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U.S. Ban on Slave-Made Goods Hits Turkmenistan

Tuesday 9 April 2019

WASHINGTON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) — A U.S. law banning slave-made imports has netted only $6.3 mln worth of goods from artificial sweetener to garlic in three years, activists and lawmakers said, urging the government to ramp up its efforts in the global drive to stop forced labour.

After a barren 2017, the key agency tasked with enforcing the law — Customs and Border Protection (CBP) — last year issued two withhold release orders — toys from China and cotton from Turkmenistan.

“If you just look at this $6.3 mln […] it’s just a drop in the bucket”, said Eric Gottwald, deputy director of the International Labor Rights Forum, a non-profit which works to end forced labor with a focus beyond the United States. “If the goal of the tariff act is to stop consumers from buying forced-labour-made goods, it’s failing,” he said of the law, which has been used to detain chemical compounds, peeled garlic and toys from China, as well as cotton from Turkmenistan.

Turkmen cotton — and any products made with the fibre — were hit with a blanket ban by CBP last year due to findings of state-enforced slave labour in its picking.

In most circumstances, the agency can only take action against specific shipments from specific locations or companies — rather than enforcing a blanket ban on a whole sector. In the case of the toys made in China, the withhold release order is only for toys made by a specific manufacturer, not the entire Chinese toy sector, whatever suspicions are held by CBP. The same is true of all the other individual products that have had action taken against them, except for Turkmen cotton.

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