Labor rights advocates cheered when Congress acted in 2015 to remove an exception to the longstanding ban on imports into the U.S. of products made with forced labor (Section 307 of the Tariff Act of 1930). That exception, known as the “consumptive demand” exception, swallowed the rule, allowing importation of goods not made in quantities sufficient for U.S. consumption.
The Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015 eliminated that loophole. Since then, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has gradually begun to issue orders detaining or preventing from entry into the U.S. all products tainted by convict labor, forced labor, and forced child labor. So far, CBP has issued thirteen orders halting importation of goods. Blocked goods include the artificial sweetener stevia from China, gold mined in Democratic Republic of Congo, tobacco harvested in Malawi, diamonds mined in Zimbabwe, and rubber gloves produced in Malaysia.
CBP can suspend a shipment based upon “a reasonable but not conclusive indication of a violation,” a standard lower than “probable cause.” Advocates and activists may submit petitions directly to CBP requesting an order against a specific good. These third-party submissions must provide detailed information about the product and evidence exposing the use of forced labor in its production. Advocates have devoted decades to investigating and documenting forced labor. But Section 307 of the Tariff Act was, until recently, a largely unused tool in the advocacy toolbox. That is now changing. What is CBP looking for in these petitions?