruitment fees. Imports of bone charcoal from Brazil that firms like Plymouth Technology and ResinTech Inc. used to remove contaminants in U.S. water systems, diamonds from Zimbabwe and gold from eastern Democratic Republic of Congo were stopped as well…

… The Associated Press tracked items to several buyers, including Costco and the U.S. subsidiary of Ansell, an Australian protective gloves manufacturer. The companies said they were not aware that their products were being made with forced labor…

One major case… involves China’s Hetian Taida Apparel, which AP reported… was forcing Uigher Muslims and other ethnic minorities to sew clothes for U.S. importers inside a Chinese re-education camp.

… Costco Wholesale Corp. began importing baby pajamas made by the company…

In an interview with the AP, Costco officials said “we believe (the baby sleepers) were made in a factory other than the one that was the subject of the CBP detention order. As the facts develop, we’re prepared to consider what action we should take relative to the issue of a supplier to our supplier owning factories that may have problems.”…

Reached by phone… Hetian Taida Chairman Wu Hongbo told the AP that the company will cooperate with U.S. Customs and provide the agency with any documents it needs. Wu declined to answer further questions and said he has chosen to reject all media interview requests…

Workers at WRP and many other rubber glove factories have been forced to pay staggering fees as high as $5,000 in their home countries, including Bangladesh and Nepal, for jobs that don’t meet their promise, said activist Andy Hall, who has advocated on behalf of Southeast Asian migrant laborers. Some of the rubber glove makers don’t pay workers for months, house them in unkempt and overcrowded conditions, hold their passports so they can’t leave and don’t allow them to quit, he said…

WRP importers include… Ansell, as well as… Bay Medical Company Inc…

In a statement, Ansell said it was ending its business with WRP: “Ansell takes the labor practices of these third-party suppliers seriously, and any allegations of forced labor among the company’s suppliers are of the highest concern. ”

Bay Medical’s owner David Dorris was visiting WRP…“We were completely blindsided,” he said. “It’s deeply disturbing for me personally and for our company.” Dorris said he hopes the accusations are not true.

Bone charcoal manufacturer, Bonechar Carvão Ativado Ltd… said accusations leading to its CBP detention order came from a competitor’s unfounded smear campaign…

Bonechar Carvão owner Francisco Meira said their workers are not abused, and that U.S. Customs blocked the shipment based on false allegations that have been investigated and dismissed by Brazilian authorities…

A handful of U.S. companies imported bone charcoal from the Brazilian company… These included Plymouth Technology in Rochester Hills, Michigan, Ebonex Corporation near Detroit, ResinTech Inc. in West Berlin, New Jersey and American Charcoal Co. in Jackson, Wyoming.

AP reached out to all the firms for comment. Ebonex Corporation, the only company that responded to AP’s queries, said they were aware of the trade dispute, and that they didn’t believe Bonechar abused workers and wouldn’t import from them if they do. The other companies could not be reached for comment.

The CBP action also covers any gold mined at small artisanal mines in eastern Congo and all rough diamonds from the Marange diamond fields in Zimbabwe…

Zimbabwe’s government, which insists it has cleaned up its diamond industry, called the U.S. decision “a blatant and shameless lie.”

… The Congolese Embassy in Washington D.C. did not respond to calls from the AP…

[Also referred to Badger Sportswear]

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Article
2 October 2019

U.S. blocks import of goods from five nations in rare anti-slavery crackdown

Author: Thomson Reuters Foundation

2 October 2019

The United States has blocked the import of goods suspected to have been made with forced labor from five countries...

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) said it seized five different products this week based on information indicating the goods were made using slave labor overseas.

The items included rubber gloves made by a company in Malaysia, gold from artisanal mines in Democratic Republic of Congo, clothes produced by a firm in Xinjiang, China, diamonds from the Marange Diamond Fields in Zimbabwe, and bone black - charred animal bones - manufactured by a business in Brazil.

Under a 2016 law, it is illegal to import goods into the United States that are made entirely or in part by forced labor - which includes prison work, bonded labor and child labor...

...Prior to the latest crackdown, the CBP had issued seven detention orders since 2016, including chemical compounds, peeled garlic and toys from China and cotton from Turkmenistan.

Read the full post here